This is thirty

Here it is, the big 3-0, and I’ve apparently done everything one is “supposed to” do by this age: college, travel, marriage, baby, job I mostly enjoy. So why upend everything to move across the ocean? Why fix something that isn’t broken?

It’s the question we’ve been asked a hundred times in the past few months: why are we moving to the States? As you can probably guess, there is no simple answer. The short response I give to most is what you’d expect: wanting to see family and friends more, hoping for better career opportunities, exposing bébé to American culture and education, it makes taxes so much simpler . . . But the “real” answer is more complex, because there are a million other questions involved I’m still working through.

Am I just freaking out about turning thirty and feeling like I need a change? Yes and no. I think all expats thrive on new adventures, or you’d give up after about a week. But is the goal of expatriation assimilation and adaptation? Or just discovery? When you come over as a young adult, a big part of your identity is defined by life in a country you did not grow up in. There’s a certain amount of pride from making it through more than a few years living in another language, another culture. The simmering spirit of competition amongst expats can make a return “home” feel like giving up. But to me it almost feels like the opposite. To stay would be too simple.

I know pretty much what life will look like in France if we stay. It’s not exactly what I imagined my life to be, but it really is a great life. By most people’s definitions, I’ve succeeded, I’ve assimilated, I’ve thrived. But part of me wonders if the reason I’m staying is that I’m afraid I can’t do the same in the States. Expats are often outsiders in their home countries, and find comfort in knowing their oddness is forgiven by their status as a foreigner in their new country.  (Canedolia had a similar post recently that I really enjoyed though neglected to comment on, because life). I won’t have this safety net of “well I’m not from here” to get me through awkward situations and struggles with employment or social norms.

A big part of my identity and personality is related to my “special” status in France that I’ll lose when we move. Once back in the States, I’ll be just another American like any other. But I also need a break from being special. Constantly on show for the past eight years, singled out at parties or other situations to be asked the same “What do you think of France? Why are Americans so fat?” questions for the hundredth time . . . For me, turning thirty means starting to grow out of my middle child need of wanting to feel special all the time. Even my Christmas birthday bothered me less this year, when every other year I made a huge fuss about it (though I suspect motherhood may be influencing this as well).

My twenties were defined by my expat label. I want to spend my thirties figuring out who I am without it. (Hmm, maybe the “real” answer is simpler than I thought!)


Phase two of the move

I am writing this post from my mother-in-laws’s kitchen. Phase two of the move was moving out of our apartment and into her house. In theory, this was to save money, but considering how much we spent on gas going back and forth almost every day for two weeks, I’m not sure it’s really that beneficial . . . However, seeing how much work it was, I’m glad we did it now and not during the holidays, because it would have been zero fun to have used our days off to move, rather than spend as much time as possible with family for our last Christmas/New Year’s in France.

The biggest practical challenge has been going from 100 square meters to the 19 of my husband’s boyhood bedroom (which, thankfully, has its own bathroom). We sold/gave/threw away a lot already, but there’s still a ton of stuff sitting in the basement that we need to go through. Today, after spending all weekend loading up the car and cleaning, we gave back the keys to our finally empty and clean apartment, and our address is officially “chez” the MIL.

We’ve actually been here a little over a week, but since we moved bit by bit, it hasn’t really been a normal week. So I can’t really say how things are going yet (though I’ll obviously try). MIL has watched bébé a lot more than during a normal week, so that we could make over a dozen trips back and forth to finish things up. Bébé has been insanely clingy, whether due to the move or just because he’s a 17-month-old and at the peak age for separation anxiety, I can’t tell. Probably both.

We’re here for another 6 weeks, and with the holidays and final preparations for the move, it’s sure to be a pretty crazy month and a half. I’m just hoping we all manage to settle into a rhythm soon, because honestly I’m pretty stressed right now. Think about how you’re on your best behavior when staying with the in-laws. Being extra neat and extra polite and extra helpful. Now picture doing that every day for over a month! Less than two weeks and I’m already exhausted. For my husband, it’s not really that different from a normal visit to see his mom, other than having to deal with his wife ranting about stupid stuff like shampoo and eggs.

Overall though, I’m feeling fairly positive about the situation (probably because there’s no other alternative at this point!) and pretty confident this was a good idea. Seeing family as much as possible will outweigh all the little gripes we all have about our in-laws. And since we’ll be living with my parents at first in the States, I’ll try to hold my tongue as much as possible in exchange for my husband doing the same once we’re over there!