I’ve often wondered whether one can ever recover the sense of “home” that one has as a child. The unquestioned sense of belonging in that one place. The intimate knowledge.
I have itchy feet. No, this is not a medical condition, it’s an expression my Dad uses to describe me; it means I long to explore the world, see what exists beyond my own doors. I used to think I’d like to move every few years, immerse myself in new places, meet new people. It didn’t exactly happen that way; practicality took over, but I did retain my love for exploring. I’ve satisfied that urge through traveling, sometimes for extended periods of time.
These days, however, I long to find home. The place I belong. The place I can sink my roots in, raise my kids, and connect with intimately. I just don’t know where it is. When I visit my family in the Arizona town I grew up in, I catch myself saying, “I’m going home.” I currently call San Diego “home.” A part of me feels at home in Paris, as the streets have become familiar and I have my favorite haunts. But none of these places feel deeply, solidly home.
For my husband, the question is even more complicated. He left France, his home, in his early 20s, and has lived in southern California ever since then. He feels pulled between two identities – French and American, and experiences an undercurrent of displacement everywhere he goes. He’s too French to be truly American, yet he’s become too American to be truly French. Plus, his accent is fading and his French gets rusty; sometimes he forgets words, or in certain subjects, like his work, where he’s never used the French terminology, he can feel lost. He’s not quite Tom Hanks in The Terminal, but he does sometimes feel like a man without a country.
For me, Arizona is filled with memories and family, but my current life is not there. I love San Diego yet have always sensed that one day I would leave, as it never has felt like home. Neither of us sees settling in France as part of our future – my husband has built a solid career here and isn’t interested in the “Metro-boulot-dodo” grind of Paris (where most jobs in his field are located). Translation: ride the metro, work, and sleep. The life of many Parisians. While we may joke that the French work short hours and get tons of vacation, the truth is that yes, public workers have cushy jobs, but your typical French businessman puts in a lot of hours. Out the door before the kids are up, back home after they are in bed, it’s not unheard of. Not exactly the reputed “joie de vivre.”
So we are searching. Hoping. I want to find that place where my kids can grow up and feel the same solid sense of belonging that I felt in my childhood. Where we develop our own family traditions and build solid connections. Where our rooms fill up with memories of good times shared with loved ones. Where I can put to rest this search for home, because I will no longer need to search.
Your article reminds me of the TED channel talk by Pico Iyer: “Where is home?”
I haven’t heard that one, but I love Pico Iyer. I’ll have to check it out!
The Frenchie family can so relate – and yes the Parisians work ridiculous hours, I watch my sister and am grateful that I have made Australia home – but that search of belonging never ends… Home is where you are in the present and who knows where life will take you. I feel for your husband losing ones French is hard.. it does get rusty..
On some level I know that home is always where my husband and my kids are. Yet I still long for that solid sense of home that I had as a child. Maybe some semblance of that feeling is possible, but I’m sure it is in large part a state of mind and attitude! And I suppose that being able to adapt to multiple places isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.
True, it is a tough one.
My husband and I can relate a lot to this–he’s French, but he lived in Louisiana and Florida for 5 years, so he’s too American to be “truly” French, and he also misses the States a lot as well. But we live in Grenoble, not Paris, so I know life is different down here than it is for you. I hope you find that sense of “home” soon! That can be really difficult…I felt that way a lot last year.
Thank you – I hope we find it too! The combination of wanderlust and desire for roots always leads to a feeling of unrest, I fear. Grenoble must be a beautiful place to live – sounds fantastic!
Interesting blog! I left France in my late twenties and I definitely feel like your husband: my French gets rusty and it drives me mad. I wouldn’t have believed that someone’s native language could fade until it happened to me… Now that I have a child, I will work at reigniting my French, as a multicultural family is definitely a benefit to take advantage of.
Your trajectory sounds quite like my husband’s! Agreed – being a multicultural family is an absolute benefit. Stick with the French. It took our oldest (now 3) a while, but our determination to help develop her French is finally amounting to full sentences and conversations.