A Few Weeks in Paris Does Not a Criminal, Book, Guilt-Free Daughter, or Good Blogger Make

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Late afternoon, Hôtel de Ville and the Seine, Paris

Paris

Tomorrow morning, Clive and I leave Paris for New York, to spend a few weeks, including that most wonderful of U.S. holidays, Thanksgiving, with my family.

By the time we end this trip in early December, we will have spent close to a total of six weeks in Paris. I’m still posting about our time in England a few weeks ago; it’s only thanks to Anne in Oxfordshire, who is still posting about her trip to Paris, that I haven’t despaired completely. We both find it amusing that I am here and she is there but I’m posting about there and she is posting about here.

As has happened for the past fifteen years, ever since I first moved to Australia, I feel more and more stress the closer I get to returning to New Jersey. I haven’t quite learned how to remain a grown-up when I return to the place of my childhood. The slightest query from either of my parents along the lines of ‘Do you think you’ll ever move back to the United States?’ fills me instantly with sadness and guilt. If I were in their shoes I’d ask the same question. What aging parent wouldn’t want to know what their child/ren are thinking in terms of life plans?

On this trip to Paris I happened to read two books in which the author and/or lead character has a mother in a nursing home. I wondered if the Universe was trying to tell me something. In Patricia Hampl’s memoir, ‘The Florist’s Daughter‘, the author writes about visiting her mother every day, even after her mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where she was unaware how often she saw her daughter. In Susan Breen’s novel ‘The Fiction Class’, the lead character visits her mother once a week.

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Promenade d'Australie, Quai Branly, Paris

I cannot do this from Sydney, Australia. Yes, when I visit my mother, I see her every day, but that’s only for a few weeks at a time. Last year we spent a total of three months in New Jersey, but that was an exceptional situation due to her move to assisted living and the need to empty and sell her house. I’m still wrestling with how often and how long to spend there and I’ve come to realise there is no pat answer other than, ‘It depends’ and will change every time based on everyone’s health and circumstances.

This me to consider other factors, such as my desire to write a book and spend more time in Paris.

So. We have just spent a little more than three weeks here and I have written some, read some, walked quite a bit, and cherished the time Clive and I have had together, just living a daily life in Paris. For me, this is heaven, dog doo and occasionally crazy French service people notwithstanding.

But I found I was repeatedly questioning myself, in a critical, judgmental tone, ‘So, Carolyn, why aren’t you in New Jersey?’ Sometimes I answered myself rather bluntly, saying, ‘If you wait until elderly parents die before you [insert something that’s been a dream of yours forever], then you may never get there because these days people can live a long time.’

‘Well,’ I challenge myself again, ‘that’s all well and good but we are talking about your mother, the woman who raised you and your brother Rob after your father left, the one person on this earth who has always been there for you, the person you always called first, when you were over the moon with happiness (such as when you found out you were pregnant), or when you thought you couldn’t cope (such as when your husband died). And there you sit in Paris while you could be visiting her in New Jersey?’

And this is where I reply — perhaps lamely, although I have given it a lot of thought — ‘Yes. I have spent the past three weeks in Paris. Tomorrow I’m going to see my mother.’

I try to be positive on this blog and in my mind. I tell myself: some people spend months or years travelling the world. They leave family behind in order to — finally, after years of working for others — pursue lifelong dreams and goals.

Spending time in Paris does not make me a criminal. I know this. I know about family globalisation and that this is part of being an ex-pat, loving people and countries in addition to those of my origin.

Don’t you just wish sometimes that life was easy and you could do everything? Wouldn’t it be great if we could physically be with everyone we loved at the same time, while pursuing hobbies and interests and travelling, too?

Ahhhhh well. That wouldn’t be real life, would it? We have to make choices. But there’s no harm in dreaming once in a while.

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Back of Notre Dame and the Seine, Paris

Cheers and au revoir, Paris. We will be back.

