Choices. Inside the life of an expat.

Sara and her friend, Bridget at MIT/WHOI. Thanks to Bridget's blog post, "A Defense at WHOI", I was able to see a key moment in Sara's life when she flipped over her photo to signify the completion of a successful defense.  


I recently learned that "Out and About in Paris" was nominated for an expat blog award, which kind of confused me because I don't really think of it as an "expat" blog. It's more about Paris than about my life in France. Just for today, I'm going to write a more personal post about one slice of expat life for those who may be contemplating a move abroad. I'll be "Out and About" in my next post.

Choices. All people are confronted by choices, but quite often the stakes seem a bit higher for expats. It's the nature of the game when you marry someone from another country or accept a job that is far from family and friends.

Nonetheless, I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't in the auditorium when my daughter presented her research for the defense of her masters thesis in October. Saying that it was too far for Stéphane and me to travel for a thirty-minute talk and that she would rather have us come to Boston for her graduation, Sara convinced us to stay in Paris. I'm still not sure it was the right decision. As a bit of background information, this is the same daughter who spent her last year of high school at a boarding school in Switzerland - not because she was a wild child that we wanted out of our house, but because we were transferred to the United States when she still had one more year of the two-year British A-level program to complete. As a result, I missed being there when Sara came home from school, I missed comforting her when she had a hard day, I missed making sure that she ate healthy food as she prepared for her A-level exams. Most importantly, I missed her. But accepting a 3-5 year assignment in Ohio that started during her final year of high school was the compromise that we made in order to be closer to our daughter when she started university in America.

Sara hasn't lived at home since she was 16. She'll be 25 on Christmas Day. So, imagine how happy I am that she's going to spend a couple of months with us in Paris! Of course, I'm already scheming of ways to extend her visit by dropping hints about possible jobs. I know, however, that the choice will ultimately be up to her. She was born an expat and will have to go wherever her job takes her.

Choices. Another choice that I made was to stay with my terminally ill mother in the United States after she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Considering all that my mother had done for me throughout her life, returning to Switzerland, which is where we lived at the time, wasn't even an option. I'll never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when the hospice doctor told me during our initial consultation that he would have to admit my mother to a hospital if they felt that I couldn't cope with caring for her on my own at home. Assuring him that my siblings were committed to spending as much time with our mother as their work schedules would permit because we all knew how much she abhorred the thought of dying in a hospital, the doctor explained that he was still concerned because I wouldn't have the day-to-day support of my husband. Nonetheless, we made it work. Stéphane's voice on the other end of the phone gave me the strength to cope with caring for my mother's intimate needs. The decision to be with my mother during her final days is one of the best choices that I've ever made, even though it meant being away from Stéphane for three months.

On this day after Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to be an expat. While it's rarely the glamorous life  that others seem to believe, it's the way that Stéphane and I chose to live many years ago. It was another good choice.

If you would like to discover lots of other interesting blogs written by expats in Paris, please click here to visit Expats Blog. While you're there, please feel free to leave a comment about "Out and About in Paris". You'll have to scroll down because it's listed near the bottom of the page.

Comments

  1. Congrats to your daughter (who looks strikingly like her mama!)

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    1. I'll pass the congrats along to Sara. She's looking forward to the next stage of her life after academia...and to spending a couple of months in Paris!

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  2. Couldn't even read the article, my mind is stuck on how much your daughter looks just like you.

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    1. There is a strong family resemblance -- but Sara looks really good in hats while I just look silly.

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  3. Congrats to your beautiful daughter. You've written so moving, I think I would have just chatted with you face to face with a cup of coffee.
    Have a nice weekend - S

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    1. Thanks, Sanne. I hope that some day we'll have the opportunity to chat face-to-face over a cup of coffee, either in Paris or Vienna. If it's in Vienna, we'll have to have a slice of Sacher torte or apfelstrudel with our coffee!

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  4. Well done Sarah and well done Mary for having the courage to make difficult decisions.

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    1. You've also had the courage to make a lot of difficult decisions, Steph. Moving to France couldn't have been easy but you've adapted very well to your surroundings!

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  5. You know I love your occasional forays off from your regular topics! You were a wonderful daughter and are a loving Mom - I only wish I was/am half as good. This post made me 'fill up'. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, MK! GM x

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    1. I know from first hand reports that you're a wonderful mum and very much appreciated by someone in Tours!

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  6. Wonderful post. As I'm typing this in a hotel room after a day spent with my son (27) and our family in the U.S., I an relate so much to your thoughts about being there, and not being there, for different times with your child/ren.

    Earlier this year I wrote a post that my 'word for the year' was/is 'choices' -- like you I'm (mostly) happy with my choices, and I too am married to someone from another country, and am living overseas by choice. But that doesn't make it easy and in fact often creates the kind of situation you've described so well above. It can really be gut-wrenching and guilt-producing and just plain sad at times.

    Well done to your gorgeous daughter on her latest accomplishment, and I know you'll treasure those weeks/months upcoming with her in Paris!

    Cheers.

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    1. I remember your post on choices. It was excellent!

      With "settle" as your word for 2011 and "choices" as your word for 2012, I wonder what word you'll select for 2013.

      Enjoy the time with your son and family in the US! I've been following your Thanksgiving trip on Twitter.

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  7. It's such a great feeling when your child achieves a worthwhile goal and reaches a significant milestone. Congratulations to your daughter! (She is both smart and beautiful!)

