My daughters are little aliens. At least they sound like it. My girls are at the stage where the words coming out of their still-forming mouths are caught somewhere between babytalk and the childish idiolects of kindergarten. They don’t talk like I do; indeed they don’t talk like anyone does. Yet.
But school peers will soon shape their helium-pronouncements into whatever is normal for their age and location — a location thousands of miles from where I was born and grew up. And, even though we live in the same country as their mother did, we are a thousand miles from her childhood, too. My daughters are going to grow up foreigners.
But, though it feels strange and dislocating, that’s normal. The ease of international mobility for my class and generation means that, where previously people have moved away from the vicissitudes of poverty, persecution and violence, my friends and family can move to the promises of opportunity, liberty and love. Where freedom allowed my parents to move around the country, the rootless global upper-middle-class move around the globe.
New York, Paris, London, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, San Francisco and LA are just a few of the places that my friends from Leeds, Manchester, London, Hamburg Connecticut, and Utrecht have ended up. Each family has its own smattering of languages, accents and national loyalties. At least I can comfort myself that though my girls will end up saying “zeebra” not “zebra” they’ll at least have the same mother-tongue as me. But parents and children are separated by a generational gulf so, no matter what words they use, my daughters will always be a little bit alien.