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A Frank Look At Living With Her Feet In Two Worlds

*Please welcome guest blogger Polish Mama On The Prairie. She was born in Poland, but has spent most of her life in the U.S. She’s a mom of two, married to her high school sweetheart and is equally passionate about America and Poland. Here’s her story:

I’m letting you know right from the very beginning, that this is going to be brutally honest. The way it really is for me emotionally. But I also want to say that this does not in anyway mean I look down on either country. I still love the USA and Poland, and both of their people.

And I want to also say that this is specifically my perspective. My experiences. It doesn’t represent everyone in any particular group. So, please, don’t take it away from me or trivialize it because you might not understand or empathize or agree. Ready?

For myself, a part of my personality and what I feel is that missing gap where Poland should be.

That gap made by being taken from your family, from the land where everyone speaks your birth language, where you don’t look different, where your name is not unusual and you don’t get 20 questions for it, and perhaps even nasty judgments for your heritage. From where your quirks and particular mannerisms are commonplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I love living here. But if your name is something like Jane, Jessica, or Amy, and your great-grandparents were born in the USA, you look like the typical American girl next door, and you’ve never traveled outside of your home country’s borders, your grandparents were always just down the street and present for holidays, then you don’t understand what I mean.

My husband came from that same background, an easy-to-say American name, grandparents always a huge part of his life, his accent and speech were never different from anyone else’s in school, etc.

I wanted him to see who else I was. No, I needed him to see. Or else, I didn’t think our relationship would truly work. So, I took him to Poland for our honeymoon, amidst many protests from him and his family.

So, who am I? By now, it’s fairly clear what my background is. I was born in Poland to Polish parents. We fled Communism and its oppression. We waited to get legal papers all in order to become U.S. citizens, came to America, and all was peaches and cream.  Right?

Not exactly. For one thing, we had no help. None. There was no neighbor, friend, or relative to call on when someone had an emergency. Whether that emergency be that someone had to go to the Emergency Room and my parents needed a babysitter or money for the medicine, or someone was sick, so that we had a roof over our heads or food on our table, or even just so my parents could reconnect on “Date Night.”

For work, my father grabbed whatever he could as quickly as he could.  Because, apparently in the USA, they didn’t care that my father has a Masters Degree from Poland. It wasn’t a Masters Degree in the USA. In fact, one place even told my father that he was lucky they considered him to be a high school graduate. The same went for my mother, who also had a Masters Degree back in Poland.

So, he ended up getting some minimum wage work working as many hours as he physically could (he still works well over 70 hours a week) while my mother tried to find a babysitter she could trust with me. She found one, went to work also making minimum wage, until the babysitter took me outside in the dead of winter in just a onesie and I got very, very sick. This was according to a couple of other neighborhood eyewitnesses. So, it looked like my mother couldn’t work because we couldn’t find anyone trustworthy to watch me without potentially killing me.

So, since there was only one income in our house, we ate boiled white rice, split a can of vegetables and each ate one boiled hot dog. Every. Single. Day. For well over a year.  Because that was all we could afford. There are pictures of my parents during this time and they were so skinny. I, however, was not, because my parents made sure I at least ate enough. To this day, I hate boiled white rice. I hate canned vegetables. And I especially hate hot dogs. And when someone makes a comment that I am a food snob or eat weird food because of that, it boils my blood, because they didn’t go through what we did.

Why not apply for assistance, perhaps, you ask? Don’t even make me laugh. We couldn’t get it because we were not born here. While my father walked home from work everyday in the scorching summer heat through the miserable neighborhood we lived in, he saw houses where nobody worked and they had air conditioning units blasting and were cooking all sorts of food for dinner.

As soon as my father got a better job and we could afford to, we moved out of that area, filled with litter, cockroaches, and drunks, and into an apartment in a decent area so that I didn’t have to worry about gun fights on the way to school. The apartment where I shared a room with my sibling.

I never did my first Holy Communion because of several reasons. Some churches wanted my Godparents there for it. Ummm, they are in Poland and can’t get Visas to come over?  “Then you can’t do it.” Some churches didn’t understand why I didn’t speak good enough English to understand the Bible at the time, never mind that I was learning English. And, as my mother said, “If you do your First Holy Communion, you will have only your father and myself there.” My vision of a party afterwards would not happen, because what family could come to the party? They were all in Poland. I would again be the weird kid who only had parents there supporting them during a childhood event.

For Birthdays, I grew up having small gifts because we had just come to this country, you don’t get rich overnight, and no family giving me presents. Not a big deal until you go to school and other kids brag about the hundreds of expensive toys they got. Then, the inevitable “What did you get from your parents/grandparents/aunts/cousins, etc.?”  And, “Oh,” once they heard my reply. The same was true of Christmas.

Thanksgiving and Easter were also lumped into the same category by the question “Who came over your house/Who’s house did you go to?” My answer? “Nobody. It was just us.  At our house. Because my family is all in Poland. Thanks for reminding me. Again.”

*This is the first of a three-part series from Polish Mama On The Prairie.*