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8 Responses

  1. Hi Carolyn a very poignant post..I wish I could be there for everyone, but as you say if we wait to do our own things , we never will. Don’t let these people or comments get to you! You are a good person, a good mother and a good daughter…and have a cherished life with Clive.

    Thank you for you link 🙂 yes I am amused at the posting …. still a few more to go …. 🙂 Take Care and have a wonderful time in America with your mum and family xxx

  2. Oh, the anguish. I don’t have any magic words, only that I know you are a good person and you are doing the very best you can to balance all of life’s demands. We all know your mother will be happy for your visit, but she also raised you to be a person with a zest for life and exploration and curiosity, and your pursuing those interests is also a tribute to her.

    Have a safe journey, and see you back here in December!

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    I can undertand you 100%… It’s hard, we are always juggling with obligations and what is correct. Even if we know that we only have one life and dreams are worth pursuing.

    Unfortnately,we can’t make everyone happy at one; someone always loses out.No, you are not a criminal, neither is anyone else for choosing to live far away from their parent’s nest.

    I’m more than sure that each time you are back, the happiness is enormous for your Mom. She enjoys you being back & knows that you are there for her.

    Big hugs to you & Clive & a safe trip back to NJ.
    XX

  4. Hi Carol,

    I think many people who live in the United States don’t see their parents any more often than you see yours. Distance is a serious obstacle to negotiate whether we are speaking in the context of physical distance or the emotional response that is evoked by whatever distance an individual puts between childhood and adulthood. In short parents can always push our buttons. Moreover I’m quite sure we do exactly the same things with our own children as they become adults, and generally we don’t even realize it.

    Setting and sticking to priorities is always difficult particularly when all the choices have much to recommend them. Writing projects, in particular, are both time consuming and frustrating because often we feel less than inspired about having something to say. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to write even if you don’t use whatever words you have just spent several hours sweating blood over!

    In 1915 Robert Frost wrote in “The Death of the Hired Man,”
    “Home is the place, when you have to go there,
    They have to take you in.”

    It is good to know that we can go home again, and are not forced by circumstance to go home because we have no where else to go. Nonetheless, home, with all its secure and safe associations, can be a source of anxiety. As parents age, it becomes even more difficult to manage that line between being the child and being the grown up.

    In the end I’m sure you and Clive will enjoy your trip to New Jersey and have one more lovely Thanksgiving with your family.

  5. p.s. was there really any danger that a few weeks in Paris would make you a criminal? What did you have in mind?

    : )

  6. Anne, Kim, Barbara, and Eleanor, thanks for your lovely comments and understanding. It helps to realise that many people do indeed live far from their parents. Eleanor, great quotes, too!

    Kim, re ‘criminal’ – I guess the biggest issue was/is in my own mind, the darn inner critic, which (whom?) I can usually overcome. That said, some family members do tend to speak up with their own views quite regularly!

    Inner critic whispers words like neglect, bad person, and selfish. In all the years I was tied to the corporate hamster wheel, three weeks in Paris was an impossibly long time — absolutely, positively impossible. That ended last year. Now, when I want to write something serious and would like to do a lot of that in Paris, three weeks is microscopically short.

    I wil stop now and just try to figure out the best way to juggle in this new phase!

    Cheers all and thanks again.

  7. Carolyn,

    You are doing the best you can. I doubt your mother would want you to give up your life and your dreams. You are there when you can be there and you both make the most out of those moments. That’s what counts. The quality of the time spent together really means so much more than the quantity of time.

    Enjoy the holidays with your family. Get going on the writing!

    Alison

  8. Alison, thank you so much for your comment.

    Your words mean a great deal to me, knowing that you have lost your beloved mother and you are writing yourself.

    I appreciate your understanding and will soon get going again with my own writing! Hope your NaNo is going well.

    Cheers and have a happy Thanksgiving, however you spend the day.

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