Monday, December 12, 2016

Mixed marriages

This ad and in particular the Guardian article written about it moved me because it found a way to put into words the only adult life I have known.

For better or worse both my marriages have been to 'immigrants' and as the spouse, you too are caught up in a life that is very different to the lives of those who simply married the boy or girl next door. From my eighteenth birthday on, Xmas was spent shuffling, overheated in a winter coat and rucksack from bus to train to ferry to Eurostar, from plane to plane sitting often for hours on the floor in airports waiting for the snow to stop or the plane or runway to be de-iced. Although you are one in an enormous anonymous crowd, you are also comrades in arms and you often found yourself chatting to other families of mixed souls like yourself. Xmas '96 saw me almost alone on a Boeing 747 departing Frankfurt. I remember watching from the window as an airport worker sprayed down the wings with some de-icing product while the captain explained that they were using such a large aircraft into Heathrow that night as the smaller ones could cope with -18. As I looked down through that snowstorm they confirmed they'd had to shut the airport after my departure. Xmas '97 found me sitting with a four month old baby waiting for a mini-hurricane to die down once again before flying nearly 24 hours late into London sideways through purple skies forked with lightning. Xmas '06 saw me clock up 18 hours in Stansted with numerous children while I waited apprehensively to lift off for my first ever trip to Denmark - me a not-yet fully divorced woman trying desperately to avoid bumping into my soon-to-be ex husband who was also transiting through Stansted that day.

That is the life of the mixed marriage... the warning no one puts on the label when you choose that spouse.

In 1997 I gave birth to my first child. I knew his family knew no English so painstakingly spoke to him all day every day only in the language of his family, far away who he'd see maybe once a year. My language took second place to my attempt to build that relationship and had I not, there would have been no relationship. Our family sat round the table speaking three languages at all times - French, German and English. We mixed customs and traditions and each of us became richer for it. It was my perfect life, but not my perfect partner. So second time around I chose willingly to repeat that part of the formula in my new relationship. Back we went to living between several countries and several languages - now Danish was added to the dinner table and this time the challenge was mine. I had two years of rusty, written Swedish in the far recesses of my mind from 16 years earlier. The Swedish did help me to pick up the gist of the headlines on the local newspapers but to be honest it didn't help me with sitting at a table where everyone spoke quickly around me in Danish - learning to understand that has taken many, many years of work, and I'll still be working on that till my dying day.

So I have been in this man's situation... learning a language to keep a family together, I have been in the situation of teaching a language to keep a family together. I have been the one who flies abroad with the whisky and haggis and I've been the one who sits here asking people to bring delicacies that remind me of my other homes - Mont Blanc desserts, confiture de lait, ymer and ymerdrys, pålægschokolade... 

If this is the only upbringing you've known, you often find the next generation repeats that pattern and the family becomes an even greater, more wonderful and more diverse patchwork. Both Thomas's mother and André's father had also married foreigners and lived this life. Thomas's sister has also married a half Dane half German like herself. I know there is very little likelihood all five of my kids repeat the pattern but I'd also be quite surprised if none of them goes down that route. Once the culture mix is in your bones, it's hard to escape fully. Maybe they will pick up a foreign spouse, or maybe it'll manifest itself in the form of a Scottish mixed-cultural partner - I don't know. But I think this is at the heart of why I feel more devastated by Brexit and the lurch to the insular right than many of my like-minded compatriots. I feel it is almost a personal attack on my life and lifestyle. It feels as if someone is saying that what I did with my life should no longer be a legitimate option. I feel someone is trying to force my kids into a box that is very alien to their upbringing... other languages, other passports will no longer be allowed under their roof. Their children will be forced to be monolingual. Never again will a member of my family sit in an airport waiting for a family reunion. It is as if my life choices are being outlawed and I find myself wakening some nights bolt upright in bed, panicking, desperate to scream and run away to one of my other home countries. For my sanity's sake, I only hope this mess can be sorted out in a way that makes my life choices a continued valid option.

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