Guia is Italian and she currently lives in Jerusalem. We thank her for this very interesting article that makes us reflect on stimulating issues as far as the relation with our family of origin is concerned. Thank you, Guia !
Children, media and autonomy in balance on the cord that connects us to our family of origin
The first departure is never forgotten: on the border of the Amazon forest, in a village “near” Belém do Pará, Brazil. Climate: around 30 degrees all year round. Humidity: you don’t notice any more, the shirt sticks to you, wet with sweat. Nearest hospital: 2 days in jeep. We are thrilled, with a four months old baby, who sleeps all night, thus confirming our green light to leave.
Ten days before we are due to board the plane my husband leaves for a week and a half and I wrestle with the responsibility of being a mother. I discover the meaning of insomnia and cramps in my stomach. The brain works on the physical signs and I admit to myself that we should not go. How could I expose this wonderful creature to such conditions ?
A quick review of the situation and I conclude that Marco, my husband, will abandon me, the priest who is waiting for us won’t ever talk to me again, all those I meet on the street to whom the departure was announced will not greet me any more and the disgrace is certain.
This is only an exploratory trip, but aimed at a permanent transfer. Otherwise there would be no point. I take the risk and drop the bombshell: I think it’s best not to leave. Miraculously, I remain married, I do not get excommunicated, and I realize that I am not the only one believing that not leaving is a wise afterthought.
My husband’s parents heave a sigh of relief. Mine smile and nod with a look that says: “I told you …’’, and leaves me no way out. I must admit I was imprudent.
But evil persists and years later we decide to leave again, this time with two girls.
The concern is expressed differently by our families. Mine uses the written form. An official invitation to dinner is issued to discuss the matter. Marco has already gone and I feel full of arguments to convince them and share with them reasonable grounds for our professional involvement in the humanitarian field. I come out in tatters because my girls receive a very clear subliminal message: their mother is a great egoist, she prefers the gitanes (gypsies) from Kossovo to you, and does not realize how heavy the trauma of uprooting you will be.
The family of Marco is destroyed at the thought of not seeing the girls any more, but reiterates its confidence in us and our choices. And they express it with a few tears escaping beyond their control.
Children hold a very strong leverage in the triangular tension between us, expatriation and our family of origin. They embody our feelings and anxieties, increasing our sense of responsibility accordingly.
Countries ‘in’ and ‘out’
Our expatriation is also a matter of image for our families. Fortunately, in Italy there is a widespread esterophilia – international interest – and saying that your children live abroad has an interesting flavor of opening of horizons. But the countries of the world score differently, with some having more ‘kudos’.
Montenegro has not had a wide appeal. Geographically dispersed among the ethnic problems of former Yugoslavia, despite being very close to Italy, it was perceived as if it were light years away. Congratulations to Marco’s parents who came to visit us and enjoyed its beauties, some of which, such as the Mouths of Kotor, are even world heritage.
Uganda also did not appear very significant, but the fact that it was Africa mixed an exotic attraction with an element of primitive terror. And of course Africa is the archetype of human need, so it was understandable that we had ended up and spent six years there.
When we went to England at the beginning of the global economic crisis, wiping out our savings to do very interesting masters, and virtually immersing ourselves in the almost Scottish cold climate of the North-East, instead of asking themselves questions about our mental health, our families applauded us. Thanks to low cost flights we had lots of visitors.
From the United Kingdom Marco was catapulted to Haiti a few days after the earthquake, to open a place for work and to write projects. I was a little worried knowing that he was at the center of the emergency. He worked like crazy and in the beginning his home-office was a tent besieged by mice in the field of the Peruvian blue helmets. But our girls saw their popularity skyrocket among friends and teachers, because they were riding high on the most followed news item. Our families were very involved and felt the urgency of the matter with apprehension, made even more real by the media echo. I found myself faced with urgent requests for updates of the news faster than I was actually able to receive live communication from Marco.
Now that we are in Jerusalem what’s most emphasized by our families is the beauty and spirituality of the place. While we try to understand the political tensions in the complexity of the economic, military and religious dynamics, and Marco does his best to avoid being hit by a rocket when he is in Gaza, it seems to us it would be better that we remembered our far away families, rather than our receiving their prayers. Amen.
For our families, impressions of where we are, and in some ways the images of how it is for us, are very strongly affected by what press and television choose to broadcast.
The last thing I would like to highlight is the intoxicating sense of independence that life abroad allows us to enjoy. Not being able to rely on our family for a last moment babysitting equals the sense of guilt for not being a practical and present support for our aging parents. Both feelings carry a degree of freedom in return. We can arrange travels, holidays, friendships, activities, and engagements in total lightness. We establish the parameters; the pressure of social control and the response to others expectations have very little meaning in these expatriate contexts. We feel strong and independent.
In these thirteen years of wandering life though, I have come to see how this vaunted independence relies on the unconditional availability of our families and of our friends and loved ones. Everyone knows that when we return we could make use of taxis and shuttles from the airport to home. But they come to collect us. They know we are laden with suitcases and creatures and they come to embrace us. My mother-in-law not only opens her arms but also her door and lets herself be invaded by our cumbersome presence, both physically and emotionally. She lets us change her times, habits and even the programmes we had agreed upon: because we made better ones! We have not seen each other for months but when we find ourselves again the life together is very close, even our toothbrushes are familiar. And when we take off again, I see her moved from the depths of her heart. But I like to imagine that when the door closes behind us she puts on loud music and uncorks a bottle to toast to her regained freedom.
It’s our turn
Less than three months and I can not believe that we will become a family of origin. Laughing and joking our turn has arrived. Our first daughter will go back to England for university. We are not ready, but she is very enthusiastic, confident in spreading her wings. We hope to be able to enjoy her adventures in the air without being tipped by too much anxiety, supporting her even when she is out of sight, happy for her to chart her course toward new horizons.