One of the many downsides of being an expat is loneliness, because of the lack of a family. The need for relatives becomes more urgent around family-oriented holidays, like Thanksgiving. As a Frenchwoman, I had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, but the plethora of ads and diverse media featuring loving families was overwhelming during my first Fall season in the United States. I accepted an invitation to join one of my friends’ family for dinner, and the whole experience brought up mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was extremely grateful and thrilled to be part of such a warm and welcoming family for one day. On the other hand, the cute Italian-American grandpa sitting next to me reminded me so much of my own cute French grandpa that it was almost painful. This lovely family had me over for all the major holidays over the next 2 years, until their son and I graduated from our Masters program and sort of lost touch.
Then, almost like clockwork, I met my boyfriend. After only 2 weeks of dating, he took me home to meet his parents. Besides my ‘foster’ family, I had never really been introduced to the world of an American family before, since I had lived in such a grad-student-oriented world. He told me that he wanted me to meet his parents over a delicious sushi dinner and a bottle of wine. I started panicking so loudly that a random lady approached me to say that I had nothing to worry about, that I was a lovely person and that his parents would love me. Sure, lady. The first meeting was fine, but I had no idea they were so conservative and may have made a few semi-inappropriate jokes. They seemed to like me fine, but the next couple of months were somewhat tense, especially between me and The Mother. It was not a classic case of ‘My Son Is Too Good For You’, it was more complex than that. She probably didn’t like that I was a foreigner, and that I was so liberal. It was never an open feud, but it wasn’t super warm either.
Yes, that’s right, if we follow the analogy, she’s Jane Fonda, and that would make me J-Lo.
Then, I stuck around. I, the woman who always sucked at relationships before, transformed into a supportive girlfriend and gained The Mother’s trust. Before too long, without even realizing it because it was so gradual, I became a part of their family. So sure, I still feel awkward around them most of the time, and I rarely have anything cool to say to the 2 younger brothers, but I know that they consider me as *almost* one of them. It materializes in the little things. It’s when The Mother invites me, alone, to watch the little brother’s baseball game. It’s when she wants me to go buy yarn with her and her mom -as you will discover sooner or later, I’m a knitting maniac. It’s when the dad comes to help me negotiate the price of a car. Little things, little everyday, supportive things that you only do for or with people towards whom you feel obligated. In other words, family.
When I started complaining about my mom TO my boyfriend’s mom -the way that I usually complained about her to my own mom-, that was another clue: I no longer needed to crave a family environment.