Thursday 14 October 2010

Putting down roots

The last month or so has taken me to some weird places mentally and emotionally. As previously mentioned here and here, we put our house on the market having no idea where we would move to, but knowing that where we currently live isn't right for us. We have spent weekends visiting Devon, the Isle of Wight, Hamble and Lymington. We've gone to see 12 houses. I have spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at houses on the internet, researching schools, lifestyle, sailing clubs and commuting distances for just about everywhere in the south of England.

And here's the thing. What we want doesn't exist in the UK. And so now the US is seriously being considered.

But it has made me think deeply about what makes a place home, when your own roots have been pulled up with an industrial size digger. My husband comes from a town in the UK that he has no desire to return to (and I share this sentiment entirely). I'm from South Africa and we will never move back there. It means we are rootless. The world is our oyster. We can put down roots anywhere. How liberating. Yet how bewildering. Scary. Lonely. Directionless.

Marrying a Brit and moving here meant I had to go through the strange experience of losing my national identity. I realised very early on that to fit in I'd have to become British. I picked up a Britsh accent (although I still have an SA twang). I took the British-ness test and swapped my green passport for a pink one, no dual-nationality for me. I retook my driver's license and learnt a new Highway Code, including learning how to navigate roundabouts (or traffic circles as I used to call them).  I've learnt all about the British schooling system, health system, tax system, government, media, everything. There are still times I know that I'm not British - like when someone famous dies and the whole country goes into mourning and I've never heard of them.

But it's happened. I've become British. I now support the English rugby teams over South Africa. Traitor I hear the South Africans hiss. But it's true. In my heart, when England plays SA, I'm rooting for the white shirts with the red rose on it.

And now, having embraced this new culture, with tiny shoots starting to dig into soil, we're suggesting that we rip up the seedling and plant it in foreign soil. I'm pretty hardy, so reckon I'll manage to adapt and grow. But what will I be then? American? British? What? How many times can you change nationality before you lose all sense of yourself? What about my children? I think of them as little English boys. And I love that. But if we went there, they'd become American. Not British like their dad. Or South African like their mum. But American. Something neither of us is. Are we happy with that?

Ultimately I want to find a place to put down roots and let them grow and grow so that our children and their children will have the pull of a place they call home. But choosing the right place is so incredibly hard when you have absolutely no history there. It's quite simply pot luck.  And it's not just my life or my husband's life that is affected by this. We are choosing our children's future. That's pretty huge. And I thought choosing their names was difficult.


Iota said...

This is just too near the bone for me at the moment to attempt a comment which will answer your questions.

We had a possibility of returning to the UK (which came to nothing). Oldest two kids were so pleased at the idea. Youngest hated the idea and was delighted when it fell through. It becomes very complicated.

Emotionally, I did a double take when my green card came through. It was accompanied by a letter explaining that if the children, at age 16, would be eligible to be called up for military service. That really made me sit up. I'm happy to live here, but I'm really not happy at the thought of my children fighting for the place.

I think this is such a deeply personal issue, that it's hard to advise. Some people have deep roots, and others seem to skim over the surface more. It varies so much.

Iota said...

PS Just a thought, and you probably won't want to answer in a public forum, but why just the south of England? Does what you want exist in the north, or in Scotland even?

Just a thought.

nappy valley girl said...

It is a big move. I love it out here, but I wonder whether that's partly because I know it's only temporary. I think that if I stayed here permanently, I would always feel a bit of an outsider - and that, although I've never felt that fond of England after growing up abroad, I have deeper, more ingrained roots there than I thought.

Home Office Mum said...

Iota - Nope, north England and Scotland won't work for various reasons. I completely understand why it's too close to the bone though

Nappy valley - I think it's because I've never felt I'm from anywhere that I feel so rootless. I moved back and forth when I was young and never felt part of any one place except where I was born. But I don't want to give the same restlessness to my kids. And I think living somewhere like the US, I'll always feel an outsider, so will they? But I know that the US lifestyle is more me than the UK. Although I do very much love England now. It's so hard.

Expat mum said...

You might want to wait until this place has settled down a bit. Honestly, it's nuts over here with all the bloody Tea Partyers. Very frightening to think that any of them could be running the country.

Anyway, I would really think carefully about moving to a country where neither parent has roots. You will probably always be an outsider and if your kids grow up loving it, you will then be faced with the possibility of you moving back to the UK or SA and your kids being old enough to stay here if they want to.
Plus - how can you just up and move here?

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you all. It soiunds like a very challenging situation, but i've no doubt you'll get there.


This Mid 30s Life said...

Really enjoyed reading that post. We are an Australian family with 2 young children, who until May were very happy in Sydney. Great jobs, house, support - the works!! Then my husband was offered the very coveted London post. So we upped and moved, the children are still young so easier than if they were at school. BUT we will go back. I don't think I could have done a permanent move.

Monica said...

Hi Melissa,

I know how you feel, I am Portuguese (although in UK since I was 10) and my hubby is South African (here since he was 19) although I feel like UK is my home it doesn't feel like we can have the lifestyle that we want.

We love the warm weather and hate the cold, love the big houses and hate small ones, although the house we rent is not that small.

We both grew up with warm weather and big houses, surfing and outings... but we couldn't live anywhere else and the thought of up and moving to another country is sooo scary!

I reckon that we will move at some point to a warm country and live near the beach... even if its only when we retire!

Monica x