Being An International Mom In New Orleans
I always joked that there should be a helpline for internationals in the US …. Now I want to add international moms in the US: “My child does this thing. I’m now told to do xyz? Is this an American thing? A Euro thing? Or globally accepted?” Haha just kidding. It never is. Nothing is.
I moved here about 10 years ago and considered myself well-adapted to the American (or should I say New Orleans?) way of life. I have accepted that my water will always have way too much ice in it, that “How are you?” is not a question but a greeting, and that Sundays are for football – not Fussball.
But then I became a mother. And boy, was I wrong. Boy, am I a child of my culture and not only do parenting styles differ globally, but what’s considered safe and preferable and well, plain old ‘good for the baby’ …
I had all the usual questions of a first-time mom: How much do I nurse? How do I nurse? Can I give formula? How much? Which one? How do I bathe them? When? For how long? What is this little spot right here? Omg, he sneezed. Is that bad? Or good? My local friend said to check out Doctor Spock if I’m unsure. Doctor who? The guy from Star Trek? I was so lost! I wanted to call my sister, a trained nurse and supermom of 4, but it was in the middle of the night over there, and she was asleep.
On the topic of sleep … do you worry about that enough? Is social media feeding you so many wake window options that you start questioning your sanity (and ability to count hours and minutes)?
“Oh, don’t worry,” a German friend said, “Use this baby hammock that dangles from the ceiling! The best invention…” Well, Helga, I would love to but turns out I can’t even buy them here cause they are banned and considered unsafe. What about European car seats you ask? Banned and unsafe! European formula options? Unsafe! Life in itself???? You guessed it … unsafe!
Food is so important. Especially those first solid food adventures. For my baby, this coincided with our first trip to the home country. The first international flight with my baby who resembles a screaming demon in his passport photo that looks nothing like him. Side note: I should sue every border patrol person that looks at that picture and him and lets us through.
His first food? It was cake. My 90-y-o grandma held him as we were visiting relatives and had classic afternoon coffee and cake. I turn around and there she his, happily feeding him Erdbeerkuchen… I obsessed over his first solid foods after that fun little incident. And there were about as many different answers as people I asked for insights. At this point (later than I care to admit) did the “you have to do what works for you and your baby” finally move from my brain to my heart and I could fully embrace the fact that there are about 8789765 ways of going about this and almost all of them are culturally determined. So my baby tried both (nonalcoholic) beer (“liquid bread”) as well as Tabasco (“can’t feed him bland food!”) in his first year. A true German-Louisiana baby.
Now he’s a toddler and the two big questions in the room are language and traditions. How do I make him feel rooted in two languages and two cultures with all the traditions and expressions that come with it? I know so many of us grapple with that question, and we all find different answers for that. And how do you prepare for things you don‘t even know about yet? A fellow global mom (now global grandma) shared the story of how she found her then 5-year-old daughter searching the backyard. Upon asking what she was looking for she said “The basket the Easter bunny left for me” … my friend had to call her neighbor and inquired what this ‘basket’ might look like that her daughter was asking for! It makes me wonder about the things that I’m not prepared for….
Raising my baby outside of my home culture and away from family has a lot of advantages and I hope he becomes a global, culturally aware kiddo. It also has a lot of downsides. Especially during the hard moments in life, but also not being able to enjoy the fun ones together. So we build our own communities to share the laughter and frustrations of global parenting and to make sure that each child gets their Easter basket in time.
Come join us in our group, Global Nola Mamas if you too are an international mom living in New Orleans.
About The Author
Tanja B. Spitzer is a German native who lives in New Orleans with her husband and young son. She has worked both at the UNO International Department and The National WWII Museum. International exchange and intercultural learning has long been her main focus and she has now created her own version of transatlantic training, relocation support and settling in help with Arrive New Orleans (arrivenola.com) and also hosts a local global mamas network. When she isn‘t working or traveling she enjoys a cold beer, local music and belly dancing.