My doctor tells me I’m allergic to this place. That I should live in a dry, mild climate with less pollen change. That living next to a golf course is about the worst place for my chest to function properly, and this is clearly true as I am too slow in recovering from my second summer infection. I ask him if he’s spoken to my mother. He doesn’t get the joke.
For the past 16 years I’ve had a love affair with England and have managed to live between LA and London quite successfully. And now, I’m told categorically by my Indian NHS doctor who actually doesn’t know my mother, that I need to get out now, while I still can breathe. That being outside, which is my salvation most days, is not allowed.
What he doesn’t realize is the chord he is striking with his words. At my home, right now, are 8 large suitcases, a guitar case, tennis bag, computer bag, five backpacks, and the dog’s disgusting sheepskin awaiting our family’s departure in two days time. Yes, I’m packed that early and no, that’s not a normal occurance. But this trip signifies another stage in the life of Family Hamm, a move across the pond, back to LA. The only thing not packed is the husband, who is so deeply rooted in London that he’s planting a tree. It’s called ‘I didn’t really mean we should move and I really don’t want to go’ tree.
I, we, have four sons, aged from 5 to 12, and a rescue dog from Battersea named Scarlet. We have managed to raise them to be English American Jewish Protestants pretty harmoniously, and for many years they enjoyed the joys of a 50% Hispanic co-ed state school in Santa Monica, mixed with an all-boy, suit and tie English prep education in Richmond. Confused? They don’t think so. But after a five year all English commitment, we are returning to our ‘other’ existence and hoping (even a little praying is going on) that everything is gonna be alright.
With the countdown so close now, the anxiety is gripping my chest and not going away with a deep breath – or wheezy deep breath – anymore. Since I have spent the last few months making sure that all the boys and said husband are secure and confidant, I’ve only now just given myself enough space to feel how I’m feeling. And boy am I feeling freaked out. Getting quiet enough to really know what’s going on inside of me is not easy; I tend to deflect and care-take others as a basic instinct. But it’s Sunday night and Sunday nights always make me feel a bit vulnerable, so what better a time to try and get a grasp of my emotions than now, before they spiral into a full blown panic attack and I start unpacking all the bags to make sure it’s all there.
In many ways, changing one’s surroundings, shaking it all up, is great for a family. Kids live in the moment anyway, but change makes me live there with them. No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot answer all the questions – how is it going to work? Are we going to get work? Is everyone going to be happy? Is the flight going to kill the dog??? My mom reassured me recently by saying that I was in the driver’s seat of my life and no one was holding a gun to my head – if it doesn’t work, I could… shoot someone, or more simply come back.
The switch isn’t forever and there are huge upsides to understanding both cultures; it’s what I’ve enjoyed most about my dual life. I had my husband’s family over for a good-bye lunch today. I asked him what we should cook on this hot, summer’s day, thinking in terms of salads. He replied, “Whatever we cook, we have to have roast potatoes and gravy with it.” Of course we have to have gravy. Silly question. LA you hide the butter and eat known white meat animals without fat; London you serve up boar’s sausages sizzling proudly on a platter.
In terms of friends, the good-byes are making me nuts. I know it is harder being the one left and therefore I have guilt with every tearful good-bye. But I feel sick inside. I keep praying that nothing is going to change, that we are going to come back at xmas time, and every holiday thereafter for the year, and no one will die and everyone will be the same. There are a million reasons why we are going, between work, school and being with my family in LA, and yet we are all happy here. Husband and I look at each other and think ‘and we’re going because…why, again?’ And then, literally, we stand facing each other reciting the reasons again, one by one, trying to convince ourselves we’re doing the right thing, slightly ready to blame the other if the pendulum doesn’t swing in the right direction.
Change brings anxiety, which brings stress, which can make you sick, which then turns to health issues, which then makes you feel much older than you are – or imagine yourself to be – which then makes you depressed. So…considering that we are about to uproot our entire lives and dive into our parallel universe, I think it’s a good time to listen to my five year old and chill out a bit because ‘America is only 24 minutes away from here’.
Besides…it’s only for a year.