Monday, January 03, 2011

Life catches up with even the fastest runners

I would swear my inlaws tried to kill me with food and drink. The torture went on for 10 days straight.  It was brutal. In a pleasant sort of way.

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?


Kristi said...

I feel for you and the 'discussions' to come about this important issue. You went with Ian to France to experience the newness of everything. I hope you can find somewhere you can call home. Even go back to the US for the next 10+ years so the girls can be in school and then move back out for a few years to do more exploring.

Good luck and thanks for sharing.

Betsy said...

Wow, Kristi. YOu are a fast reader. I am still editing this post. Thanks for your two cents. It means a lot to me. I haven't yet begun to face the weight of our "decisions."

Lisa said...

You have perfectly encapsulated the exact way I feel about where we live now. Its where we live, its what we're stuck with, but it will never be home. Great piece of writing.

Amy V Palmer said...

I'm itchy-footed too, and never more excited than when I'm envisioning the next adventure. It begins with curiosity, but there is an underlying sense that life is more stimulating, fulfilling or better over there - wherever that is. How wonderful for Esther that you echoed her feelings. Nicely done.

cecile said...

I think you resumed what a lot of exiled people feel... Where exactly IS home ? Where we are with our spouse and children ? Where our parents are ? Whose parents ? (we too have parents on each side of the Ocean, further even, France and AZ) And most of all, I don't want my children to grow up thinking that they too will have to leave and go to a faraway place.
Well, that said, I wish you a good year, wherever.

Anonymous said...

wow, Betsy. Thank you, again, for sharing so much. So much of your feelings, emotions, life, parents who are aging, feeling like a fake as a parent yourself/pretending to know what in the world we are doing as parents to young children... so much of your thoughts on home, and temporary home, and going home, and being home.... I am sending you hugs. It is all a lot. This phrase my best girlfriend and I say on the phone to each other weekly, if not daily. And we are separated by a continent. Life is hard. But also beautiful and wonderful, as you also said so well. Good for you, forging ahead, even while falling over. I just flashed on your story of you stopping and sobbing. We should all stop and sob sometimes. Hugs again. From me, a transplant, also, but probably a permanent one, cuz it is where the bills are paid job is located. Hugs. From long time reader me, who must figure out how to log on with my name!

Meowmie said...

Love the photos - all that crisp snow, and the warmth and fun indoors with family. (Yeah, this Aussie walked to church on Christmas Day in capri pants and a short-sleeved shirt. :-))

It does sound hard, this lack of permanence. Home isn't always where you find it - it's much more complicated than that - and if your family doesn't feel like the surroundings are home, then it's even harder.

I found it hard enough to move around to find jobs when I was in my 20s and single. (Moved house about 12 times in 6 years, including overseas and interstate.) I guess that's why I like being in the one spot now and thinking whether to move to another city makes me go cold with fright and worry.

Anonymous said...

KiminAZ (because I can't remember my password!):
*Sigh* I understand exactly what you're saying! You know where I want to be, too! We're stuck here for now, but hopefully we'll be able to move before to long...... It's about feeling like you belong in the place that you're at. I've never felt like I belong here. How much longer do you think it'll be until you can go home?

As a side note, I LOVE that green stove in those pictures! It's fabulous and I want one! I also love the picture of Isla sleeping. So sweet! I don't know if she works like my littlest one, though. If he takes a nap it's almost impossible to get him to bed!

nancyk said...

Very honest piece of writing, I applaude you. Really nice. I feel for you and can relate. But do remember you didn't come to France because you wanted to... but because of economic necessity - which means the heart never quite settles as it does when you CHOOSE - and choose out of DESIRE, not need...You left because it was necessary, temporarily necessary.... Having elderly parents is certainly a big problem, especially when they're so far apart... But again, the question of where you WANT TO BE can be completely obfuscated by where you think you should be... The only place where you should be is where you want to be. And then you work from there.... And within the constraints of economic necessity..... The hearts has layers. It's not which family needs you most. The family which needs you most is YOURS. And your family needs to be able to make a living. Given that, where are you more likely to survive and strive? UK or US?

Betsy said...

Dear Anonymous: You could always just tell me your name?? If you wanted to of course? I love the image of forging ahead while falling over. And having kids keeps us from spending too much time getting back up again. Thanks for reading, and commenting.

Danielle said...

I don't even know you and I want you to come home.
Keep talking, we're listening.

Betsy said...

Amy: I've recently learned that sometimes acknowledgment is more appropriate than encouragement. I'm trying.

Betsy said...

Kimin AZ: That stove is an AGA. The Jaguar of ovens. It is a must when living in a cold stone house in England. It's going all the time. No need to preheat. It is heaven. Could even turn me into a cook. No need for one in Arizona, I'm afraid. You would pass out from the heat in your kitchen. Would be great for VT but only in Winter.

Betsy said...

Nancyk: Thanks. And you are so right about my very own family, imagine that, is the one who needs me the most. That can somehow get overlooked amidst the hurry scurry. I can't answer your final question, not right now anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I just landed on your blog by way of Soulemama and, goodness, it was good to read your post. Please don't take that as meaning I'm happy in any way that you're struggling but as a Scot living in the Netherlands I can empathise with much of what you're feeling - except my husband IS Dutch and my children were born here so "home" is here for them, but not for me - and sometimes it's just that little bit too hard not to resent the fact that one's 5 year old daughter really loves this dull, flat, uninspiring land ...! So good luck with the decisions and moves ahead of you, I hope you'll all find your true home without much more heartache.

Betsy said...

Lavender Hearts: Thanks for stopping in. I love hearing about other intercultural couples. My husband is a patriotic Scot. His dad was from Dundee. If he could have his way, we would live there. And.... my sister lived in Holland for six years, near Gennep?. I visited her in the winter several times. Starkly beautiful. If it weren't for the barn full of beautiful horses she was caring for, I'm sure she wouldn't have lasted so long. But the grass is greener everywhere, isn't it. And winter is often like childbirth. We keep forgetting about the pain.

sharon in prague said...

SO true ... "growing up" abroad. I left when I was 25 and am now 40 with children. Where is home? What about the our parents in CA and PA? Where do we go next? Home? Where is that? We have spent most of "our" lives together in Europe. Another European city? Mid-East wherethe husband seems to be working a lot?

Anonymous said...

Love your blog!! Where in England did you all go? The photo of the paddocks looks like my backyard in the Midlands where I lived 6 years back in the US...