As I was combing through the toy stores at La Défense after work one evening searching in vain for the Magic Toy That Will Keep a Toddler Occupied for an Entire Plane Flight [tm]*, I happened upon a children's book with a title written for me.
"J'ai deux pays dans mon coeur."
I have two countries in my heart.
It was in fact written for young first-generation children of immigrants to France. I took it off the shelf and flipped through it briefly, wondering if it would contain anything that would describe me or le Petit.
It talked of special summer visits home to see the grandparents, of speaking different languages at home and outside, and of having two countries that feel like home. But the families were, logically enough, African, Arab, or Vietnamese, and the book also talked of discrimination and of feeling and looking different from others. Le Petit is lucky. These are not challenges he will face. I put the book back on the shelf, glad that it existed, but still looking for the book that will help me explain to le Petit what is in my heart.
As we flew back from Seattle, the distance that separates me from Back Home became more real to me than ever before. It may be that for the first time I had no choice but to stay awake for the entire flight. Le Petit slept curled up in my lap for 45 minutes while I tried to doze off myself, but the rest of the time my husband and I were busy keeping him happy, entertained and contained outside of our neighbors' personal space. I have to admit, however, that the flight itself was much better than I expected, and a non-stop Air France flight from Paris to Seattle is now for me the only way to go.
"I know that it must be hard for you, my living so far away," I confided to my dad on the way back from our trip together to Babies R Us. "Now that I'm a mom, I can begin to imagine."
He told me that as long as he knew I was happy, it was worth it. It is hard. My dad didn't have to tell me. I just had to admit it to myself.
I love my country of adoption. It has been five years now since I moved, and after the initial periods of elation, depression, comparison and integration, I've weighed where I am and I like it. There are practical reasons for this -- affordable child care, universal health coverage, flexibility for working moms -- and then there are the emotional ones, the links that I've forged with my husband's family, and the French savoir vivre I try so hard to imitate. I fell in love with a country and a culture at the same time that I fell in love with a person, and that casts a powerful spell.
But I tend to try and forget what I left behind. I pretend that I can't imagine a life in the US when the truth is that I can picture it all too clearly.
Back home in Seattle, we visited Discovery Park three times. It is one of my favorite places in the city, and typically Northwest. Nowhere in France is there anything vaguely resembling its fir-forested cliffs that descend abruptly to Puget Sound. One of my earliest memories is of playing with a kelp bulb on the beach, so it is as familiar to me a landscape as I can imagine.
The neighborhood of Magnolia that surrounds it is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle, too. As we drove down quiet streets of wooden bungalow-style houses, I started to picture my parallel life, the one that by all odds I should be living. In this life I live in a brightly-colored house with a front porch and a graying cedar shake roof. Le Petit has his own giant bedroom and a playroom in the attic. We spend our weekends hiking in the Cascades or gardening, and every morning I go for a run in Discovery park and watch the fog lift over the Sound. And the other grandparents, the ones who speak English, are the ones who look after le Petit from time to time and watch him grow a little more every month.
The irony of feeling depressed about such a happy choice doesn't escape me. I am blessed to get to choose where I live, and le Petit is blessed to have grandparents who love him in France and in the US. In the end, it comes down to the stupid truth that I've gotta choose. No matter where I live now the other half of my heart will ache, and there is no way to escape it.
* I have verified that such a toy does not in fact exist, but whoever invents it will become very, very rich. In the meantime, The Fishies Musical Mobile comes close. More about that secret weapon coming soon!