I adore my family. I have a wonderful relationship with my both my parents and my younger brother and his wife, so close I think of her as a sister rather than a sister-in-law. When people ask me what I miss about England, I may answer with silly witticisms such as Marks and Spencer's food hall, but in truth what I have missed most, since moving to America seven years ago, is my family.
And what I have found myself doing, from the moment I touched down on these shores, is attempting to create a 'family of choice', surrounding myself with people I love, friends who become so much more, people I can phone in the middle of the night who will drop everything and come to help me out of a crisis.
I have a couple here in town, girls I have known for some years, our children growing up together, going to the same pre-schools, the same painful music classes.
But I don't see these friends as much as I used to. Long gone are the days when the children were all in pre-school and we could spend our time at one another's houses, drinking endless coffees as the children crawled around our feet.
Now I am lucky if I see these friends once a month. We still get together in the evenings from time to time, when we are not so exhausted we do nothing more than collapse into bed, and we still get together for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but now that our kids are in different elementary schools, it's rare that we see one another on a daily basis.
I live in Westport, Connecticut, in a town where few of my female peers work, where I spend my time ferrying my four children back and forth to ballet and soccer, wondering why it is I never feel quite right, never feel that I belong, as groups of women expertly unfold their collapsible chairs, maneuvering their Starbucks coffee from one hand to the other as they shout hellos and wave to all around them.
Even now, in Summer, I drop the kids at camp every morning and feel my muscles tense as I get out the car. I know a few of the women, but I am not, have never been, tribal, have always felt ill-at-ease amongst groups of women, and particularly these groups. I don't know what to say to them, and I stand, awkwardly, at one side as they greet each other in their workout gear, each of them looking as if they have something I don't: they belong.
These women, for the most part, don't work. These women, for the most part, are full-time mothers, involved in local charity work, their children's PTA's. I am quite certain that most of them are delightful – on the occasions I've met one of them on a one-to-one basis, they have been lovely – so why is it that I feel so awkward, so different, so utterly wrong? Is it because I'm English? Does that automatically make me different? Is it because I work? Or perhaps is it the nature of my work?
What I miss, as I sit on the edges of the soccer field or bury myself in a book as I wait for my daughter to finish ballet, are other authors, female friends who work in the same line, who can truly relate. Who else could understand my frustrations at an editor, my delight with an agent, my strategies with a publisher? Who else could understand the difficulties of juggling book tours with motherhood, and the joys and sorrows of writing novels, this peculiar life where you are half in, half out of the public eye.
Two years ago, when I moved – briefly - to Litchfield, Connecticut, I told myself I was moving away from suburbia and towards an area in Connecticut that is known for its artists, actors and writers. All I'd have to do, I thought, was walk out my front door where I would be stumbling across household names, people I have, for years, found inspirational, people with whom I would be able to sit, recounting our various literary adventures.
I did find them, but only in passing. I was married, at the time, to a rabid Republican, something of a fish out of water in the liberal world of artists and writers. The friends I did find would talk of organizing parties for us, introducing us, then balked at the eleventh hour, knowing that however I might have been accepted on my own, as a couple, as a 'we', it would never have worked.
My marriage started unraveling, and I moved back to Westport. I moved away from a world that held so much promise, that had so much potential to be the right place for me, to a world that I knew, a world that already held my friends, a place that felt safe.
I jumped back into suburbia with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, but I have found that those friends I made in Litchfield, the artists, the writers, the actors, are still in my life, that the distance between us hasn't changed our friendship, but has given us the space to explore it slowly, has made those friendships even stronger.
My family of choice now includes those people, my closest friend from that time being another female author, fiercely successful, far more literary than I, yet we meet for lunch and can't stop talking for hours – from the writing process, to book tours, to new deals, to make-up, and back all over again.
So even though we are no longer neighbours, even though I now have to jump in the car to spend time with these friends, they are now, firmly, part of the fabric of my life, and I am so grateful that I have them, that I don't have to spend my time fretting as to the precise reasons I will never fit in with the other soccer moms.
Author of Second Chance
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