From the moment I had a child, things became different.
Wait, back that up: from the moment I conceived a child, things became different, and I’m not just talking about the big life changes that come along with having a baby. I’m talking about the differences faced by an expat parent who is having and raising a child in a culture that’s different than the one in which they were brought up.
Even before Joe was here, we were already making changes in how we did things and learning about the different ways and words associated with having a child in New Zealand as compared with the US. When we stocked up on baby supplies, we made sure to get dummies and a cot and nappies and singlets and bodysuits and skivvies and stretch-n-grows. We didn’t call them by their American names: pacifiers and a crib and diapers and undershirts and onesies and turtlenecks and footed pyjamas.I wasn’t a “mom-to-be”, I was a “mum-to-be”. We could have called them by those names, and there were times when I slipped up and did call them by those names, but friends would good-naturedly tease me about it. They would jokingly ask, “Diapers? What are those? Why on earth do you call them diapers?” And the truth was, I had no idea why they were called diapers. Calling them nappies, short for napkins, make a whole lot more sense!
There were differences in prenatal care, in the delivery and recovery process, in immunisations, and in the types of support networks that I had available to me. Some were built-in (coffee groups set up through the visiting nurse) but others were ones that I had to seek out on my own or, in some cases, create with other friends.
The differences became more noticeable once I was in these groups. Nursery rhymes that I had learned as a child have slightly different verses here in New Zealand. It’s not the “itsy-bitsy” spider; it’s the “incey-wincey” spider. When playing “pat-a-cake” with Joe, we don’t say “pat it, roll it, and mark it with a B”, we say, “pat it, prick it, and mark it was a B”. It’s not “two little blackbirds sitting on a wall”, it’s “two little dicky birds”, and so on and so forth.
I’ve learned new nursery rhymes, new songs, and new stories. We sing “Haere Mai” at the weekly library session, which is a Maori welcoming song. I’ve picked up some Maori words, and Joe is probably picking them up as well. I’d never heard “Round and Round the Garden” before, but now it’s one of our favourite stories to read to Joe. We’ve found adorable New Zealand children’s books that I absolutely love, and I hope that they become ingrained in Joe’s childhood the way that some of my favourite storybooks did.
If we remain in New Zealand, the differences will only continue to grow. We’re already singing the “ABCs” to him, and there’s a difference right there: it doesn’t end “x, y, zee”, but rather ends “x, y, zed”. This has become second nature to me now, to sing it and end with “zed”. I’m glad for that. I’m glad that we’re fitting in so well, but it does make things a bit tricky when we’re chatting with family back home. I have to stop and think, consciously reminding myself that it’s not “zed”, it’s not “nappy”, it’s not a “pram”, and it’s not a “cot”. It’s “zee”, and a diaper, and a stroller, and a crib. And yes, sometimes I slip up and my family and friends in the States tease me about it, they wonder why I’m calling it a nappy and not a diaper, but we just laugh and think how great it is that we get to be a part of a culture different than our own.
Jenny is an American from Indiana living abroad in Auckland, New Zealand. An ER nurse, she spends her spare time with her husband and infant son and enjoys photography, travel, and writing about her experiences as an expat. You can read more of her thoughts and opinions at www.practicallyperfectblog.com