The other day my little Léo was telling me about all of the stuffed animals he'd chosen to sleep in his bed with him, and he came to a WebKinz that my sister got for him at the Mall of America:
Léo: ...and this gecko we buyed when we were at the rides in... in... [thinks a bit] ...in France.
Nico: No, in Minneapolis!
Our little trip to Paris last week to visit their French grandma had merged in Léo's mind with our earlier trip to Minnesota to visit their American grandparents. So if you were wondering whether my kids felt much culture shock going back to the U.S.A. for the first time in three years, the answer is that I don't think they did.
Staying at my parents' house for three weeks brought a whole lot of unfamiliar things, which my kids took in stride:
* Lots of dogs: My parents have a tiny but very loud yorkie, my sister has a quiet but big dog, and my little brother has a medium-sized, medium-loudness dog. My kids are normally a little afraid of dogs -- especially noisy ones -- but by the end of the trip, they were great friends little Louie the yorkie.
* A whole different set of toys! The first thing Léo noticed upon arrival was the electric train set my dad had set up in the family room. Then my sister brought over another train set (different from our train set at home), so Léo had the fun of setting up a new railway network all over my parents' basement!
* Riding in vehicles they don't usually get to ride in, namely cars, airplanes, and small boats on a lake. Their reaction to that can be summed up in one word: "Yay!!!"
* Having their own parents (us) with them all day with nothing to do but take them to the swimming pool or an amusement park (like at the Mall of America) or help them with a nature documentary.
* Getting to know the whole family, including cousins their own age and attentive grandparents who had a whole bunch of activities planned for them.
There were so many differences, but it was as much a question of "it's an adventure to stay at someone else's house" as a question of "it's an adventure to go to another country."
The one thing felt weird to me on this trip was the fact that we were surrounded by people speaking English all the time. In the past six months in Zürich, I'd gotten used to having a communication barrier between me and every random person I encounter. Once people discover I don't speak German, they immediately switch to English for me -- so I feel like I'm creating a little bubble of American-ness around myself (that I'm self-conscious about). It actually felt weird to be back in a place where American-ness is the norm and speaking English is the default assumption.
(As for my excuses for why I still can't speak German, that will be a topic of another post, probably entitled "A foreign language is best learned in the bedroom.")
Did my kids have a similar reaction to being surrounded by English-speakers?
Hard to say. The only noticeable change was that after this trip Nico started calling us "Mom" and "Dad" (instead of "Mommy" and "Daddy" or "Maman" and "Papa"). I think he was probably influenced by his cousins calling their parents "Mom" and "Dad". Damn peer pressure! J/K ;^)
And the religion question?
As I've said before, the fact that my parents don't agree with each other on religion has created this wonderful haven of secular space throughout the household. So there's no pressure to go to church, and non of those ugly, tense showdowns where religious participation is assumed -- so you're forced to go along with it silently or be seen as a bad guy for objecting.
The only exception was prayer over dinner.
Now, obviously I'm not going to complain about them practicing their own religion in their own house, even in front of my kids. As I explained here, I'd rather have my kids exposed to other ideas, not sheltered from them. If my religious family members had taken the liberty of teaching my kids about God and Jesus, I would have immediately responded with my own opinion on the same subject, but they didn't. And I appreciated the fact that they were willing to respect the values we're teaching our kids.
I wish I could say my kids were equally respectful of my parents' one religious observance. No matter how many times we explained to Nico that he had to stop talking for the prayer, he just didn't get it. The kid is fundamentally incapable of being silent for more than a few seconds at a stretch when he's with people. (My husband once played a game with him to see how long he could go on a walk with us without talking, and he never made it to a full minute.) So my parents were kind enough to just keep the dinner prayers short.
This was the simplest solution since, in fact, Nico wasn't the only disruptive one: Louie the yorkie also hadn't mastered the "stay quiet for the prayer" trick...