Ten LOOOONG minutes …


“I’ve got it under control, mama!”
“Sure you do,” I say, ignoring the hesitation lining her voice. I gently pat her knee before stepping out of the car.

From the sidewalk I observe her. Her expression is a mix of fright and elation. Her long, slender fingers tightly grip the steering wheel while her gaze is transfixed on the parking lot, as if in an effort to block out the examiner’s presence.

Please be gentle with her, I silently pray. She’s still so young.

Ignoring the tiny drops of cold sweat slowly rolling down my sides, I watch our sturdy vehicle perform the elegant dances we practiced so often.

“Turn on your indicator,” I say under my breath. “Good, now straighten the car… Yes, you can do it.”

“She’s got it under control, I think.”
The kind voice belongs to the Asian man who looks just as nervous as I am. He is waiting for his teenage son to return.
I silently make a deal with him.
I won’t acknowledge your twitching eye, if you pretend not to see my sweat marks, my eyes say. He nods. We have an understanding. It also includes not noticing the tapping feet, the shaking hands, nor the red blotches forming on my neck, …

My daughter’s vessel leaves the parking lot. In the distance I see the indicator being turned on as the bulky car slows down at the stop sign.

Yeah, she’s got it under control, I think.

My eyes scan the road in the distance while I chitchat to the man next to me. I’m babbling, not even registering what I am saying. The man politely nods and babbles back.
I discretely check my watch. Only five minutes have gone by. They feel like eternity …

How did we get here? I wonder.
Barely one year ago, we were not thinking about our daughter driving.
We were not thinking about her independence.
We were not thinking about a boy’s house that would become our girl’s second home.
She was still so young.
We were still so clueless.

She IS still so young.
And we ARE still pretty clueless, establishing our ways as we move along.

And yet now, she needs to get this license.
What’s more, I need her to get this license.
Not only is this her ticket to freedom, it’s mine too!

Tomorrow I’ll start working again, after six long years of full time motherhood. My tall daughter needs to take over from me. She’ll be driving her little brother to soccer; she’ll be making him do his homework. She’ll run last-minute errands for milk and apples …
She needs that license!

Please be gentle with her, I pray, feeling the cold sweat stream down my sides.

One car comes back, the examiner behind its wheel, a disappointed teenage girl in the passenger seat. A father steps out of the shadows, shaking his head ever so slightly. He slides into the driver’s seat and off they go.

Another car returns. The man next to me steps up, all smiles. His handsome son is behind the wheel, beaming.
“He’s got it under control!” I tell the Asian man. He turns back and smiles, his eye no longer twitching, his foot no longer tapping.
Father and son float inside, holding on to their paperwork.

I feel lonely as I watch one more car turn into the parking lot, carrying a sad-looking woman next to the driving examiner. A disappointed husband walks to the car and gets behind the wheel. They slowly edge back to the road and get swallowed up by traffic…

Please be gentle, I pray again.

After ten long minutes our car turns into the lot. I spot a tall frame behind the wheel. Could it be? I squint my eyes, trying to remember how tall the examiner was.
As they approach I can make out my daughter’s features – behind the wheel! She’s is beaming. My heart makes a happy dance. My hands stop shaking. The cold sweat taps magically shut off.

Clutching our precious paperwork, we glide inside the white building, smiling as we both ignore the big puddles of stress that stain my shirt and the red blotches on my neck.

My little girl is not so little anymore!

She’s got in under control!


Hélène Toye is the author of ‘Go West, A Belgian Attempts American Motherhood’, available on : http://amzn.com/1493592548


My Family’s Decline into Valentine …

val 2 valentine 1

“Did you put your cards in your backpack?”
“Yes, mama!”
“Okay, then you’re ready to go! Have fun!!!”

Today is the last school day before St-Valentine’s day. Our fifth Valentine in the USA. By now we know this is a BIG deal in American elementary schools.

The first year I was rather clueless.
Luckily there had been Ruth, a kind American mom I’d met during a writer’s workshop. Ruth had lived in Europe for a while, where she had discovered that Europeans consider St-Valentine’s day to be a holiday celebrated by lovers – and only by them.
That’s the way we Europeans sometimes tend to be. When we have something others haven’t, we do on occasions tend to rub it in. No ‘Let’s-make-this-a-party-for-all!’-empathy to be discovered where I come from. Ours is much more a kind of a ‘You-don’t-have-a-lover?-Well-too-bad-for-you!’-attitude.

