"Can anyone think of me?", graffiti in Córdoba, Argentina, winter 2016
“Can anyone think of me?”, graffiti in Córdoba, Argentina, winter 2016

When my sister has yet another row with her boyfriend—relationship subtitled “it’s complicated”—, she takes the TGV and spends a few days at my parents’ place, drinking tea and reading books. When my brother is tired of Paris and his shoebox-size apartment, he comes over as well to walk the streets of the city he grew up in.

Meanwhile, you can find me 6,000 kilometres away, standing on our driveway, tears running down my cheeks, frantically tapping on the Skype icon on my phone, calculating the time difference. Fuck. It’s inconveniently late over there. My life emergency probably doesn’t warrant a middle-of-the-night phone call.

When I first came to Canada, plenty of strangers asked me if I missed my family. It was definitely in the top three get-to-know-the-immigrant questions, along with how far from Paris I grew up and whether I missed French food. I found it was a weird question to ask, but maybe I looked young and innocent back then, barely out of my teens.

I could never think of a good answer. Saying that no, I didn’t miss them, would have made me sound callous. It was somewhat true, though. Life was busy and exciting and I hadn’t been expecting my parents to hold my hands for my first steps into adulthood. Whether they move next door or on another continent, kids leave home at one point. I wasn’t running away from an awful childhood and a sinister past, I was just focusing on making a life for myself. But again, I wasn’t going to admit that I did miss my family once in a while. It would have made me feel vulnerable and crying on the shoulder of a perfect stranger probably wasn’t the expected answer either.

Nowadays, I’m rarely asked me if I miss my family because I have my own family. I am a Mother with a capital M, a Wife with a capital W. Instead, I’m asked whether I miss my snowflake when he is at daycare, if I’m planning to have a bigger family, a bigger home and ah-ah, don’t they grow up so fast?

I wish I would be asked again if I miss my parents. I may be a mother but I am still a daughter, a grand-daughter, a sister. I know I have been promoted, I know that I am, along with Feng, at the head of a three-person household. I’m no longer a young adult and I’m expected to master this life thing.

Some days, it’s just too much stress, too many responsibilities. I feel lonely. I don’t know if the decisions I have to make on a daily basis are right, I don’t know who to trust and I wish I could step down from my position.

Stress and tiredness are the perfect ingredient for that awful recipe: arguments. Pointless fights in that claustrophobic environment.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons why people buy giant houses with finished basements is so that family members can avoid each other after a fight. During this uncomfortable cold-war stage after shouting at each other and before declaring truce, you need space. Oh, there is plenty of space in Canada, but if the weather is cold, there is nowhere to go.

And I have nowhere to go when I need space. I just walk around, aimlessly. Many times I dreamed of crashing somewhere in a hotel and catching on much-needed sleep, but rooms are expensive around here—damn government city. If I were in France, I’d go to my parents. Here, in Canada, I have great friends, but they all have demanding jobs, pets to feed, kids to care for, houses to clean or whatever mix of these assets. Life is busy. Once in a while, we catch up and vent but we rarely comment on drama in real time. We are no longer teens, we are adults with a sense of “well, this is silly, I’ll deal with it myself.”

Leaving home, your roots and your old life behind can be tremendously positive experience. It’s very freeing in a way because you start from scratch again and this time, you get to pick what your character will be. You can be different—bold and confident, ambitious and flexible, success-driven and innovative, for instance. Why not? If you are reinventing your life may as well do it right!

But occasionally, it’s hard to be that pawn out of the board. No one to back you up, new cultural bearings, new acquaintances and friends you don’t want to burden.

Sometime, I need the unconditional love of people who saw me growing up, who saw me at my best and at my worst.

It’s been a tough cold spring. First of all, I’m sorry but it ain’t spring if you need a winter jacket. We’ve been constantly sick since we came back at the end of February, and while Feng and I can deal with a virus, it’s tough when Mark catches it. Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong. Life is stressful. I know you know. You’re probably in the same boat.

I’m being over-dramatic again. I need sleep. There. That’s where I should go. My bed.


