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observing another culture


I don’t often get a chance to spend a prolonged period of time with children Max and Maddie’s age. I find myself observing them in much the same way I watch people from a culture foreign to me– like the Dutch, or the French or Arabs or men.

Within seconds of meeting, Max volunteers that that Maddie can’t be trusted with scissors. She cuts everything in sight. Including her own hair. Her ponies do not have the haircuts they came with. Some have fringe. Some have large pieces chopped out of their manes like punk rockers while others have nicely feathered Farrah Fawcett 1970s looks.   Maddie sweetly agrees with Max, telling me she isn’t allowed to go near the grown up scissors any more. Then she coyly wonders aloud where the grown up scissors might be right now and if maybe I could figure it out.  She poses this almost as a challenge, but I’m not biting.

Max’s specialty is the unicycle. He’d been trying to master it for months unsuccessfully. But once Al offered him a Playstation to ride it, he was up and going within days. Now he fully appreciates the benefits of his skill. When we take a walk through the park (we walked, he rode), tourists were pointing their cameras at him, not the scenery. If worst comes to worse, put a tin cup in Max’s hand, put him on the unicycle in a touristed area and the Kellys could have a nice supplemental income.  Hmmm, maybe I should’ve had kids.

Like most kids, they’d prefer it if you paid 100% attention to them. But if you don’t, they happily go on their merry way, making a gnome out of an evian bottle, or serenading a dozen toy ponies. Leave them alone for long enough and they’d probably come up with the cure for AIDS. Or at the very least, build an army of colorful paper mache soldiers and their faithful pastel ponies.

When Maddie puts all her ponies into her backpack and zips them up, I overhear a conversation amongst at least eight ponies, each reacting to being put in the backpack in its own way. Some were frightened, while others soothing. It didn’t sound all that different from my inner voices.

And while kids may have very short attention spans, they can cling to a word or phrase and never tire of it. I hear Maddie repeat the phrase, “Hey, I have an idea”, at least 16 times to no one in particular before one of us got distracted and stopped counting.

Both Max and Maddie have the most astonishing ability to turn virtually anything into treasure. Max, Al and I went on the canal boat tour. As I watched and marveled at the beautiful buildings, bridges, and churches, Max was oooohing and ahhhhing behind me. I turned to share the moment and realized that he was oooooohing and ahhhhhing at a blob of really gross garbage bobbing in our wake. Max would LOVE New York.

Maddie on the other hand, fixates on my dental floss. She asks me if she can borrow it and promises to be very careful with it. Later, after Blake and Al put them to bed, Al asks me what the deal is with the dental floss. Apparently, Maddie listened to her bedtime story and drifted off to sleep, curled up with my little plastic box of dental floss as if it were the most precious, cuddly gift in the world. People anguish over what to give kids and turns out they’re perfectly happy with dental floss and some garbage. I’m sure there’s a moral here.

I guess when you think about it, being a kid is a lot like being a foreigner. You don’t understand the language. You tend to repeat words and phrases you know over and over and over. And the most basic things and actions seem new to you.

I apply this theory to myself and it works. Most of the time I don’t understand a thing people are saying to me. I’m totally repetitive —  Merci. bon journee. Merci, bon journee. Merci, bon jour….Even here in the Netherlands, I find myself repeating the only word of Dutch I know (stroopen—syrup) over and over and over and over to the point of distraction.

Now, if I could just experience that same joy in mundane, things Max and Maddie seem to have. Maybe then I’d be happy.

But I’m too tired to think about that right now. I curl up with a package of Stroopwafels, my new favorite cookie in the whole wide world, and drift off to sleep.

8 Responses

  1. What a great analogy! I will dedicate a day to living with that perspective. 🙂

  2. Good luck! let me know how it goes. I found the stroopwafels enhanced my childlike perspective considerably.

    • hmmm! I do know how to get my hands on stroopwafels here in the US but I think I am good: I have the scissors and – oh yes – here comes the cat…..(for lack of ponies). I loved how Maddie tried to enlist your help for locating the grown up scissors.

      • I’m wondering if your cats look anything like Maddie’s ponies today. And now that I think about it, I wonder if Maddie and her scissor fetish is the reason that the Kelly’s cat, Gatto only has three legs.

  3. Hello Lesley (sorry about it being off subject but I could not find an e-mail adress)
    I discover your blog and love it – don’t ask how I stumbled upon it. I’ll tell you anyway : researching Sarkozy’s 1st wife and came upon your post on Real Housewives… and then I explored because, being French, and Parisian, I love to see how foreigners perceive us, and I find your humour and slightly acerbic pen refreshing. Just one thing, could you please write Sacré Coeur and NOT Sacre Couer ? Yes, being French, I also ALWAYS find something to criticize… I’ve bookmarked your blog, please keep me entertained. And, about butchers, do not worry : even speaking French and being French and so on I also find my butcher intimidating, I always fear that he will try to trick me – for years I bought meat in supermarkets – but hey, quality was not it. And for your information, it cannot be horse meat in the same place as beef/pork … horse butchers are called “boucheries chevalines” and often have a false horse head somewhere above the door so you don’t wander in it by accident.

    • Thanks sirius! You made my day (except the part about Sacre Coeur–II’ll fix it). And that’s great news about the bourcheries chevalines! Although they may be the only kind of butcher I can afford. Right now, I’m eyeing some “escargot” in the backyard.

  4. I had no idea my kids were so funny. It
    must be you.

    • That’s the problem with being a parent. You’re so busy parenting, you miss the humor wit and charm you instilled in your children.
      I quote Max all the time. He’s much insightful than I am.

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