Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Changes in Caunay

We arrived in Paris from KL totally jet-lagged. We somehow managed to get on a TGV and were picked up by my sister-in-law, Laure at the station in Poitiers. Laure drove us directly to the house in Caunay, not to my parents-in-law's house, as we usually did. On arrival my parents-in-law ushered us in, along with my other sister-in-law, Nora and two cousins. Lunch was waiting for us on the beautifully set table. I was stunned, last time I had been here the house was simply a storage area. It was so peculiar to see furniture from three years ago I blinked. And who were the babies? Two big fat plump babies sat on the sofa? Nora and Laure’s I realized, remembering that we had missed their births and now they were nearly a year old. My mother-in-law had had an aneurysm in May and nearly died and we had missed all of that. I felt like I’d been to the moon and back. It was a sobering thought.

When they left I unpacked madly, it was like a drug, one more box and I’m done, no just one more, where are those knives and forks? Oh look the school work from Marc’s class…and so I spent my first week with the nights unpacking and the days sleeping off the jetlag.

The first week a storm hit and water poured through a hole in the roof, I was terrified and ran around looking for jugs and bowls to stem the flow. The electricity would fuse every time I used two machines at the same time, and we had to co-ordinate the microwave with the washing machine (or tv). I couldn’t find anything and all our linens smelt mouldy and disgusting. I wanted to wash everything.

I saw a lot of Gaelle, and we swapped children every few days. Nora on holiday too, without her husband, in her summer house. One of the best bits was cooking, I loved the shopping, everything seemed so much fresher and easier to find than in Malaysia and the cousins, who were always hungry, praised my simple cooking. Where in England would you find a ten-year-old child who asked his aunt ‘So how did you make this sauce then?’

My mother-in-law had taken the cousins away for the last few years and we all assumed that she would cancel after being so ill. She had planned to go for three weeks with six cousins. None of us dared say no although we all wanted to, for the first time in ages I did not trust her. What happens if she drops into a coma while on holiday I asked Jacques. As a compromise she reduced it to just one week with the four oldest cousins, Francois, Marc, Nina and Manon. But in the stressful run-up to the holiday I told the children: ‘Enjoy it, it’s your last year with grandmere, she’s getting too old for this kind of thing…’ Naturally this message filtered through to Odile and she telephoned Gaelle and me in tears, only to be told, yes it’s true, it is the last time. It was a tense moment as Gaelle and I stuck to our refusal to continue as before. We had to make a stand or she would walk all over us.

I had hoped for a joyful reunion with my mother-in-law after our 2005 conflict, and her near-death in May, but it was not to be. Gaelle and Nora each had their own stories to add to the bubbling soup of gossip, it seemed like I was the not only one being criticized, in fact my greivences with her were nothing compared some other things she had done or said… When Jacques arrived at the end of August my mother-in-law complained to him about me but he just ignored it. She sulked and refused to attend his birthday party. I did it without her. I knew she was a sociable character who hated missing out on things so she would be furious at being out of the loop. It worked and she came over at 9am on the last Sunday asking to talk to me in private, and we had a heated discussion over her KL behaviour and my summer of ignoring her. When it was all over I felt better and we hugged and laughed like we had done before.

I went back to England too, it was my mum’s 65th birthday and we organized a party for her. Although I still could not get over the events of last year we managed to remain civil and the party was a success, Jayne and I each cooked two courses and bought a shared gift together. I realized how much my children enjoyed being with their grandparents and that they didn’t need me around, and we tentatively planned that next year the children would have holidays on their own, using the summer house as a base we could see each other without causing too much friction.

No one came to visit me in Caunay, I didn’t want to have any visitors except the French family, we were all in a state of cultural shock and I was mentally exhausted after leaving Malaysia for good, and we knew we had to recharge our batteries for the next part of our life in the USA…

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