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  1. Isa May 16, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Oh this made me tear up a bit. I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. Dealing with the distance from our loved ones is, in my mind, the most difficult thing about being an expat. I’m always surprised (but not judging at all!) when my friend in Montréal tells me she doesn’t miss her friends or family in France at all, that skyping is enough. It was never enough for me! Sometimes, a hug is everything we need.
    Internet hugs aren’t that soothing, but here I am giving you one

    1. Zhu May 16, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      I’m so taking that Internet hug!

      I think for a while I was like your friend (and that was before Skype!). I didn’t miss my family much because we were all busy, them in France with work, my younger bother and sister, and me experiencing both adult life in Canada. Plus me being away was fairly new yet completely expected considering I had started running away from home to travel the world from the age of 16 😆

      It got trickier as the years went by though, and also with Mark.

  2. Bianca May 16, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Wow… this post really hit home for me. It made me cry and smile at the time, nodding in agreement with every single word. Sweet Xhu I truly wish I could give you a warm hug and offer an hour long venting session over a nice cup of coffee.. Who knows, hopefully someday 🙂

    I honestly think everyone feels like that from time to time, it’s part of “growing up” and becoming an adult, especially a parent. Suddenly everyone forgets to ask YOU how you’re doing, are you ok, do you need anything, can I help you..? And yes, you’re a Mom and a Wife, but before you were any of that you were Juliette. And you still are. So please don’t forget to nurture that person, too.

    I am in my late 30s and sometimes still need a comforting word from my Mom when I’m feeling down, but I often have to remind myself that she too is somebody’s daughter (!) and needs the same. We all do, regardless of age or country or distance, if that is of any comfort to you, although I can imagine being an expat makes things that much more difficult due to sheer physical distance. Wherever in the world I live I will not miss my home country’s food though I will most definitely painfully miss my Mom’s home cooked meals:)

    Now I think I’ll go give my mother a call and ask how she is doing. And Zxu, I know I am not family but next time you’re standing in your driveway with no one to call feel free to Skype me girlfriend:) hope you feel better soon, hugs from Europe

    1. Zhu May 16, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Taking that hug too, thank you! 🙂

      You are absolutely right, we, the daughters, need that hug… and our mothers need it too, from us or from their loved ones. I think I discovered that growing up doesn’t make you that tough that you can handle it all like… a grown up. At one point, we all want to be taken care of, especially when we become caregivers with kids or loved ones.

  3. Christiane May 16, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    (not going to cry….)
    You and me sister !! This is my second time being an expat and I miss my mom and sister more !! I use Viber and Skype to talk to them (plus with my high cell phone bill…sorry husband)
    Life can be tough and shit gets so real ! We all need sleep and time for ourselves.

    P.s. = you should give me yr Skype name so I can add you and we can have ranting sessions.

    1. Zhu May 16, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      Woman, we need to have this ranting/venting session in person! And we will *crossing fingers*! I just don’t even know what to say anymore, between work and sick days… it’s been a hell of a spring 🙁

  4. Frenchie au Canada May 16, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Looks like your post struck a cord 🙂
    It’s funny because whenever I hear about the tiny house movements I think just that “what about when you need space”?
    And I hear you, we’ve had a beautiful Spring here, but last year we had the longest and coldest / wetest Spring and it really got to me.
    It’s funny because even though I don’t particularly get on well with my parents, and they’ve never been the loving kind, I still feel like running back to them at times. In fact I did just that and took a break from my life last fall! I imagine it’s a bit harder with a kid in tow though.
    And when the weather permits, I go walk the dog 😉

  5. Frenchie au Canada May 16, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    And take good care of yourself, get some rest, and things will hopefully improve shortly.

    1. Zhu May 16, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      🙂 I was just reading your article about your cute dog. Like I said, I’m not particularly a pet person, but reading it, the way you explain the bond, I was like “oh yes, I get it!” I do get the comfort a pet can bring 🙂

      I think we all want to run “home” at one point, just find comfort in that place we feel safe, no matter where it is. It must be hard for you sometime as well, I get the feeling you are a bit “isolated” geographically speaking.

      1. Frenchie au Canada May 17, 2016 at 3:02 pm

        Thanks, I’m glad my post made sense to a non-pet person 😉 At least you didn’t think I was crazy haha
        And yes I am pretty isolated geographically!
        As for the comfort of home, sadly France isn’t that place for me. But when things were all together too much here, it was the obvious go to…

        1. Zhu May 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm

          Nah, the stereotype is the crazy CAT lady, not the crazy dog lady! 😆

          I’m sorry to hear you didn’t have that “safe” place in France. I actually thought about that while writing the article… some people don’t even have that safe place. I’m lucky to have a great relationship with my close family and I had a great childhood too.