Having heard about many of my gaffes against American customs, Ruth had taken the time to send me an email, detailing St-Valentine’s celebrations in my adoptive country.
“Valentine has become a children’s holiday in the USA,” she explained. “And so as not to exclude anyone from the festivities, children are asked to write Valentine cards for all their classmates. Those cards will be exchanged during a Valentine celebration. And,” she had added, “since it’s an American children’s celebration, expect your children to come home on a sugar high, their backpacks loaded with enough candy to carry them through the year.”

Sweet Ruth. I was so grateful for her advise. At least this would be one event we’d celebrate the right way. Or so I thought.

I immediately drove to the pharmacy, annex mini-supermarket with a huge holiday cards collection, where I sent off my 11-year-old daughter in search of Valentine cards while I looked for some household essentials.
“Got them!” Eloise stated some fifteen minutes later. “Look at this one,” She flipped open a card, sending electronic giggling and ‘happy valentine’-screams through the ‘personal care’-isle.
“Don’t you love it?” she asked when the green and pink alien-looking creatures had stopped screaming. I could imagine pre-teens having fun with that card, but the $5.99 price tag somewhat put me off, however. Okay, there were only 14 children in her class, but still … Valentine promised to be an expensive celebration at this rate.

I dropped a tube of shower gel in my basket and walked with Eloise to the cards rack, helping her to locate some cheaper cards. At last we settled on two packages containing ten nondescript ‘notecards’ with envelopes. They didn’t boast any corky Valentine texts or red hearts, but at $6.99 per package they looked perfect to me.
Once home, my daughter immediately set to work, thinking hard to come up with a kind and personalized message for each of her class mates.
On D-day, Eloise left for school all excited about what her class mates would think about her cards and wondering what she would get in return.

That afternoon, when she came home after school, she was running, clearly on a sugar high, as predicted by Ruth.
“Valentine is the best!” she declared.
Really? Had this event at last opened the doors to some much-needed peer kindness for my daughter? Eloise had been struggling since September to make friends. Maybe her kind cards had opened their eyes at last and had made them discover that she was in fact a very sweet girl?
“So your friends were happy with your cards?” I inquired.
“Oh no!” Eloise replied, “I mean, I don’t know. They didn’t even look at them. I guess they’ll read them tonight … maybe…,” she seemed to ponder that, then added, “In fact I don’t think they will read them at all. You know mama, my cards kind of sucked.”
They did? Did those other kids buy those expensive cards then? And why was Eloise so happy if her cards ‘sucked’?
“Oh, so did you get nice cards from your friends?” I asked.
“Yessss!!” my daughter exclaimed, opening her back pack and retrieving a white paper bag on which she had drawn hearts and glued small foam shapes. Not bothering about her decorations, she tore it apart and shook out its contents.
“Look!” she said.
Out fell tiny cards, not larger than a clothes’ price tag, each showing a design of football or basketball players, glittery hearts or pop artists. Being so little, there was absolutely no room for some nice personalized message on them. Barely legible names had been scribbled on the lines labeled ‘to’ and ‘from’. ‘Nice’ was definitely not the word that came to my mind upon seeing those sorry excuses for cards. My card expectations in ‘Hallmark-country’ had clearly been too high.
What made the cards ‘nice’ in my daughter’s view however, were of course not the football players or pop artists. It was what was taped to the cards. For each card came with some pink or red candy.
Eloise greedily tore off all the candy, not even pausing to decipher the name of the child who had offered it to her.
“Too bad there are not more children in my class,” she concluded, looking at the small red-and-pink pile, while she stuffed a Twizzler in her mouth.
I had to agreed with her. Her class mates would probably think her cards ‘sucked’ …

A few years later, in a knee-jerk-reflex to be creative, I decided my son’s first grade Valentine cards would be home-made. The project turned out to be largely mine; given my son’s lack of motivation for crafting. Instead of candy, I opted for a healthy – and pedagogically correct – alternative, taping a pencil to each card. Thibaut couldn’t care less about the whole thing and was – just like his sister had been – only interested in the candy that came with his classmates’ cards.

Given my son’s lack of involvement the year before and my own limited enthusiasm for crafting, second grade Valentine saw me buying a cheap box of tiny Star Wars cards. Thibaut hurried to write his name on all cards, then disappeared as I taped pencils to them, which made the flimsy cards look ridiculously small.

