[Breathe releases in 9 days! In it a British expat living in Boston has to decide where her home really lies. Kind of like someone else I know. Welcome to Part Two of my musings from last November’s trip to the U.K., written while I was there.]
This trip had a main purpose, but it also scratched an itch I’ve been feeling for a long time. When one emigrates to the land of one’s love, especially if one does it when one is young, one leaps into that life with both feet. Oh, I might have insisted on my cups of tea in the morning and squeed with joy whenever I saw chocolate digestives at the store, but I had a reason for leaving the U.K. and a million reasons to love and commit to the U.S. I am also a linguist, so the U.S. kind of committed to me. My words changed and my accent followed. I noticed this but could do nothing about it. I think one of the turning points was when I came back “home” after about five years and couldn’t switch back to English the way I used to. It gave me pause, I can tell you.
Then kids came. Having kids in America, as any expat will tell you, is different in so many ways it makes your head rattle. I could begin with how the insurance companies deal with your pregnancy and end with trying to decide how many AP classes is healthy for your teen to take, but I’ll skip all that. Just trust me. If you have kids in America, you begin to move away from your English roots.
Time passes. You become a U.S. citizen and start saying “the U.S.” instead of “America.” Your kids grow. Even though you made sure they were registered as British citizens when they were born, they’re now talking to you in an American accent, doing what their friends are doing, asking you when you can go to the mall to get some Nathan’s, and reading a whole lot of books in school you never heard of, despite your master’s degree in English.
And one day you take a breath and look around you, and something that used to be very important to you is no longer there. You spent so long assimilating, you forgot that many of the things that make you you are things you acquired back in the old country.
Becoming a writer sped up this process. Or rather, acknowledging that writing was what I’d always wanted sped up this process. Because once you start listening to that still small voice in your head, a bunch of others pop up to remind you of things you thought had been forgotten.
I know how to fix this, you say to yourself. I’ll go “home” for a visit. Reconnect. Slip right back into the routine. No problem, right?
I’m not good with change. Sounds crazy from a woman who left everything she knew 23 years ago, but I was coming to someone I knew very well, and love conquers all, of course. I’m also not good with looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. Especially when I don’t know what I’m doing.
It bothers me that I don’t know how to buy a house or a car in the U.K. Do I prefer the A-level system or the U.S. system? (Jury’s still out.) What did they do to the currency? The notes have gone all plastic and the pound coins I’ve had for ten years aren’t legal any more! WTF?! How dare England move on and grow without me??
Coming back to the country of your birth and feeling as though everyone else is in on a plot you’ve been left out of is extremely unsettling. Awkward navel-gazing follows. Luckily, the more I thought about it, the more I realized: the things that irk me about the U.S. (some small, some giant, like everyone else) are because I am English as well as American. And the things that irk me about England are because I’ve gotten used to one tap for both hot and cold water. And that’s ok. I need to embrace those parts of me, enjoy them. Be all of me again.
So how to do this? Much as Mr. A. and I joke about chucking it all in and living in a bothy on the Isle of Skye, Dearest Heart #1’s cosplay habit and DH2’s Warrior Cats book obsession won’t allow that kind of drop in income. Plus I need an internet connection. But it might be possible one day, if we’re very good, to find a little piece of Blighty that is ours and ours alone. So we can get off a plane and go there and really feel, as I did twenty years ago, that we were home. We’ll have the time to learn the foibles of modern Britain, and the space to be our still-pretty-American selves.
Getting there will take a while, but in the meantime, we want the girls to feel that England is their country as much as ours (Mr. A. is American, but he’s the most English American I’ve ever met. He loved the U.K. and the U.K. loves him.) So we have a grand plan to bring them here for a month next summer, so they can really feel what it is to live like the English. Perhaps the eccentric plumbing will turn them off. Perhaps the small sandwiches will send them screaming back to New Jersey. Perhaps the tiny cars and tinier roads will give them the heart attacks they gave me yesterday (more on that in another blog post). Or perhaps that little bit of Englishness that runs through their veins will recognize its home and welcome them back, and they will start off their adult lives reconciled to both sides of themselves in every sense. DH1 is already drinking tea like a champ. DH2 is good (too good) at self-deprecation. They’re on their way.
In the meantime, their mum needs to re-embrace what she’s missed, and get over not knowing about the things that have changed. So here I am, on a cloudy day in November, sitting in the perfect little terraced back garden of the perfect little cottage in a perfect little village, ready to gird my loins, get back in the car, and appreciate the beautiful English countryside without crashing into a hedgerow. But first, I have to remember my credit card PIN.
Kimberley Ash is a British ex-pat who has lived in and loved New Jersey for twenty years. When not writing romance, she can usually be found cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs and slightly less furry children. Her first novel, Breathe, is now available from Crimson Romance.