In my last articles I talked about my mothers experience as a new expat in Malaysia and her struggles with social expectations, and her defiance for independence in Egypt. After seven years of living overseas, my mom was determined to return to the United States.
In her e-mails, she expressed to her mother how she wanted her children to experience high school in the U.S. and have a piece of the American teenager experience. She wanted us to go to homecoming dances, watch football games, go on dates to the movies and mall crawl. She also wanted us to understand where we came from, beyond her extracurricular history lessons and the short visits we had every summer.
What actually happened was a little different. I went stag to every dance, I watched one football game and hated it, I went on a movie date but we talked about the weather twice, and although the mall is fine to get in and get out of, I much prefer to get lost in Barnes and Noble. And although this wasn’t my mom’s expectation it was definitely the American teenager experience.
Suburbia is a scary beast. Katy Texas is a large suburban area outside of Houston, which I can only compare to Stepford. The lawns are perfectly trimmed and the front yards are carefully landscaped to eerie perfection. The stifling HOA is filled with perfectly manicured, yoga pants wearing, Starbucks sipping, southern suburbanite privilege.
For me this was a terrifying jump from jungle bungalow chic and polluted city apartments to the American Dream houses surrounded by golf courses, Super Targets, and family friendly restaurants. As a teenager the need to fit into a stereotypical clique was palpable.
My mom’s e-mails during this time period were filled with a mix of gratitude for the convenience of everything in America and the frustration of raising two teenagers with all of the freedoms in the U.S.. My brother and and I let the whole “it’s a free country” idea got o our heads a little.
My mom was really excited to share the sites with us. We continued to travel around the U.S. and see a lot of the country that we had always claimed to be from. My mother wrote that while we were traveling she kept remembering all of the trips that she used to take during the summers when she was a kid.
Although my experience repatriating wasn’t exactly what she had hoped, my mom really wanted my brother and I to experience the U.S. before we went off to college. And although I went kicking and screaming the whole way, I’m glad she made us do it.
My mother has always been the strongest one in our family, holding us together with her to-do lists and contingency plans B through W. When the world around us challenged us to fight harder it was she, who we looked to for guidance, and it was she who held us together.
Through these e-mails I have really come to appreciate my mother’s journey and her struggles, because yeah, I was there. But I had no idea.