We finally did it. Almost 20 years in the making. I met a French guy who was determined to move back to his homeland, where he grew up, with a large family, rich in history. When you fall in love and have plenty of years to romanticize and prepare, it’s an easy choice. We had time. So much time. Time for me to learn yet another language. Who wouldn’t want to pick up and move to France, the land of croissants, lavender, the city of lights, wine and gastronomy? I didn’t know what kind of life we would build and have to leave within that time. When I meant Thierry, I was in graduate school. I didn’t know where my life was headed. I had nothing to lose. Our 2 children were a far off fantasy, much less the home we would leave.
That home. I grew up watching my mom’s soap operas where rich people had houses with names and never thought I’d have one of those. I never mastered the level of haughtiness those actresses succeeded at when they would say “Come stay at Llanfair.” (points to those who can name that soap). That wasn’t my style and made me self-conscious. But it was cool to have nonetheless. A place with history and character, a story behind it. One that would eventually become the place we raised our kids, built our community, celebrated holidays, and threw grandes fetes. I didn’t expect to live in a beautiful historic home that after 10 years, was the one place I have lived the longest in my life. The place that I could still look around and marvel at its beauty and the luck I had to be able to live there and share it with my community. We brought people together. Halloween celebrations, Valentine’s parties, dancing. Lots of dancing.
Our community that saw the success of a business, the birth of our kids, the struggles and the joys of parenting, the inevitable family dramas we supported each other through including divorces and illnesses. We grew together. As parents, as kids, as people. Our community was our cradle for growth. My gym community helped keep me sane and healthy as stay at home parent of two young kids. My children’s school communities helped my kids toward their potential and pushed and supported us when my son struggled to read, focus, and behave. There’s the neighborhood I grew to appreciate even more in the later years as my son attended the amazing public school down the street, and during the pandemic when we made more use of getting outside for walks, appreciating the parks and friends in our neighborhood. We had attended a planning meeting for that park. We had friends deeply involved in it’s creation. My convertible brought me back to high school years in my first car. I would drive, dog at my side, the ever-cliché wind in my hair. The youthfulness of the past mixed with the success of the present. This was the life I had. It wasn’t perfect. But it was pretty damn close.
A friend recently shared a meme on Facebook listing different things we grieve besides the death of a loved one. Loss of community was one. I know I could text/call/Facetime, etc., but we are now 6 hours ahead, which makes it more difficult. And sometimes, it’s just too painful to look back and face what I am missing. Friends I can no longer visit so easily, family that’s heartbroken not to have us there.
The other things we grieve? The feeling of being lost and unanchored, and losing traditions we’ve loved. Check and Check.
We originally expected our new place to be finished in July, just in time for us to move in. Then, that time-frame slid into September. As I write this, things are coming along, and we’re hoping for a mid-November move-in with the minimum we need to have finished- the kids bedrooms and one bathroom and a kitchen with a temporary countertop, and backsplash undetermined.
We’ve been living at the family farm outside of the city this whole time, in a space that is newly renovated. It’s comfortable enough, though itself unfinished. All of our belongings had been shipped to the apartment, so we only keep what we need at the moment. Our days are long, with an early commute and late afternoon return by train every day. Not much time left for homework, or play, and definitely not after school activities where the kids might have a chance to make some friends. They usually have a bus or train to catch. I’ve absolutely suffered from feeling unanchored and I’m sure the kids have too. No home of our own, and though I know it’s temporary, the end is not quite in sight. One kid came from a Montessori school and is adjusting to a new school culture. The other is making it through in a French public school. He didn’t speak much French at the beginning of the school year, but he’s picking it up.
I am a creature of habit. I’ll find something I like to eat and eat it all the time. I’ve been known at Chinese restaurants for ordering “the usual.” Along with all the usual traditions that came with the holidays, our friends would look forward to our Halloween parties where the kids would come back after trick or treating and get their yearly group picture on the staircase. Valentine’s dance parties and Christmas dinners with family. Winter break ski trips out West. Halloween is not such a big thing in France. Thanksgiving isn’t a thing here at all. I can skip the turkey, but I’m going to miss my jellied cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn and gravy.
I know we’ll create new traditions and in some ways I can see things already feeling a little bit like “home.” But I know it’ll take time to rebuild just as it took time to build the life we had. And I know that looking back, that time went fast. And so will this, even though I know it doesn’t feel like it now.