Places and choices

Mix3_couleurs2
A mixture of places and choices by A Mum +

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 that is all. There are things we like there and things we don’t. We speak the language and know the history, yes… 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, even for those who didn’t move from their country of birth?

Will we move again? I don’t know, I hope not. Will we go back to France? I don’t know, I think not, I hope 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, and certainly not the centre of the world, as much as some could wish it 😉 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 and which I think illustrate all that with different words:

Non-residents

Back Home

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Back home

“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. 
Oregon_state_university_flickr
Source: Oregon State University, flickr

We move forward

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, possibly dark, it might get worse, but it might not…

Our options are therefore:

  1. 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?
  2. 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
  3. 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!

farmhouse_LorenKerns
Farm house, source: Loren Kerns, flickr

I wanted to stay

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, not like I did. A good school, a good house. Not moving all the time. 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

No news, good news

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.

That’s it really, it keeps me busy 🙂

Scones
Homemade scones
20160313_135905-EFFECTS
Park in South Wales

The difference between a house-wife and a house-mum

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. Happy that way 🙂

Source: Judy, flickr
Source: Judy, flickr

Seasonal topic: Five reasons why I will not welcome you in my home when you’re contagious

Of course, I hear people say, we don’t go near children – or elderly, or recovering people for that matter – when we’re contagious. They might catch stuff easily, or have health issues, and what we have might be more serious for them than for us.

As soon as they think of it the course of action seems easy and clear: stay away, phone call/email and calendar check. And yet.

We keep having to ask and remind friends and family. Please tell us if you’re sick (including from herpes sore, especially dangerous to newborns), please postpone your visit, please keep your distance and wash your hands…

After explaining again (or was it just an angry monologue in my head?) to friends why I would rather they postpone their visit then be in the vicinity of our first-born when sick – stuffed-nose-and-sore-throat kind of sick, we’re not talking ebola here – I decided to try and see if I could write it down and spread the word.

I know stuffed nose and sore throat are not dangerous, and nasopharyngitis may not be much of a disease for most of us, but I’ve got good reasons for not wanting you to cross our threshold while cohabiting with it. The first and foremost being that you could transmit this to my boy, and as much as I do not wish to catch your germs (though if I do he might get them too; and when he does I have good chances of getting them), I really really do not want my son to get them. Why, in heavens, is that?

Well, because when he is sick…

1) He cannot fall asleep and stay asleep well, and as a consequence is very tired. He wakes up, unable to breathe through his nose and not used to breathing through his mouth, panics a little, cry tired and heart-breaking sobs, coughs and coughs, until… see point 2 below.

2) He coughs, and because he is so small, continues coughing until… he throws up, everything, on the surface at hand. Which is often me, mama bear, trying to calm him down with hugs or a glass of water, nicely protecting the underneath surfaces such as the couch, the bed, or the carpet. Once is not great, more is tiring (and the washing up…).

3) He has a hard time eating and drinking, cries and refuses food. Swallowing is difficult with a stuffed nose and sore throat, and I expect the food tastes gross. But combined with number 2 above, he runs a (very dangerous for babies) risk of dehydration if it lasts for too long or is too severe.

4) Try giving him medication… Suppositories, why not; drops in water, hum; nose spray…? To his credit, after the first 5 or 6 days of him fighting us off crying and kicking, he somehow understands that it is meant to help him breathe, and waits calmly while we spray his nostrils. And shows us that it isn’t nice and he is being a good boy by cutely crumpling his face with his hands between the spraying of the left and the right nostril, spreading what comes out of his nose on his hands and clothes.

5) Not wanting to make it worse for him and/or spread the germs to other kids, we do not go to our usual weekly outings. Meaning that we (including I) stay in, not meeting with other parents and children, and with a grumpy, clingy, coughing and not-napping-well little man. Last time, four weeks. Poor little him and poor big me…

So please, please, please, think! Think of yourself – wouldn’t you be better at home? – and think of us before going to a house with kids/kissing/hugging little ones when you have a running nose, a sore throat and a fever. And, of course, even more if it is an actually potential dangerous-to-baby disease 🙂

Source: flickr, Robert S. Donovan
Source: flickr, Robert S. Donovan