The sound of a bins’ truck down our street.
The warmth and whiff of the mug of tea – or coffee.
The damp smell of humidity from the shower.
The normalcy of brushing one’s teeth.
An areugh and a laugh downstairs.
The smell of toast, the pang, the crunch – spreading butter…
The scent of fresh air and grass when I open the door.
Quacking pigeons and seagulls.
The wind in the leaves.
A kiss under the blue sky.
A cat miawing, a car roaring.
The sound of the truck driving away.
What a lovely day!
Probably a consequence of being pregnant – and of having moved again – I find myself thinking more and more about the choices that we make, how these choices impact our children, and the notion of Home. After leaving my country of birth at 25 and living in three European countries since (the Netherlands, the UK and now Ireland), it appears to me that the notion of home is actually a hard one to define. It is a subject that comes back very often, especially in times of political upheaval.
What is your Home? It seems unimaginable to a lot of people that the identity of one’s home may change. Some say it is your country of birth. Others that it is your country of origin. What if these two are different? What if they are the same but you left years or decades ago?
Some say that they couldn’t leave their country of origin and/or birth. Or “you will go back” they say “people always go back”. But my mum didn’t and she left her country 40 years ago. On behalf of my son I try to explain that although the country of birth (the Netherlands) and the country of origin (France) are important, the place where you grow up, where you live, is also important (Ireland from now on, hopefully). It is where you learn the codes, the language with the local accent, the culture, you follow the news and the TV, be it cartoons – they are different in different times and different countries – or films. Jokes are made and spread based on movies, events or politics, and your relation to others is linked to this. How many jokes and cultural references have I missed since I left France? How many of our jokes – or even the words we use – does our family not understand? If we were to go back, I try to say, we would never be totally French anymore, not in our eating habits, our references, our points of views.
I truly believe that we would not be able to live in a small village and be accepted there. We would be seen as different, the ones always discussing subjects from another point of view, always taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. The ones who would not care if children eat in MacDonald’s once a month or watch so many hours of TV, or are breastfed past their infancy or in public… A lot of the local opinions we wouldn’t agree with anymore, or wouldn’t care about. We would stand out.
My country of birth is France. My country of origin is France, but also England, or the UK: my mother was born in the UK and left when she was 20. One of her grandfathers was Scottish of origin (from both his parents who had been born and bred there), and one of her grandmothers was Irish, again of origin if not of birth.
My dad is French from French parents who lived in two African countries in the 50s, he was still little when they came back to France. One of his great grand father was born in Columbia in the 19th century, from French parents, who decided to go back to France when he was in his teens.
Am I French? Part British? I believe I grew up a mix, about 60 to 75% French because of school, TV, having a French dad, growing up in France… 25 to 40% British because we went to the UK regularly to visit our family there. My mum probably raised us a bit more like British children than French (how could she do otherwise?) and as a girl I showed interest for where she came from.
Then I left France when I was 25, to the Netherlands, where I lived for 8 years. The first years were tough, I was homesick for my family, for parts of the culture, for the language (though we speak French at home). But it passed and Amsterdam became Home. Not Dutch, we were something in between. We became what is known as “non-residents” of France. Not expats as we didn’t pay taxes in France, but French citizens living abroad, paying our taxes in the Netherlands, voting for the local representative AND for the French president. We had bank accounts in Amsterdam and kept a bank account in France. We had to give my parents address for that one: there was no possibility to give a foreign address! People always come back I suppose 😉
Over a year and half ago, my husband was offered a position in Cardiff, Wales. After eight years in Amsterdam, and with a son not yet of school-age, we thought why not? Now is the time if we want to try something else. So we went. I and my son have British passports thanks to my mother and we hoped that my husband could ask for one in a few years. Then many things happened, not the least Brexit. We started looking again and, 6 months pregnant, we recently moved after accepting an offer for a position in Dublin, Ireland.
When asked where we are from (you can’t hide the accent), we say we are French – and if I have time I explain a bit more, though most people probably don’t care, they just want boxes – but I don’t actually believe that we are French anymore. We are not registered to vote there – I feel a bit guilty considering, but should we vote, really? I don’t think we will ever go back, though who knows? But why should we? Home is not there. We have family there. There are things we like there and things we don’t. We speak the language and know the history. Home is not here yet either but it could become.
The thing is, home is not necessarily where you were born or where your parents were born or where you grew up, it can be where you choose (or were forced) to live for love or for work or for any other reason. It is as much a given as a choice. It is made of the place and the people. But it doesn’t mean you have to leave all your past experiences behind. Or that you have to like everything about the place. And who does?
Will we move again? I don’t know, I hope not. Will we go back to France? I don’t know, I think not. It would be like giving up our dream, like going back to live with your parents at 35 after a divorce – we might feel like we failed. People wouldn’t care about our life in those years of living abroad. Of course we came back, it’s France! Well it’s a great country in some ways and not in others… To blend in we would probably have to pack up our memories and experiences and lock them up. We would have to follow the French rules of behaviour and communication again, some of which have probably changed since we left. I don’t even know what kind of music or TV shows or films people watch and listen to there!
