Friday, April 01, 2011

Time to go home

I am a thief. The wrecker of childhood friendships. Meddler in junior international relations. 

We are going back to America. Abruptly.

After getting a depressing e-mail from our rental tenants back in Vermont, a long tale of roommate dysfunction and financial woe, I crawled into our dark bed, snuggled up next to Ian and worried.

Though he was still awake, I said nothing.

The next morning, I told him about the e-mail. With daylight the news became less and less ominous and more illuminating. Had we not been waiting for a sign about what to do next? When to call it an adventure? How to wrap up this raucous, seemingly-unending chapter of our lives up into some sort of responsible, adult ending?

Well. Here it was. 

It is getting clearer and clearer to me now that it's time. We are outliving our income here. We have not the resources, or, seemingly, the audacity to consider exploring France, or Europe, further. Not that we haven't entertained the thought, endlessly.

While I still feel unsure, if not slightly defeated, about the thought of returning back to Go, I can’t see my way through how not to return.

How and why. Why wouldn’t we return? It is our home. The mountains, the trees, the snow, the spring peepers, the bugs, my family, our friends, our dog, our lovely house, all of it. Our home. Why wouldn’t we go home?

We never intended to stay in France indefinitely. It is no weakness to recognize that a foreign land, however beautiful and culturally rich, holds no deep intrigue, no sense of belonging for you. It is wisdom. Plain and simple.

I have tried and tried to deny that I am rigid in my needs. I need snow. I need sport. I need mountains, I need movement, activity,  roots. Most of all, I need the complete connection of common language, something I don’t see happening for a long long time, if ever, here.

I need to feel my upper body sway and dance and shiver and shake in the elements but I need to feel my lower half firmly rooted to one place. How liberating it is to admit this. I want my home. I need my home. This free floating is no longer for me. Even a sea captain longs for the home he leaves behind each time he sets sail. As do I. It’s not human weakness. It is human.

There is more to excitement than simply not being at home. My life may be inherently more interesting, in a logistical way, but it's not automatically fuller, or richer, because I am in France.

It may be different. It may be challenging. But it is not full in any sense of the word. It is in ways more shallow, somehow one dimensional. Living in a foreign language, without being able to fully express oneself, is like living behind glass. Being voiceless. I want to live in 3-D again.

I need attachment. A sense of place is what has driven me all my life.

Sometimes I have run from sense of place, especially that sense of place I've always derived from my birthplace. The rest of the time I have spent searching for it, lamenting the lack of it, analysing what it is exactly. Sense of place.

Where I fit in. How the world fits around me, like a stage. My backdrop, the backdrop for my play. My life.

Now that we’ve decided to go home, everything is taking on a surreal, bittersweet, last-chance, three -months- to- live quality. I've been watching the kids, not daring yet to tell them.

But the other night, with a Guinness in hand, for courage, sitting by the glowing coals of Ian’s bonfire at dusk, the air growing cold but the birds still singing busily, I told Esther and Isla.

Esther sat next to me by the fire, then said, as if on cue, “Let’s talk about something. Something fun. What should we talk about?”

“Well,” I smiled. “How about we talk about going home?”

“Okay, she said, thinking it was the usual circular conversation we have had so many times before.

“We are going home,” I said. "Soon. Really soon. Like maybe Easter, soon.”

Esther's eyes got big. Her face registered confusion.

I explained our reasons, gave her some more details. Then we got quiet and we both stared at the fire as it took on different shapes and moods. It was filled twinkling lights, like the glowing windows of fairy homes. Then I saw what looked like the Louvre burnt down to a shell, in the coals.

Isla, in my lap, said nothing. She acted as if we were talking about the weather.

I feel bad,” Esther finally said "I feel bad for Oliver and Georgia."

“Like you know that feeling when Evelyn told me she was going to be homeschooled?”

 “Yes,” I said.

“But they will understand. They knew, on some level, you weren’t staying here forever.”

“Yea, but they didn’t know I was leaving before the school year was over."

Then, at dinner, we  talked some more, and talked about Martha. I told Isla she would be able to  go to Martha’s.

Finally, Isla tuned in.

“I’m going to Martha’s?


She got out of her chair, walked around the table, kissed me lightly on the cheek, and said, “Merci, Maman,” and walked back to her chair.

Since that day, she has asked me almost every day, "Are we going home to America today?" 

"Not today," I say. "But soon. Real soon."


Laree said...

In the 4 years I've been reading your work, your family has been on quite the adventure. I'm excited for you to go home. There is just such a magic about that word!

But how awesome it is that you've let your kids have this experiance too. They will always be able to say "back when I lived in France . . ."

Which is pretty darn cool!

Kate said...

Oh Betsy I am so happy for you and your family. I've been following you for years as well, and am looking forward to reading more of your adventures in parenting. My husband's mother brought he and his siblings to France back in the late 60s/early 70s to live for a few years and my husband still refers to the experience in conversations - even though he was only 5-6 at the time. He remembers it, remembers speaking French in school, and it has real meaning for who he has become as an adult. Congratulations on making through this adventure. We here in Vermont look forward to welcoming you back home.

-alex said...

