Becoming American

Sixteen years and a few days ago I immigrated to America. Being only twelve years old, I found this task relatively simple: I woke up one day and got on a plane. We watched Shrek and ate pistachios. In the life of a twelve-year-old, however, there are some unexpected difficulties in immigration.

One of the first things that we packed to move to America was our stuffed animals. We referred to stuffed animals by the term ‘teddy bears’, even though they were not all bears [I assume this is similar to the people that call all soda ‘coke’, even though it isn’t]. My mom gave me and my brother a box for all the teddy bears we wanted to immigrate with us, and all the ones that were to remain behind [and, I assume, be adopted by a loving family] were to go on the couch.

Biggest-little-brother and I were of one mind on the subject. We put all the teddy bears into the coming-to-America box except for one. It was a pink, care bear style bear with heart paw prints. My mother felt sorry for the care bear. All the teddy bears immigrated with us to the United States. They are now [as American bears] known as stuffed animals, or [I’m told] stuffies. Littlest-little-brother’s teddy bears were known as ‘loving buddies’ – but I’m not sure if that was because they were American bears, or just beloved.

The day we arrived in Boston Logan Airport [2 adults, 4 children, 3 carts of luggage, and a dog in a broken-wheeled box] we must have made a rag-tag parade of exhausted immigrants, winding our way through crowds of people. I recently saw a home video of my husband vacationing in Maine on the day I was arriving. I like to imagine that this was some sort of sign, and that we might have driven past each other on I-95.

Another aspect of moving to America was extreme self-consciousness about my accent. Many people I met loved my Irish accent, and would frequently comment on it and ask me about my heritage. Twelve-year-old me didn’t like this kind of attention as much as twenty-eight-year-old me does. As a result, I made every effort to hide my accent and take on American terminology and pronunciation.

About five years ago I travelled back to Northern Ireland for a short visit. While there, people asked me if I was American. While here, people ask me if I am from away. My lovely plan of assimilation has backfired and I seem to have ended up with some sort of hybrid accent that identifies me as an outsider wherever I go. This is the exact opposite of what twelve-year-old me had in mind.

There are no snakes in Ireland [St. Patrick chased them out, you know] – so when my brothers and I first discovered a family of garter snakes on the rocks in our yard, we were very concerned. We had never seen a snake in the wild before. We clarified more than once that these snakes were not dangerous. I still find snakes a sort of evil, fascinating, unusual animal, even though I know they are actually common here.

Other things that were of extreme interest to me when we moved to America included: peppermint stick ice-cream, pink lemonade, measuring cups, top-loading washing machines, cranberry-raspberry juice mixed with ginger-ale, loons, pecan pie, iced tea, and Fashion Bug.

Things that were of extreme distress to me when we moved to America included: Hershey’s chocolate, cool-whip, cinnamon in everything, that people called badminton ‘bad mitten’, humidity, mosquitoes, window-screens, slidey-door minivans, robins, and the word “aluminum.”

Despite my studious attempts to blend into American culture, I still can’t help but call trash cans ‘bins’, spell neighbor with a u, get confused about what we’re talking about when we’re talking about football, and I occasionally panic in case I might be driving on the wrong side of the road.

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