“Going to France.” For millions of tourists around the world, these three words can sum up the dream of a lifetime but for anyone who used to call France home or still have relatives in the country, it’s not always a carefree, indulgent vacation.
Never before have I felt so anxious before a trip to France. Yet, over the years, I boarded Delta, Air Canada, Zoom Airlines, Air France and Air Transat flights in various states of mind.
From 2002 to 2006, I was travelling alone and there was always a reason why I had to go to France—visa expiring, running out of money, university exams. You could usually find me crying at Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal airport, sad because I was leaving Feng and I had no idea when we would see each other again. I could still slip into my French life easily back then. I had friends, time and plenty of freedom because I was officially an adult despite sleeping in my teenage bedroom with my Scream and Trainspotting posters.
Feng first travelled to France with me in spring 2008. We had been married for three years by then and my parents hadn’t met him yet, so I was a bit stressed out. And it was a stressful trip, for me at least—it started with a 24-hour wait at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport because our Zoom Airlines flight was delayed, then cancelled, then rescheduled again for the following day and delayed again. Zoom Airlines declared bankruptcy shortly after. Once in France, I learned that despite goodwill on both sides, it’s actually hard to bridge two cultures and that in a multicultural family, absolutely nothing goes without saying. I had to explain French culture to Feng and introduce him to the many oddities of French families—or possibly just mine.
The following trip in 2010 was a bit easier and eventually, we all started to relax. However, right around the same time, I started crying when leaving France as if I had finally realized I was now living far away from my loved ones to be with another loved one. Bummer.
Not all trips to France were holidays. In March 2012, I boarded an Air France flight to Nantes with a stopover in Amsterdam, I was nauseous and completely overwhelmed—I was two months pregnant and my mom had just had major surgery. I remember noticing for the first time that many people were travelling with babies and it seemed unreal that just a few months from then, I could be one of them. My dad picked me up at the airport, assured me my mom was doing okay and asked if I wanted to go straight to the hospital. “Yes,” I said. “But first I need to puke. I’m pregnant, by the way.” My mom was recovering from the surgery and I was pregnant, which means we spent the following three weeks sleeping a lot and trying to keep food down.
It should have been my last trip before the baby but we travelled to Europe in August for the London 2012 Olympic Games and we took a side trip to France. I remember hiding my big belly under a hoodie because I was afraid EasyJet wouldn’t let a very pregnant woman board the plane. Takeaway from the trip—I can also list about twenty free bathroom all over London because I was seven months pregnant and I had to pee every two minutes.
The first trip with Mark in June 2013 was pretty emotional. After coming back to France with a boyfriend, then married, then pregnant, I was now showing around an eight-month-old baby. For the first time since he was born, I was able to relax a bit since my family was more than happy to play with him. It was heartbreaking to leave, I had gotten used to a level of emotional and practical support and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy once back in Canada.
Then there was the French Christmas where Feng ended up at the ER with a scratched cornea (courtesy of baby Mark), a few more trips with an exhausting toddler, then things got better again. We all more or less found our place. My siblings both left home, they have partners, apartments, busy schedules. I have a different relationship with my relatives too. We’re all experienced adults.
It’s still an emotional rollercoaster for me because even though I’m very happy to see my parents, siblings and close relatives, it’s never easy to be a mother, a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter and more all at the same time while bridging two cultures and using three languages.
And then there’s this year’s trip.
It has been making me anxious for weeks—the worst kind of anxiety, where you notice the many little signs of it without being able to pinpoint the source of worry.
Or maybe the list of what makes me anxious is just too long.
This is going to be the first time I see my mom after she and my dad separated. I’m not sure yet if and how I’ll be able to see my dad, mostly for practical reasons—he moved to a fairly remote place. I still haven’t fully processed the fact my parents are no longer together but being in France is going to make it very real.
Many other things happened this year and none of them is likely to have a happy ending. I’m not ready for this part of adulthood when people are older, vulnerable.
I’m tired. I wish I could be the child and be taken care of during the “holidays” of but I have the feeling that, as usual, I’m going to attempt to fix the unfixable.
I’m afraid to break—there’s only so much pain I can absorb and I really want to help.