BASTARD OUT OF WESTCHESTER
If I ever have kids, this is what Im going to do with them: I am going to give birth to them on foreign soilpreferably the soil of someplace like Oostende or Antwerpdestinations that have the allure of being obscure, freezing, and impossibly cultured. These are places in which people are casually trilingual and everyone knows how to make good coffee and gourmet dinners at home without having to shop for specific ingredients. Everyone has hip European sneakers that effortlessly look like the exact pair youve been searching for your whole life. Everything is sweetened with honey and even the generic-brand Q-tips are aesthetically packaged. People die from old age or crimes of passion or because they fall off glaciers. All the women are either thin, thin and happy, fat and happy, or thin and miserable in a glamorous way. Somehow none of their Italian heels get caught in the fifteenth-century cobblestone. Ever.
This is where I want to raise my childrenuntil the age of, say, ten, when Ill cruelly rip them out of the stream where theyre fly-fishing with their other lederhosened friends and move them to someplace like Lansdale, Pennsylvania. There, they can be not only the cool new kid, but also the Belgian kid. And none of that Toblerone-eating, Tintin-reading, tulip-growing crap. I want them to be obscurely, freezingly, impossibly Belgian. I want them to be fluent in Flemish and to pronounce Antwerpen with a hint of vh embedded in the w.
Why go through all the trouble of giving a ten-year-old an existential heart attack by applying culture shocks like they were nipple clamps? Because, ten-year-olds of the world, you shouldnt believe what your teachers tell you about the beauty and specialness and uniqueness of you. Or, believe it, little snowflake, but know it wont make a bit of difference until after puberty. Its Newtons lost law: anything that makes you unique later will get your chocolate milk stolen and your eye blackened as a kid. Wont it, Sebastian? Oh, yes, it will, my little Mandarin Chineselearning, Poe-reciting, high-top-wearing friend. God bless you, wherever you are.
Uniqueness is wasted on youth. Like a fine wine or a solid flossing habit, youll be grateful for it when youre older. Naturally, being born in a foreign country is not the only coolness savings bond out there, but it is an automatic vehicle into self-possession if there are no other cars on the road. Maybe you dont come from the mansion on the hill or the worst shack at the foot of it. Maybe youre not religious or a spelling bee prodigy. Maybe youre not the youngest of nine kids or the child of a B-list movie star. Oh, but imagine if you had a South African accent. At least foreign citizenship is something you can point to and say, This is where I come from. This is who I am. I almost had it myself.
A sophomore in high school, I was successfully plodding through my suburban existence when my mother called me into the living room and told me we were moving to Sydney, Australia. For a year my father had been working at a division of his company in Sydney, communicating with us largely via fax. Then one day we had visas and passports and private schools picked out. I was nervous about leaving my lifechange was one thing, but this much change smacked of the Witness Protection Program. I expressed concern about finishing high school at an institution paved in gingham, a place that didnt involve gum under the desks or drug paraphernalia in the halls. What kind of environment was that for a child?
Everyone in Australia goes to private school, my father explained, a statistic that still makes little to no sense.
But soon Australian realtors were calling the house. I tried to talk to them for as long as theyd let me before I passed the phone over to my mother. They all sounded wonderfully like Olivia Newton-John. Had a pervert called up and faked an accent, I would have told them the truththat my mother wasnt homeinstead of employing the classic Shes in the shower. (Kids across the country have grown up accepting the idea that no one can harm your family if at least one of its adult members is in the shower. No one knows why.)
Excerpted from I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Copyright © 2008 by Sloane Crosley. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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