    We all learn from the choices we make. The hardest roads sometimes turn out to be the best and most rewarding after we get through the bumps. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.

    Regards,

    Patricia H

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    1. Thank you, Patricia. I can't think of anything in life that compares with watching our children achieve their goals. My mother used to say that she would get all "puffed up with pride" about her 5 children and I never quite understood what she meant until I became a mother. Recalling our conversation about your son, I'm sure that you must feel exactly the same way!

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  8. Thank you, Mary Kay, for sharing your lovely story. How wonderful to have been so close to your mother and to have been there at the end for her. As a fellow expat (and for me, expat simply means someone who is living in a country other than where they were born and raised), I can sympathise with the problem of choices. I shall always regret not going back to Australia the Christmas before my father died. My son is now an expat, in my country of origin, and my daughter is planning to become an expat in the US, so we will all no doubt have other choices to make along the line. And, for me, having divorced and remarried adds even more complications.

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    1. Rosemary, I understand your regrets about not going back to Australia before your father died but I hope that you aren't too hard on yourself about the decision. I'm sure that there were lots of things that kept you here. My mantra for myself is - we do what we can. Sometimes it works out for us to do something and sometimes it doesn't.

      Our definitions of expat are exactly the same. I just don't think of my blog as an "expat" blog because I rarely write about what it's like to live in Paris.

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  9. Congratulations to S and of course to her parents! This long distance living has these difficult choices and moments and you express things that I too have experienced. On the other hand, the excitement of welcoming our children to our 'new' homes in different cities is a plus which I know you share!

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    1. Thanks, Jocelyn! You're right - it was really fun to welcome S & P to our new home in Paris last year. Plus, it didn't take us long to reach a consensus about where we would spend the holidays this year. Everyone wants to be in Paris! I'm sure that your children must feel the same way about your new home in London.

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  10. I think you sum it up when you say "it's rarely the glamorous life others seem to believe". The reality is expat life has the everyday ups and downs, just in a different location. And one of the down sides being the distance away from the ones you love. I'm happy for the life we have but sad when I think of all the time I've missed being with my family in the fifteen years since I left Australia. It gets harder and harder to say goodbye each time I return.

    Cherish the memories of your mum, and enjoy the upcoming months in Paris with your daughter....convincing her to stay in such a wonderful city shouldn't take too much arm twisting. :)

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    1. I know what you mean about it getting harder and harder to say goodbye. I experience the same feelings whenever it's time for me to leave family in the USA.

      I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Sara will find an interesting job that will keep her in Paris for awhile, but she also has a boyfriend in the States. SInce love is what brought me to Europe, I can understand that she wants to be with him.

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  11. This is a beautiful post and shows me how similar your life is to mine, as I have moved every two years for over twenty-five years with my soldier husband.

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    1. You've moved more often than me, Thérèse! I've always admired military families. With only 2 years in a place, you barely had time to settle.

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  12. Looking forward to meeting Sara! Glad the defence went well, I didn't have to defend mine. I wonder if the children of expats/immigrants are more likely to be expats themselves? None of my parents' children are in NZ anymore, although we didn't grow up globe-trotting like your kids.

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    1. She's also looking forward to meeting you and our day at Disneyland Paris! Sara didn't defend her masters thesis in Edinburgh either. I think that her advisors in Boston viewed it as a way for her to present her research to other interested people at the university and to the general public.

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  13. What a beautiful, heartfelt post Mary Kay.

    Of course I can never empathise with the feelings of ex pats, as I am a homebird and have never felt the need or had reason to leave the place where I was born, but your post goes some way to explaining what it is like.

    Having said that I constantly deal with people who have moved across the world and often wonder what their story is, what brings them to Bolton and how they feel about leaving lives behind, good and bad, but of course I never have time for that conversation.

    I would like also to hear some of the positive aspects and benefits of being an ex pat too and also following the man who follows the job.

    ...and yes, like Sylvia, I was stunned how much Sara looks like you.

    Love Denise


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    1. Denise, Maybe it doesn't come through as much as I think in my blog, but one of the biggest benefits of being an expat family is that we've had the opportunity to live in diverse places and learn about different cultures. I've always felt that it's important that our children understand some of the challenges faced by people in other parts of the world, not only in the USA and Switzerland.

      But at the very top of my list, I would say that the best part of being an expat are the people you meet along the way. As an example, we met Jocelyn (who commented above) when we lived in Trinidad. Our daughters were in the same year at the international school where Jocelyn was a teacher and her husband the headmaster. By coincidence, both of our girls are currently in NYC and recently had the opportunity to see each other again. Jocelyn is back in England and blogging about what it's like for a teacher to return to school.

      And, of course, living in Paris is a huge benefit. I try to make the most of it every day.

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  14. A beautiful, heartfelt post of Thanksgiving.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mary Kay.

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    1. Thank you, Peter. I hope that you had a very good Thanksgiving weekend. Mike and you were in my thoughts.

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  15. I like this off topic post! The issues you described above play on my mind more often the longer I'm away from home and it's always reassuring to hear other people's points of view. So thank you for sharing and congratulations to Sara!

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  16. Thank you for this post, Mary Kay. I'm glad you had the memory of looking after your mother toward the end of her life. And hope that you've been able to convince Sara of what a lovely choice it would be to stay close (sorry to be so behind in reading).
    Kind regards,
    Daisy

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