My two-year-old son likes caviar.
His lunchbox came back untouched for several days so I asked his nursery teacher what he was up to during meal times.
“Oh, he really loves caviar,” Bogusia told me.
Come again? Maybe she used the wrong word – Bogusia is a Polish nursery teacher living in Norway so English is her third language, which means she has lots of words to sort through before she gets to one that I can understand.
She pulled out a thick toothpaste tube from the fridge. Caviar is spelled with a “K” in Norwegian so not only did I not know how to pack a lunch for my own kid, I also couldn’t spell whatever it was that he apparently loves to have.
It sits next to the cheese at the grocery store. And it’s cheap too, little more than the cost of a liter of milk. Clearly this wasn’t the luxury brand and although fish is cheap in Norway, I never expected kaviar to be a popular kids snack.
Squeeze that tube and out comes a pink paste with the little eggs visible, accompanied by a pungent fishy smell. So now my toddler comes home smelling like he spent the day setting shrimp traps by the seaside.
The first time I spread that pink paste over a piece of bread I realized something: I am an immigrant parent.
I speak to my child in a different language than his friends’ parents do and when I speak their native tongue (Norwegian) it’s with a heavy accent and jumbled grammar. At lunch time when my son opens up his lunchbox his food looks different than what his friends Oscar and Eskill are eating.
Is this what it was like for my Pakistani mom when my brothers and I were growing up in America? Was she horrified the first time she saw a hot dog? Or a slice of bologna? I’ve never seen her eat either.
I know what it’s like to be raised by immigrant parents. My mom convinced me to be a “Pakistani Princess” for Halloween several years in a row just so I’d wear the fancy clothes, while my friends bought their witch costumes in the Halloween aisle at WalMart. Pakistan doesn’t even have princesses!
Now, in a country that’s so far north of everything familiar, I’m learning what it’s like to be an immigrant parent.
I always feel a little bit behind. If I was raising my son in the US I would already know the songs and nursery rhymes he’s learning at this age, but when Bogusia told me he’d learnt to sing the “hei hei” song I had to look it up online and study it before I could sing along.
Just like my mom was determined to maintain a Pakistani influence in my life, I’m determined to hold on to the American traditions that I grew up loving. Halloween is next month and while the locals aren’t tuned into the holiday, I’ll find my band of American ex-pats and we’ll find a way to celebrate.
I’m already working out how to fashion a ninja costume out of my kid’s Norwegian wooly winterwear. If all else fails, he can trick-or-treat as an Indian Prince. One thing is for sure - I won’t be swapping candy corn for kaviar sandwiches.