          1. Frenchie au Canada May 18, 2016 at 3:10 pm

            Ha yes, but wait until I write about the cat at work haha
            And I’m glad you have a great relationship with your family and a great childhood too.
            It always gives me hope when people say that that one day I can give that to my child too 🙂
            And it’s not all bad, in fact things are getting better as I get older.
            And as another commenter said though, it’s nice to see friends who have known me forever and know the contest of my life when I go home 🙂

          2. Zhu May 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm

            True, “home” and “family” doesn’t have to be the expected, i.e. parents and the place where you grew up! It can be anywhere, and “family” can also be husband, other extended family members or very close friends 😉

  6. I Say Oui May 17, 2016 at 1:10 am

    Hi! I read your post earlier and have been thinking about it/you.

    I get what you mean about not feeling homesick every day and yet having a strong longing to be with family sometimes. Just because one chooses to live far away from parents and siblings and successfully makes one’s own life doesn’t mean that that yearning doesn’t manifest itself very strongly from time to time. I’m not thinking only of my own experience (of moving away and back) but also of people I know, like my parents who raised a family far away from their own parents, like you are. There are definitely hard times.

    It’s true that nothing replaces time; recently I went out with some old and new friends, and I realized how comfortable it was to have old friends that knew my history, to whom I didn’t have to explain the past. That’s not to say that new friends won’t one day become very close friends, but it’s too soon to tell. And I did make friends in Paris who I now consider some of my best friends, equal to older friends even though I’ve known them for less time. But there is something special about staying in touch with someone who has seen you through past ups and downs and earlier stages of your life. Like you said, you can’t just unburden your problems onto someone you met recently and are in the stage of “having fun” with.

    I don’t know your local friends, but since you say they’re great, I think a few of them can offer you support in real-time rather than after the problems subside. Everyone is busy and has their own problems, but they also care about you and your well-being. A phone call or a coffee break to rant and discuss isn’t too much to ask. I can’t speak for you, but I know in the past I sometimes didn’t want to bother friends and ended up surprised at how willing they were to listen and show they cared. They really wanted to, I just had to ask.

    Here’s to warmer weather and days of stretching outside for you! Bisous

    1. Zhu May 17, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Hello you! I was actually thinking of you last night when I was (finally!) debugging the “subscribe to comments” plugin. Let me know if you still have issues!

      I think your experience is super interesting because you were abroad, now back on this side of the pond, and I did notice in your last articles that you had seemed to connect a lot with friends in a cozy way. I may be completely wrong, but that’s the feeling I got reading your adventures, although I know that blogs are a very partial view of someone’s life.

      I’m not usually shy or particularly private, it’s just that I feel the people close to me are also dealing with a lot. Resources are stretched thin for various reasons and I’m not the only one not getting enough sleep, money and help 😆 We do commiserate afterwards and rant once in a while but rarely reach out to each other in the heat of the moment. Maybe it’s the environment too… in North America, many things happen behind closed doors. Like people won’t demonstrate on the street or argue in a café like in France, they deal with their feelings differently. Anyway, don’t assume I’m dealing with huuuuge drama, just the usual!

      Bisous back 😉

  7. Melanie May 18, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    I’m not far away and you are always welcome here! I serve both coffee and alcohol 🙂

    1. Zhu May 19, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      🙂 I think I didn’t reply to your last email BTW… I’ll share the full story later.

  8. Chiruza Canadiense May 18, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    It snowed in Montréal a couple of days ago….did you know that ? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came out of the building I’m living at….this is what is called “spring” in Canada ? Seriously ?

    In the meantime, everyone in Argentina thinks I live in a freezer already……

    1. Zhu May 19, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Oh yes, it’s been a cold cold spring. How cold does it get in Buenos Aires?

  9. Lexie May 23, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Hope you will be better soon. J’ai vécu un ersatz de ce que tu vis cette semaine, et ça m’a franchement déprimée, alors je comprends ta lassitude!

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