Monday, January 03, 2011
Life catches up with even the fastest runners
I have never met an entire family of naturally-thin people who love to prepare and eat food, continuously, as much as these people do. It’s hard not to be a bit intimidated by it. It's like being Betty Crocker in a house full of Julia Child clones. Or maybe I'm Chef Boyardee...
Christmas seems so much more lively, with so much more stamina, than it does with my family back in America. I blame it on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving screws up Christmas in America.
Families get burnt out on each other. The Brits are fresh, eager to eat and drink and get on each other’s nerves for the first time since last year. While the Americans are still feeling resentful for what was said, or not said, or cooked, or not cooked, over Thanksgiving.
But it's over now. We have gone from hedonism to a life of simple frugality. The contrast between being at Ian's sister's busy house in England to being here in our quiet home away from home in France is stark.
On our way home, a long and tedious road trip, Esther confessed she didn’t want to go back to France.
For the first time since we left America, I not only acknowledged her feelings, I agreed with her. Normally, in defensive mode, ever trying to fix things, I tend to invalidate her feelings, and force her to see how lucky she is. I'm making progress.
“I feel exactly the same way,” I said, “I don’t want to go either.”
“It’s just that I don’t really like France all that much,” Esther confessed.
“Either do I,” I said.
Why should we? Why should I keep trying to fake it? What value is there in pretending to like a place just because people expect it to be beautiful and fabulous from what they hear and read about in books? Everyone is susceptible to the grass is greener lie. Everyone.
But that is all it is, a lie. An illusion. Wishful thinking. A trick of the mind. An escapist fantasy.
“My life is dull," people think to themselves, "lacking in culture, excitement, social fullness, intellectual stimulation. It must be better elsewhere.”
Wanting to be somewhere other than where one actually is, is the human condition, is it not?
So here we are, away, and, yes, we're here for a purpose, and France is beautiful and fabulous, when it's not ugly and horrible, and it has been exciting and it has been a grand, enlightening, intellectually stimulating experience, and I don’t regret it in any way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want, don’t need, to go home.
Long story short, I feel exactly as Esther feels and having Esther feel that way is almost a relief to me, since it would be much harder to pull her away from a place she truly loved in order to go home when the time comes.
She misses her friends and family in Vermont. She misses feeling home. She misses her dog.
If there is one thing we just don’t have in France it's any semblance of home. We can make up a place that looks like home all we want, but if it doesn’t feel like home, like any sort of permanent place. I can confidently say, it will never be home.
Esther’s friends, all those expat Brits and the few French girls she has befriended, were all born in France and have homes with closets and basements and attics filled up with their stuff. Their parents aren’t wondering each day, what next. They are resigned to stay. They are home. This is the difference.
We, on the other hand, are only so delicately moored to one spot. If a strong wind came along, it might just lift us up and carry us off, like leaves without a tree, left to cling to the breeze, not knowing where we might land.
Visiting England only brings our rootlessness into focus. Having Ian’s family as a surrogate family is healing and so welcome. The warmth, the comfort, the activity, the constant company, has been good for the kids. Good for all of us.
But it's also laced with the underlying tone of temporariness: We can’t stay here. England isn’t our home either. Ian has never really had a home here since he was a boy. Even then, I'm not sure he felt like England was his home. Having been born in India, then moved to Australia, then onto England, then hitting the road as soon as he was old enough to leave, he might be the original blowing leaf.
Or maybe it was Ian's mother's parents, who left the secure comforts of England behind to brave the wilds of Australia, in what was then considered a bold, maverick move, who started all of this. This trend towards restless transience.
Then there's my family, those that stay put, that goes back six generations, so deeply rooted into the rocky soil of Vermont, the strongest of breezes, or the longest of winters, could not convince them to move. Then again, I'm only considering the paternal side of things. My mom came from Brooklyn, via the Midwest. Perhaps my own itchy feet bottoms were inherited from her mom, or her mom's mom, or Great Aunt Charlotte...
The fact that Ian's mother is growing increasingly unable to care for herself only complicates things. Where do we belong? Where are our obligations? Are they with my family or his? I can't ignore the fact that my own parents are aging on the other side of the pond. Needing me. Well, maybe not yet needing me, but I am feeling the need to be there. To be closer.
The reality of Ian and I both having aging parents on either sides of the ocean is hitting hard right now. An inherent flaw with intercontinental marriages.
Life feels out of control, as always. And, as always, I’m faking this parenthood thing. Acting as if I really know what I’m doing but not really ever being sure what my, our, next move is.
For now the next move is to make the most of our stay here. Learning more French before we go home and forget it. Forging bonds that will soon be severed. All those things that make you understand just how important it is to live in and for the moment.
For what else do we really have?