Then came this year …
At the supermarket last week, I told Thibaut to check if he could find some nice Valentine cards. He came back with a ‘32-pack for $1.99’ of tiny ‘Skylanders’ cards.
“I didn’t know you were into ‘Skylanders’?” I asked.
“I’m not, but all the other cards are really too childish.”
“Do you want to go to another store to find something cooler?”
“No mama, I don’t care. Nobody looks at the cards anyway. Now, we need to find good candy. Not too large so we can easily tape it on the cards, but not too small, because then I’ll be the uncool kid who hands out tiny pieces of candy.”
“What about pencils?” I tried.
My son stared at me. “Not again, Mama! Nobody likes pencils. And besides, the class party planners usually give us some.”
Oh … okay.

Tonight, Thibaut’s friends might frown at the ‘Skylanders’ design for just a second. They will not notice his scribbling, hardly legible because of my son’s haste to get the card-writing out of the way. But they will probably be happy with the M&M-like, red-pink-and-white sugarcoated chocolates taped to the card.
“This is the best treat, mama!” Thibaut had declared upon purchase. “Chocolate and Belgians go together and everybody knows it!”
After giving in to the American Valentine routine, I wonder though how Belgian we can still claim to be?

I herewith declare our American Valentine integration to be complete!

Hélène Toye is the author of ‘Go West, A Belgian Attempts American Motherhood’, available on : http://amzn.com/1493592548

Cinnamon buns

“You need new lunch money? Again? That’s just not possible. I sent a thirty dollar check to school only three weeks ago and you hardly had school lunch since.”
My seven year old son just nods, the paper slip requesting fresh funds clutched in his outstretched hand.
“Listen, I’ll call the lunch lady tomorrow and I’ll talk to her,” I say, refusing to take the slip from him, “There must be a mistake. Some other child probably uses your pin number to buy food. But no worries. I’ll set it straight.”
“Oh,” Thibaut says, blushing, “are you really going to call her?” He suddenly looks somewhat alarmed.
“Of course,” I say resolutely, “I’m not going to sponsor lunch for the whole school. This has got to stop.” I turn to face the stove, marking the end of this conversation.

Thibaut doesn’t move however. I feel his eyes burning into my back while I stir vegetables in the wok.
“What is it?” I ask without turning around.
“Well, mama,” my son whispers, “it might be the cinnamon buns.”
What? I turn to face him.
“What might be the cinnamon buns?” I ask.
“Well, the lunch money,” Thibaut explains, staring at his shoes. “Maybe my money’s gone because of the cinnamon buns.”
“What do you mean? I’ve never seen cinnamon buns on the monthly menu.” And, between you and me, I am grateful for that. Pancakes, French toast, pizza, hotdogs and chicken tenders relaying each other on a ‘healthy’ school menu sounds bad enough to me. No need to add cinnamon buns to the mix, is there? Empty calorie bombs like that would probably be about the worst thing a school cafeteria could offer to young children. Surely the county’s menu planners are smarter than that.

“No mama,” Thibaut breaks my line of thought, “they’re not on the menu. They are just there, at the cafeteria. And I sometimes buy them.”
They are just there? On offer at the school cafeteria? And my son ‘sometimes’ buys them? That explains why all those healthy lunches I lovingly prepare each morning come back home, seemingly untouched. Turns out that “I was not that hungry” or “I didn’t have enough time to finish my lunch” really means “I stuffed my face with a cinnamon bun that looked a thousand times more appealing than my cheese sandwich and carrots. After ingesting that sugar bomb, my appetite was gone.”

“How often is sometimes?” I wonder, “every day?”
“No no! Not every day, mama!” my son exclaims, adding, “Only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
“So what about Tuesdays and Thursdays? Are you sure you don’t buy cinnamon buns those days too?” He must do so. Tuesday and Thursday lunch boxes are hardly more emptied than the other days’.
“No, honestly!” Thibaut replies, “I don’t! They don’t even sell cinnamon buns those days.”
“Then why don’t you ever finish your home-packed lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays?” I wonder.
“Well,” Thibaut’s gaze drifts back to his shoes, “that might be because of the Doritos.”

Doritos? Okay, I guess school cafeteria offerings can be worse than just cinnamon buns!


