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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Notes from a week in the burbs

One week in the same place, well, almost And in many ways the world
of Northern Virginia is foreign. This place changed (thousands upon
thousands of new homes, malls, stores, highways, nationalities) since
I left 30 years ago as a just-turned-18 year old heading to college
from my rural redneck high school. And while Northern Virginia was
becoming urban and gentrified and complicated, we took a road that was
marginal and poor and simple. So now we are re-entering this world as
outsiders, who need to study the clues, and make the effort to
appreicate and assimilate. At least a little.

So here are some notes on a week of trying. First, Jack and Julia.
Community soccer was a pleasant surprise. Jack and Julia entered
teams in spite of missing the deadlines, and both fournd themselves
(in my humble side-line soccer-mom opinion) quite competent in their
age groups, the first time they're not playing against people 2 two 5
years older than they are. They've each been to two practices now,
and loved it. As Julia pointed out, a lot less shoving and more
orderly drills than she's used to. The only down side is that she
doesn't know the girls yet, and Miss Ashley isn't there. At Jack's
practice we even struck up conversation with another mom, who in
classic TCK paradigm was also a newbie like us, an American returning
after 3 years in England, super-friendly. We exchanged phone numbers,
and I called to arrange for Jack to play with her son the next day.
Julia has a friend on the street, too, who invited her over to play
games. They had a piano lesson in the neighborhod with a contact
through church, and Julia took an initial clarinet lesson and Jack
drums at the local music store. We're doing Geometry and Journaling
as our token home-schooling each morning. They can run and ride bikes
and juggle balls, we eat cereal and fresh fruit for breakfast and cook
spaghetti or grill on the patio for dinner. One night we invited a
family from church over, and another night friends passing through the
area called and joined us for dessert, and both of those opportunities
to host leant a sense of belonging.

Bouyed by all this illusion of normality, I braved unbraiding (!
tedious !) and a haircut. The last time I had my hair cut by someone
besides Scott trimming straight across my back .. was four years ago,
and the guy kept saying things like "oh, your hair, where have you
been, when was your last cut, do you see these ends, what are you
doing with your hair, this is terrible, you need moisture!" It was
humiliating. So I was on edge (which I know because I cried over a
sappy song on the radio about Letters from War, had to sit in the
parking lot and listen to the end before I went in the shop . . ).
But this time my hairdresser was delightful. I was initially
intimidated by her stylish 100-pound 20-something frame, perfect
streaked straight hair, tattoos peeking from under funky short shorts
and knee-high boots, various piercings . . . but she carried on one of
the most caring and seemingly interested conversations about our life
in Uganda the whole time, never bemoaned my awful curly hair, was
cheerful and competent, and connected with me as she shared about her
infant daughter's neurosurgery with the renowned Dr. Ben Carson at
Hopkins. In the end she did not miraculously change my hair from
being unruly and curly and frizzed, but she did her best to give it
some shape. And I so enjoyed the time, I didn't mind the lack of a

Now we were really on a roll. Kid activities, hobnobbing with fellow
parents on the fringes of the field, entertaining, personal hygiene,
and who could know we didn't fit in? But a few things always stand
out and strike us as peculiar. For instance, the bright green small
pick up painted with pictures of pets and in fat happy letters, "Doody
Calls". Yes, this is a pet waste removal service. Lest you should be
bothered with emptying the kitty litter, or scooping the dog poop, you
can call this handy truck to come and do all the dirty work for you.
I'm told people even have dog-walking services, NOT while they're on
vacation, just for every-day. On our street the only human beings one
sees most days are the lawn-care services who swoop in like a swat
team, roll out their mowers and blowers, and leave the lawn pristine,
or the dog-walkers. So many daily tasks are either too menial (hire a
service) or too complex (call an expert) to waste time on. There is a
definite trend towards making everything so complicated that it is not
worth your time to figure it out. Scott wanted to add one channel,
Fox Soccer Channel, to my mom's cable for $15/month for the next 4
months, so we (especially Jack) could watch some Premier League
games. But no, even though it is advertised, it turns out that it
took him multiple phone calls, weathering long sales spiels, and then
the cable people were so flummoxed by the idea of adding a limited
service that they just had to augment my mom's package to the ultimate
level for four months, at the same price, because they didn't know how
to do less. Which led to complcations in her phone line, and who knows
what else. The marketing pressure comes in every contact, try to buy
a gallon of milk and someone will be pushing you to open a new savings
card (so they can get your email address to send you even more
marketing schemes). A life in the burbs is one of gasping for breath
amidst waves of offers, choice, opportunity, services. In Bundibugyo
it's straightorward, people ask for what you have, and you say yes or
no. Here it is presented as asking to help you, to give you some
great deal, and when you say no you're potentially losing out . . but
in reality it's the same thing, just through a screen of illusion.

Now this is not complaint, just observation, which I'm told is allowed
if you are a long-time true-blue citizen but somewhat suspect if
you're a recent arrival. Don't get me wrong, we had a great week. I
did not have any idea I'd be able to integrate Jack and Julia into any
organized activities, and now that I did, we're on the road for a
month. Leading to double unhappiness. They grieve home (Africa), but
at their first taste of settling here (America), I'm uprooting them
again. Bad planning, mom, but how could I have known months ago when
we committed to this trip that we'd be missing half the season for the
youth soccer league? Will we be able to take back up where we left
off? Or are we doomed to always be catching up, off-schedule, missing
the balance.

Fenelon calls that living by faith. Hope I can explain that to two
kids who want to kick a ball and play some music instead of spending
untold hours in the car.

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