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!)