It will definitely be bittersweet, but you know that already. If you ever need a pen pal in the reverse culture shock wars, feel free to email me offline.

On the other hand, you will have your blog job and friends and family and the lovely memories of your time in France. I'm wishing you "good move" karma in the next few months.

Pearmama said...

Beautifully written, Betsy. Isn't it amazing how we all yearn for home?

cecile said...

I'm happy for you. I hope you will enjoy your last few weeks in France and keep some good memories of that time.

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Oh wow, Betsy. This is so bittersweet! I am sad about your leaving so soon, and so abruptly, and yet I am also excited for you because it does seem so right based on your explanation and feelings as you so wonderfully wrote about here (as always -- is your writing ever BAD?! lol). I'm a little disappointed for I had a little fantasy that maybe we could hook up in Paris and meet one of these days. Maybe not. But who knows? Maybe sometime in the future we will. You never know!

This particular adventure is coming to an end, but certainly the adventures will continue. I'm looking forward to knowing what your Vermont life is going to be like, since I only just started reading when the French life began. I am really interested to know what the experience will be going back to the US: what things you will notice, what things will happen that perhaps you did not anticipate. I'm curious about what reverse culture-shock is going to be like, and how you feel about it, so please keep on blogging!

Best to you, Ian and the girls as you wrap this chapter in France up. :)

MT said...

I am so happy for you! I think the key thing is that you have a life already firmly rooted that you will be returning to. I don't, which is why I think I was/am so sad to have left Geneva, while at the same time being happy to be back in Canada. It has been a hard adjustment for the boys to go to a new school. They are used to the Swiss system, whereas the girls will be returning to a familiar environment.
My advice to the move back is that if there is any doubt as to whether or not to bring something back with you, bring it, or at least store it somewhere until Ian's sister can bring it to you. I actually feel slightly traumatized by the amount of belongings that we jettisoned when we came back. Some of it due to space restrictions, but some of it due simply to having procrastinated too long in packing...
Good luck!

Anonymous said...


I'm really happy for you! It was a great experience for all of you, but it will be nice to go home.

Still looking forward to pictures of the farm house. Maybe a before/after post?

I hope that everything's alright with your house. Won't it be nice to put all of your furniture back into it's little niches. Even the "collect all" bowls and places that just seem to be dumping spots for everything will be nice to have back. Because it's YOURS! Not to mention no mold creeping up the walls! And remember those chilly early mornings in the living room when everything was still quiet? You get to have those back too! Your parents and siblings, your dog, your house, your yard, your friends, your language.........

Let us know how it feels to be home.

Laura said...

I'd love to see some pictures too of the farmhouse - is it all done?

C. said...

How very beautifully you have articulated your need to return Betsy. I too feel that slightly untethered sensation of being away from home; roots pulled and 'free floating'. You have sucked the marrow from your French experience and will have no regrets. Enjoy your remaining time and then enjoy returning home. x

i.ikeda said...

I think the key is that you're going home. Home. Everyone needs to have that sense of place and belonging. I was an expat living in the US for a long time. But that's no longer true. I'm now home, in the US. When I go back to visit my family, that's where I feel that surrealism, that dream/reality line that we walk. As long as you know the place where you don't experience that, the place that keeps you grounded and safe, then you have a home.

It's wonderful that you've had the experience that you did, and that now you'll be going home to your roots. Congrats.

Anonymous said...

Like everyone else I am super excited for you! I hope "home" is everything you imagine it to be and you RELAX and let that heavy burden of not having a "home" (for you or your girls) off your shoulders ... go outside every day, sit by the window every day you can't go outside and take it all in. Remember this is what you've longed for and missed ... even when the girls are bickering in the background and you want to scream! Send them outside or go outside yourself. You're out in the middle of nowhere, where you can scream without the neighbors sticking their heads out the window to see what nut is screaming :-)


Robin said...

I'm sure the transition will have its awkwardness: the saying goodbye, the general moving stress, the concerns about your Vermont home. But really, is there a better time to go home than spring?

Meowmie said...

So sweet, so sad, a relief but a little burden, too. I wish you all the best with your travel and packing.

Betsy said...

Karin: I have that same fantasy. So much so that I sometimes expect to run into you on the streets of Paris. Time is running short, I have so many regrets. Especially Paris regrets. I promised Esther we would see Versailles......

HeatherLili said...'s a wonderful thing. Never let that go! : )

Betsy said...

adriane-p: Thanks for the advice. I am sure I there will be primal screaming. Hopefully the neighbors will think it's coyotes.

sharon said...

You have made my homesickness worse than before. :-( I can't wait to get back in June (it is 4/10), but it will only be for 7 weeks ... hopefully my Czech survival batteries will be re-charges b/c they are on empty.

sharon said...

Do be aware of reverse culture shock. The first 6 months after my first stint abroad were rough ... getting used to "home" again and seeing it through new eyes is, well, eye opeing. There will be a period of re-adjustment.

Betsy said...

Sharon: I was expecting a bit of culture shock. I experienced it, briefly, on a recent short trip to California. Talk about contrasts, France to California...
But this trip being my first time "really back" in America, I am curious to see how it will feel and seem. I hope you get home soon.
I am still wondering when I will ever see Prague...