To conclude, here are two links for poems that I wrote on the subject:
“She gave us this gift from back home”
Understanding they are good neighbours, friends even.But what her voice and her skin do not say is she left this home her country 40 years past. There is no forgetting. She cooks one way one day and the other the next, speaks to her children in the language for them to access the knowledge, the culture. They learn the major tongue elsewhere. Uprooted at six months old he lived here for forty years. What his voice does not say he tells strangers willingly:
“I am from there” he smiles and chooses to remember.He tells stories and asks for them,visits landmarks with his children.Did they laugh in school at his name, at his parents' voice, until he owned them?
“Not from here, different” some say, some whisper. What does it take to be accepted or tolerated? What does it take to not be? A voice, a skin, a remembrance of identity
– food, people, places, customs? Blend in some cannot, would they want it or not,a mixture made over time they have a foot over some line, drawn with changing references it forgets history and choices.
We made an offer on a house today and it was accepted!!! And I’ve stopped watching BBC News 🙂 We know what we need to know. The times are uncertain, it might get worse, but it might not…
Our options are therefore:
To live in fear and worry and wait to buy – for how long? Do we want to maybe live in rentals forever, knowing pensions funds are uncertain?
To buy a small house to repay as fast as possible to sell in 5/7 years when it is too small for us – at the risk that we cannot sell because it loses too much value or because houses don’t sell well then
To buy the house we want and can (currently) afford, which gives us the space we’re looking for for another child and the possibility to stay forever if we want, at 3 or more
We are 34 and 37 this year and put like this, I find that our choice is actually almost simple… We don’t want to live in fear. We don’t want, in the event that we (manage to) have another child, to take the risk to be stuck in a too small house soon. We’ll do our best with we can do to make things work out, for ourselves and our son – maybe travel less to Europe if the pound continues to drop – and we’ll try to buy this house 😀 I feel a lot better now that the decision is taken!
I’m scared, we moved to the UK and Wales only a few months ago and I meant it to be our home, for my son to grow up here. We had started to look to buy a house, to choose a school. And now I’m telling my husband that we should wait. We don’t know how the house prices will go, we’re not even sure he’ll still have a job in 2 years. We might have to move then, and if we buy and the prices go down, we’ll be in deep sh.t.
But how long should we wait to buy? When will we know? Should we postpone having a second child too? We just don’t have the room in our current place… But I’m 34 this year and it took us four years the first time… 😥
What will be the state of the NHS in 2 years? Should we take a health insurance?
Education is already so expensive in this country. What will it become? Will some universities close down because of the loss of EU funding? What about high schools, primary schools? Did they get (in)direct EU funding? Will my son be able to get a good education? Will he be able to go to university if he wants to?
Should we move country now, while our money is still worth something and our son hasn’t started school yet, and give him another chance at a stable life somewhere else? Should we wait, to avoid a stressful move and just in case it isn’t that bad, and see how things go – not buying and not moving forward, everything frozen for now?
I would like for my son to have a stable life, to grow up with the same people. A good school, a good house. A chance for a good education, friends, health care… We were doing what we could for that, and it feels like it might have all been thrown away without us having a say in it.
“There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music.”
― John Keats
“A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander.”
― Roman Payne, The Wanderess
Well, it’s been a while. Busy, busy, looking for a school for our son, looking for a house in the village of the school we choose, looking for a playgroup in that same village so that he can make friends and hopefully keep them when he goes to school, thinking about the future, finishing the left-overs from Amsterdam – my PhD, blahhhhh – and working on my crochet projects…
All the while my son grows up, his vocabulary and his understanding explodes (it is so amazing to see) and he starts to tell us more clearly what he wants. Winter slowly leaves and as the weather gets better we go out and enjoy Wales’ absolutely amazing nature, and plan for camping trips.
I thought I would make a not-so-very important point here. Nobody I know has been really nasty about it but there is a kind of assumption that if you don’t work, then you have time to, and should, clean the house… It is almost a shame to not do it yourself, even for mums who work full time! Hum. Well, we can afford it and so we have a cleaning lady, even though I do not work…
But really, who says that because you are at home taking care of your child you should also do the cleaning and cooking and washing and shopping? Properly taking care of a child takes time, and I don’t have much more time than my husband for all these other things, and I don’t like to do them anymore than he does.
So we’re paying someone to do the cleaning for us. This way I have time to play legos and read books. I can take my son to toddler groups, music classes, soft-plays, and go for nice walks to playgrounds and big puddles to jump in with our boots. All the while taking care that he doesn’t hurt himself in imaginative ways. Every morning is different and afternoons are dedicated to his naps and a little rest for me, not to cleaning the kitchen or hoovering. On week ends we try to go out all together.
My husband cooks and I take care of the dish-washing (with the dishwasher) and the clothes-washing and shopping!