Helene Toye is the author of ‘Go West, A Belgian Attempts American Motherhood’, available on Amazon : http://amzn.com/1493592548

If you also want more healthy school cafeteria food, please consider signing this petition :


Stomach Bug


“Don’t worry, sweetie,” I tell my 7 year old son, caressing his back as he hinges over the toilet bowl, “it’s just a stomach bug. It will all be over by tomorrow night.”
He takes the tissue I hand him, wipes his mouth and says, “How did the bug get into my stomach, mama?”
Oh … poor little fellow. Despite his dreadful situation, he still manages to be cute.
I gently smile and say,
“It’s not a real bug. People just call it that. In fact it’s germs that have worked their way through your defense system.” We walk over to the sofa, where my pale son nestles his slender, warm body against mine.
“What is my defense system, mama?”
“Well, there are kind of little soldiers in your body. They are always ready to fight germs that want to infect you. Most of the time, your soldiers win but sometimes, when they are tired, the germs win.”
“What kind of weapons do my soldiers use?” Thibaut wants to know. I smile again.
“They don’t really use weapons. In fact, they’re not real soldiers. What we call them scientifically is white blood cells.”
“Oh, I know about the red blood pumping out of my heart and the blue blood going back in. But I never heard of white blood.”
“Well, mixed in with the red and blue blood, there are tiny white blood cells. They protect you. Somewhere in your body, right now, there is an alarm going off. ‘Code Red!’ it yells, ‘Thibaut is under attack! We must fight to make him better!’. That makes the white blood cells get to work.”
Thibaut puts his hand on his chest. “That’s why my heart is beating so hard,” he says, “I think my heart is the alarm system. It’s making a lot of noise in my body and pumping all those white cells around.” I nod.

Suddenly he jumps up and runs to the bathroom again. I hold his small shoulders as his body spasms over the bowl. Then I wipe the tears from his eyes.
“I felt the bug fluttering,” he says, catching his breath, “I hope it got out now.”

I hope so too …

Hélène Toye is the author of Go West, available on : http://amzn.com/1493592548

Santa Clause comes to American children. We have Sinterklaas!


    “I’ve circled what I want Sinterklaas to bring this year,” my seven-year-old son declares as he hands me the ‘Toys“R’”us’ catalogue.
I scan his selection and nearly have a heart attack. As expected, his choices are all marked on the Lego Star Wars pages. But Thibaut strategically ignored the cheaper sets, exclusively circling four sets in the $100 to $200 range, far exceeding the $50 budget we usually grant Sinterklaas for his purchases.
“You know, those sets are expensive. I don’t think Sinterklaas has that much money,” I tell my son.
“But that’s why I chose them. Sinterklaas doesn’t need money. He makes the toys!”
“No, he doesn’t,” I reply, grateful that I decided four years ago to hang on to our Belgian version of Santa Claus, instead of adjusting to the American ways.
“Santa Claus only comes for the American children,” I had declared at the time. “Belgian children have Sinterklaas.”

A word of explanation for those who don’t know Sinterklaas is in order, I realize.

Starting out as a bishop long ago in faraway Turkey, Saint-Nicholas (or Sinterklaas) was a good man who cared for the poor, motivating the rich people to share with the less-fortunate.
Somehow over the centuries, Sinterklaas’ personality seems to have split in two.

One of his halves moved to the North Pole and started visiting the United States on a yearly basis in a sled pulled by a bunch of flying reindeer. Just like everyone who spends a lot of time in the States, Sinterklaas gained a few pounds and shed his stern aura. The man scored himself a wife and recruited a small army of little people who happily set off to work in a toy factory that would have made Henry Ford jealous. Through all those reforms, the skinny, intimidating and severe-looking  alter-ego of Sinterklaas has transformed into a chubby and cheerful Santa, whose dark eyes — almost completely hidden by his round, red cheeks — seem to light up as he utters countless ‘Ho-ho-ho’s’.

