Transatlantic dialogue:What's it all about?
This is the first in a series of transatlantic correspondence from American mother, Deb Gale, who now lives in London to Alison van Diggelen, a Brit who now lives in the United States. This month, Deb asks, What’s it all about? Dear Alison The truth of it is, I felt like I’d been doing a pretty good job. After thirteen years into this motherhood gig, I could look in the mirror and tell myself: “Girl, you are still, well, switched-on.” I could reasonably comment on the Grammy’s, the Bammy’s, the Brits or the Oscars. I could spot the difference between the glitterati and The Darkness. After three full years out of the states, I could grasp Hello!Magazine even if I still craved People. I was also dead cert (Brit speak for certain) that the ‘Brit’ and I were raising well-adjusted, bi-English speaking, third-culture-kids like yours. On my secret tally, I was also winning the ‘mother superior award.’ How could I not? Our children are well traveled; hold multiple passports and are as comfortable in California as they are on the continent. They wear ‘proper’ shoes and uniforms WITH seasonal hats. They take Latin, fancy the oboe and if you’re in need of a tie-breaker, they have REAL English accents. The Brit and I have produced five children, managed five hops across the ocean and shamelessly sampled the expat spoils. With one foot over here and one foot over there, we had things sussed, sorted and all figured out. But when the seven year old twins, our only native-born American offspring did not know what a Marshmallow Peep was, (after having them sent urgently via Fed Ex), I knew I was losing a war and not just the Easter time battle. Disappointingly, this Fed Ex fiasco followed my failure to put up our collection of several hundred, vinyl window hearts for Valentine’s Day and the children’s mid-March refusal to wear their shamrock sweaters, even inside the house. Defeat, I hate to admit, had been looming for some time. So what does it all mean? Well, it means you can’t give your children your memories. You can show them pictures, take them back to the place you became you, have them meet your old friends and even get gushed over by their relatives. You can throw all the available money in your world to buy glimpses and moments but it still can't be done. You can’t shrink back anymore than they can stretch into your old skin. I may not like it but their life and their memories won’t be mine. I am growing old in the mirror, no matter how young my heart feels. So why do I yearn to tell them my stories? Is it because I no longer exist where I came from? That I feel the extra need to keep those lost pieces of me alive? Perhaps. Except it’s very different now and we are not like storytellers of old. They had nothing but stories which came laden with custom and tradition. This tidy, inter-generational transfer no longer fits comfortably into our 24/7 full-on existence. Today’s stories get told via email or text. Important stories get left to libraries and archivists to be later fueled by search engines. Families can no longer be relied upon to keep the family flame blazing. A new cottage industry has risen from these ashes and legions of creative memory converts wield acid free paper like insurance against oblivion. It used to be that you could push the past into people's minds and mouths as they grew. This is no longer possible. In our ‘hurry up or get left behind’ world, we are already losing touch with the next generation. We watch from the wings as they reach farther than we ever thought possible, towards their own future with a critical difference. They are growing up without the stories in a foreign land - except it’s not foreign to them. By choosing resident alien status in our adopted countries, we have created this new breed of third-culture-kids. Our families flourish in cosmopolitan settings. We are a compelling wave of rich gypsies, legitimized vagabonds, dazzling urbanites. So is it better or easier to hold onto your kids longer if you grow old in the same place your parents did? It must be easier to insert yourself into their niche, via name or reputation or livelihood. It must feel better to make your friendships follow in the well-worn marks of theirs. Or do you grow old faster with their sadness and disappointments? I have escaped these tracks by choice and now by design but I am heartened by the knowledge that my kids can’t grasp my old life anymore than I can. I was in London today and as I looked out of the windows on the train, I took in the grimy streets, dirty buildings, faceless masses and thought I wished for California. In the time since leaving, the memories revert only to my favorite images. I miss the sun drenched days (every day), eucalyptus and oleander reviving me. And it happens here, as snow lightly falls, in the worst of the waning weeks of March. I ache for something I know to have lost. I fast forward and worry because my girls won’t know all about Homecoming, Sadie Hawkins or the Junior-Senior Prom. I will have to make do with sprinkles of their same age memories, mixed with mine. I will try to savor them. Appeased but not sated. I wonder why I ever wished it possible, to have it all. Yours, in mid-Atlantic turmoil, Deb About the author: Deborah S. Gale is a Pennsylvania native, loving mother of five daughters including two sets of twins. Married to a classically cynical, witty Brit with whom she enjoyed DINKY status briefly. She hasn’t held a full time bill paying or spa treatment-covering job since the children and spent most of the '90's as an expat. wife and mother in Paris and London. After 23 years of calling Silicon Valley home, she bid adieu to the South Bay in 2000 when she made a permanent move back to the UK. She writes a regular column for the American in Britain magazine. © siliconmom