How does anyone decide to live where they are now? Usually a combination of fate, luck and circumstance. For me, it was love, a spirit of adventure and an unexpected opportunity.
Six years ago my daughter and I were living in London with my British (then) fiance. He was offered a job secondment with an international organisation in Paris; supposedly for eighteen months to two years. We thought it would be an amazing opportunity, not only in terms of career for my fiance, but in quality of life for us all. My daughter was attending the American School of London and studying French. It didn't seem like such a stretch for her to finish out her high school years at the American School of Paris.
You might think that moving to another country would be a huge wrench, especially for my daughter. But because of my work as a journalist, she's traveled extensively and moved many times in her young life. After growing up in a small town, I chose the road less traveled. Four countries and six U.S. states have been home at one time or another. When one becomes accustomed to living out of suitcases, moving yet another time is annoying, in terms of the actual physical move required, but exciting, in terms of prospects for new adventures and experiences.
We all adjusted to Paris in different ways. For my fiance, it was his first time living outside England. He took to Paris like a duck to water, lapping up the smells and colours and joie de vivre of this beautiful city. My wonderfully resilient daughter quickly made new friends, adapted to the new school's academic program (international baccalaureate classes) and even won grudging respect of a hyper-critical French teacher. She came to love living in Paris more than in London.
As for me, adapting to life in Paris was a little more challenging. For the first time in my adult life, I didn't have a job. After 15 years of being a single mom and therefore responsible for every single thing, I struggled to adjust to being financially dependent on another. As a non-European Union citizen, I was not allowed to work in France other than in extremely limited circumstances. So I had to come up with a new game plan.
You might think that I'd be thrilled at suddenly having free time on my hands to do as I pleased. You'd be wrong. I couldn't relax and read a book or watch a movie. I felt guilty: guilty that I wasn't working; guilty that I wasn't accomplishing anything much (at least not in my own eyes); guilty that my French wasn't very good and I couldn't be bothered to take a refresher course. In short, I didn't seem to be adapting very well to living in one of the world's greatest cities. This floored me, because I'd lived in the Middle East, so completely foreign to my own culture, with no real problems.
In an attempt to carve out a life of my own in Paris, I started taking long walks and wandering into antique shops. I observed different styles and periods of furniture and began finding bargains to feather our nest. And nest is the operative word. For the first time in my adult life, I really was nesting; I had a partner I could love and trust; I was staying in one place and decorating our apartment with treasure and trinkets discovered on my walks. Over time, I amassed a lovely collection, with some valuable antiques mixed with unique collectibles and curiosities.
I also started to write again; if I wasn't allowed to have a steady job, at least I could freelance. This more than anything made me feel like I'd recaptured my life------before Paris, I hadn't realised how much my self-image was inextricably linked to my work.
As much as I now love living in Paris: the rich tapestry of life; our friends; the food; the wine; the art; the beauty; the truly vibrant mosaic of this city that's such a strange blend of innovation and tradition - it's a temporary home at best. When one has lived many places, you're never truly at home anywhere. A part of you will always miss a place or places where you no longer reside.
So when my husband and I move again, I'll create yet another nest. My daughter has fashioned her own nest (albeit a temporary one, until she completes her college degree) in Savannah. Life is static; it's about change and adapting to new environments and circumstances.
The beautiful things that reflect our interests and personalities make life more pleasurable; more interesting. But they're just things and things can be replaced. In my nomadic lifestyle I've learned that a home is not about fine furniture, antiques, real estate or even location. A home is about love. We carry our homes with us, within our hearts.
This piece was written for Sunday Scribblings.