Meanwhile, Sinterklaas’ other half also packed his stuff and moved from Turkey to Spain, where he started focusing on children. Before some of your dirty minds go into overdrive, a word of warning. Sinterklaas’ fascination with kids is not in the least perverted, even though he initially did enjoy the occasional spanking of badly-behaved boys. Nor is the man obsessed with children all the time either. Tradition has him living in sunny Spain all year, in the company of his mischievous servant, Zwarte Piet (literally ‘Black Pete’) and a white horse. Nobody really knows what Sinterklaas, Piet and his horse do all year. They certainly don’t keep busy making toys, the ways Santa’s elves do. The general assumption seems to be that they just lazily hang around, enjoying the warm weather and eating good food. But comes the end of November, Sinterklaas and his sidekicks start rolling. The three of them embark on a steamboat and set off for Belgium (don’t ever believe the Dutch when they say Sinterklaas is headed for Amsterdam. Antwerp is his destination, as all Belgians know). Once there, Sinterklaas moves from throne to throne, posing for pictures with children at department stores, corporate parties and youth clubs.
Then comes the night of December 5, the eve before Sinterklaas’ very own birthday. Instead of granting the poor, skinny, old man a much needed night’s rest, he is forced to mount his white horse. Now, this horse proceeds to exhibit some sudden magical powers by gracefully elevating itself onto the rooftops, where it’s hooves find perfect grip on the ice-covered tiles. Zwarte Piet — Sinterklaas’ faithful helper — walks next to the horse, carrying a big bag filled with toys. He is the one who descends down every chimney — hence his black face — artfully arranging the toys around countless Belgian fireplaces.. Grabbing the carrots that grateful children have left in their shoes to reward the magic horse, Zwarte Piet swiftly replaces them with unwrapped chocolate and candy, which Belgian kids will eat the next day — completely oblivious to any potentially funky shoe odors. In the olden days, Zwarte Piet’s sack also contained a whip which he would use on the ‘lucky’ bad kids. Their less fortunate bad peers would be unmercifully stuffed into Zwarte Piet’s sack and be delivered to Sinterklaas for a proper punishment, whatever that might have been.
Nowadays however, Europe got more civilized. Even we think using whips on kids and stuffing them into sacks might potentially be traumatic. As a result the whipping and sack-stuffing have been deleted from Zwarte Piet’s job description, considerably improving the man’s popularity among children.

My decision four years ago to adhere to our Sinterklaas tradition and to ignore Santa, was not borne out of a stubborn refusal to adjust to the American way of life. I just figured that our winters were spiced with enough presents as it was. What with both our children’s winter birthdays, Sinterklaas, our family’s Christmas gift exchanges, plus New Year? Besides, we had initially planned to move back to Belgium in a mere two years time, so why add new tradition we’d soon be dropping ?

“Where does Sinterklaas get his presents if he doesn’t make them?” Thibaut wants to know.
Now that’s a good question. Nowhere in the Sinterklaas stories, can one learn where the man gets his toys. Were they purchased at the store down the street? Does the bishop have an underground superstore in his Spanish Castle? Or does he use magic to fill Piet’s sack? It’s all very vague.
“I think he buys them,” I reply.
“That’s not possible!” Thibaut exlaims. “Everyone would recognize him if he went to the store.”
“Well,” I say, stalling while I think. “Maybe he sends Zwarte Piet to the store. He wouldn’t stand out as much.”
“With his flashy clothes and his silly hat with the feather? Mama, everyone would stare at him!”
“Well, … , I guess they just order everything from Amazon then,” I say, proud of my reply.
“For all those kids? That would take forever! Besides, Sinterklaas would have to give his password to Zwarte Piet. He’d never trust him to order stuff on Amazon!”
“Okay, …, well, …, I really don’t know where he gets the presents, but he certainly does not make them. You’d better choose some cheaper Lego sets for him to bring. He’ll never have enough money for the ones you selected.”

Slightly disappointed, Thibaut sets to work again, leafing through the catalogue in search of cheap presents. Suddenly his face lights up.
“I know what I’ll do!” he announces. “Soon I will become American, right?”
“Well, not very soon, but you will, eventually,” I reply, wondering where this is leading.
“Well, I’ll write an email to Santa, asking if he can come to our house this year already. Santa doesn’t need money to make Lego sets. He’ll bring me the ‘Death Star’ or the ‘Millenium Falcon’ for sure!”
Oh …
“What about Sinterklaas then?”
“That’s the good thing!” Thibaut jumps to his feet, all smiles. “You said we would be American AND Belgian. So Sinterklaas will still bring the good chocolate, the candy and the cheap presents and Santa will bring the cool toys!”

