Monday, May 07, 2007

How to get your family back?

Luckily the cousins got on well and they had a great time, exploring Malaysia and having fun together and I did not regret inviting them. I cried when the cousins left, I loved them dearly, but I could barely embrace Odile and she knew it. It just was too much with my own family problems and my tricky mother-in-law.

I was depressed after they left. The kids still had a month to go before school started and to make matters worse a white toxic fog descended on KL, blown over from Indonesian forest fires. It matched my mood. We couldn’t play outside and Gabriel’s school was shut. I was robbed in broad daylight in Chilli’s Mexican restaurant. Losing my credit cards, glasses and personal items was another blow, and I had to ring my mum to cancel my UK credit card. It was an early Sunday morning and she answered straight away but she was short and cool with me. In desperation we booked a holiday to Vietnam.

Our family holiday in Vietnam was one of the best ever, we were so glad to get away and it was much better than we imagined. We trekked in the northern mountains, sailed around Halong Bay and laughed at the water puppets in Hanoi…and I reflected on how hard it was to juggle extended families. The conclusion I came to was that somewhere along the way we had all changed (or matured) and new rules were needed or all the good work we had done over the last eight years would become a huge black hole.

I accepted that I had over-reacted with my mother-in-law, and not been a nice hostess, after spending months at her house, which was not always easy for them and having her organize Gabriel’s christening just a few months before. But her comments stung, especially since she had traveled and lived as an expat wife too. I thought she would understand that we move in a different world, getting what we want, eating out at restaurants, holidays and buying whatever takes our fancy. This can lead to us being rather spoilt and shallow. I thought I was still the same person, but Odile certainly didn’t like the woman she saw. Had I really become a caricature of ‘expat wife’? I looked at the christening photos of me in shiny satin blue dress with matching scarf, shiny blue shoes and hat, and realized how they must have all wondered what was happening to the simple Suzanne they once knew?

I didn’t want to become like one of my paternal aunts who cut off contact with her parents after a silly family row. But I felt like I was being punished for not being in England, as if by moving away I had made the decision to leave the family. I didn’t see it like that at all. My parents had moved away too, and were in many ways punished by their families for their selfishness, they were never able to be as ‘good’ as the son or daughter that lived nearby. They should have understood.

By the time the kids went back to school in September I had cooled down after talking to several understanding friends, who had had similar family problems. In fact I was amazed at how many people weren’t speaking to a parent or in-law. The summer ended with the knowledge that we could not live a glitzy expat life in Asia and be a close part of two very diverse families in two countries. I learnt that no family is perfect and things can change without us realizing, I had to accept that perhaps I was not as important to them as they were to me and life went on for them, without us.

There was a positive outcome. I had several long tearful, sometimes angry, phone conversations with my parents and my sister. Apologies were made and relations returned to some normality. Jacques and I decided to renovate a small property in our village in France and use it in the summer, to have some independence and allow the children to see their grandparents. We agreed that the children must not lose touch with their family at all costs.

No comments: