Monday, May 07, 2007

How to lose your family in 40 days…

The summer started badly. We were not going to Europe this year, after our May trip it was too soon to go back. Somewhere along the line we had had the idea to invite the cousins for a month, along with my mother-in-law, Odile. My sister-in-law, Gaelle, (along with Laure and Nora) was heavily pregnant and we though it would help Gaelle if she had some quiet time, without three of her four children.

But it didn’t go exactly as planned. A few weeks before the cousins arrived I had heard that my sister had organized a last-minute christening for her son in Nottingham. I was not consulted, or even invited, and since I had the French family visiting I couldn’t just go off and leave them. I flew into a rage, I felt totally excluded and furious that our family meant so little to them. Jayne was supposed to be Nina’s godmother, how could she not invite her goddaughter? I immediately stopped contact, except with my Dad, who seemed apologetic, justifying by saying it was a last-minute decision and her friends had pressurized her to do it before he was walking and talking. But even my dad couldn’t calm my rage and I ended up cutting off contact with him when he emailed me about what a great day they all had (without me…).

It was the first family rift in many years and I felt sick at the idea that our children would not see their English grandparents again. But I refused to talk to them. Odile and the cousins arrived in the middle of all this and I tearfully told the sorry story. Unusually she was not sympathetic and I felt even more alone. In the beginning I tried hard to meet her requests, finding her a dressmaker, a shoemaker and taking her to buy the Asian fabrics she loved.

But we clashed on our daily plans, Odile wanted the kids to have swimming lessons and do homework, but I could sense the kids were bored and wanted to go out and have fun, and she refused to change her strict plan. Then it became a fight over who was running the show. In my house, I felt I had a right to decide if my kids worked or not, but she wanted it her way and expected me to bend. Odile saw I was not the pliable daughter-in-law I usually was in her house, and it became a battle of wills. I refused to be under her command and set the agenda, telling our maid to follow me, not her. There were several petty fights, for example, Odile would not accept apples and oranges in the house saying the children must eat tropical fruit. I said this was ‘excessive’, then she refused to take the cheap taxis and took public transport in the steamy humidity just to prove how lazy and wasteful of money I was and so on we battled…

Soon she accused me of being spoilt, selfish, obsessed with my expat ladies lunches and matching my dress to my shoes (I tried to explain that there was not much to wear in a hot climate and shoes were so cheap so we all had several more pairs than usual and besides that what expat wives do…). But I lost it with her when she enquired why Jacques worked so late at the office? Did he, perhaps, have someone there? This was the limit. Such a sensitive subject such as the boss running off with his skinny Asian underling was off-limits (it happened too often to expat wives) and I could hardly bear having her around. I decided not to speak to her either, but of course I had to, since she was staying with me, but I was cool, spent lots of time with my friends and I did the bare minimum.

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