Oh, I guess we’d better start saving then …

Want to read more? Helene Toye’s book : “Go West: A Belgian Attempts American Motherhood” is available on http://amzn.com/1493592548

Paper Bag Lunch



Only yesterday, sitting on my son’s friend’s porch, I boasted about my near-perfect integration into American culture. 

“Yes, it’s true,” I told Susan when she asked if moving from Europe four years ago had been hard, “It was difficult at times. Mostly I felt like such an alien. Everything I did seemed not to match the customs. I am so happy I now know what is expected of me.” If only I had known what awaited me this morning!


I am preparing my 7-year-old son for a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History.

“Please pack a paper bag lunch,” his teachers’ note reads. And that’s really all it takes to throw me off-guard …


After scavenging through the mess of my bags-cupboard, I proudly produce a small, lunch-sized brown paper bag with handles. Thibaut, always very conscious of doing the right thing, does not seem convinced. 

“Are you sure this is the kind of bag I need?” he asks. 

“I’m sure this one is perfect,” I reply self-assuredly while I slice a buttered sandwich in half. And that’s when it hits me. I don’t know how to prepare a paper bag lunch! For how do you put buttered sandwiches in a paper bag? Do you just slide them in? Surely if you do, the butter will stain the paper, make it all greasy and prone to tearing. So maybe I need to put the sandwiches into a small plastic ziplock bag before slipping them into the paper bag? But then the whole recycling point of paper is gone, right? My son can’t make me any wiser.

“I don’t know how the other kids pack their lunch, mama,” he says, sighing. “Their moms probably know how to do it.” Oh, how I long for the Belgian field trips on which every child carries his own mini-backpack containing his own sturdy lunchbox! 

I decide to go for the small ziplock within the paper bag and throw in a liquid yoghurt stick as a dessert. 

“What about drinks?” I turn to my son again. “Can you bring your water bottle?”

“I don’t think so,” he replies, “I think we have to throw everything away after the lunch.” So I take a small plastic bottle out of the fridge. Only, with the condensation on the bottle, the paper bag will surely tear, right? 

“Should I put your paper bag in a plastic bag, so we’re sure it doesn’t get ripped?” I ask my son. 

“No mama! Then it’s not a paper bag lunch anymore.” Thibaut looks exasperated, so I decide not to push it and just slip the wet bottle into the paper bag, bravely ignoring the dark wet stains that immediately show. There, the lunch is ready. But what about transportation? Will it be thrown into a big basket with the other lunch bags before being hauled onto the bus? My son’s bag will surely spill all its contents if it is not held upright, by the handles. I quickly run to my daughter’s room to grab some tape.

“What are you doing now, mama?” Thibaut exclaims. 

“I’m closing your lunch bag,” I explain.

“Not with tape! You have to fold the top so that it closes,” my son instructs me. I look at the small bag with handles, from which the top of the water bottle protrudes. “There is no extra paper on the top, Thibaut. I can’t fold anything.” My son watches in horror as I tape the top of his bag. Then I take a Sharpie. 

“What is that for?” Thibaut asks, looking on the verge of a breakdown. 

“To write you name on your bag,” I explain. “How else will you know which bag is yours?” 

“Oh, no, now everyone will know the weird lunch bag is mine!” 

What? This bag is not weird! I just shrug, writing my son’s name in neat small letters. I take a step back to admire my work. The bag looks cute, actually. Almost like a small present. All it’s missing is a colorful bow. One look at my son however, tells me that a nice bow would be over the top, so I decide to let go of my creativity.

My computer, producing a joyful ‘Ping!’ to alert me of a new e-mail, averts my attention to more earthly matters.

“The government shutdown includes the DC Smithsonian museums. So, unfortunately, we need to cancel today’s field trip,” Ms. Gomez’s mail reads. Oh, that is sad. Thibaut will be SO disappointed.

“Bad news, Thibaut,” I turn to my son, trying to find the best words to break this news. “You will not be able to go on your field trip today. But Ms. Gomez promises  – “  My lengthy and empathic explanation is cut short.

“Great!” Thibaut grabs his paper bag lunch from the kitchen counter and tears it apart. “Then I don’t need to take this paper bag!” In two moves he transfers his food to his regular lunchbox, only leaving behind pitifully looking paper shreds on the stone counter. 


So much for my attempts at being an American mom. After dropping off my – very cheerful – son at school, I return home, determined to find a You-tube tutorial on how to prepare a paper bag lunch. Another step forward to my complete integration.