In one of those conversations with my five year old, I had asked him where is he from. Simple enough question. I half expected him to be a little smart arse and say something about my tummy etc, when it was obvious in the context of the conversation I meant where in the world is he from (and not in an exasperated way). Is he British as per his current passport status? Is he Irish as per his paternal heritage? Or European if we include his maternal heritage? Is he from England, as that’s where he was born and we used to live? Or even just the name of a place where we’ve lived, I’m not fussy, he can be from Birmingham, Plymouth, Singapore, even Southport at a push. But no. I simply got a puzzled look from him, a shrug of the shoulders and a “nowhere? Everywhere? I don’t know Mama, is it a trick question?”. To be honest, he seemed just as confused as to why I was trying to pin him down to one tiny part of the world that has made up the chapters of his life story so far as he was as confused as to what the correct answer should be, if indeed it even existed.
It’s so weird though isn’t it? Where are you from? As adults it’s almost a conversation opener, especially amongst expats, the old where are you from questioning. Yes, it might be a way that humans find common ground with a stranger, finding something in common with them to break the ice and a reason to talk beyond the initial polite chit chat. But it’s still kind of weird. I always answer in a really clumsy manner, almost definitely because I’m still figuring out where I’m from and where home is. On the one hand the answer is very straight forward. I’m from a little town north of Liverpool, it’s where I grew up, it’s where my family home still is, and it’s where I revert back to being a younger (read teenage) version of myself. But then I haven’t lived there for 10 years, so am I still from there? I moved away, went to uni, and never really went back for any period of time more than six months (and that was only once). But then in the last decade the longest period of time I’ve spent in any one place is three years. Three years at university in Cornwall, three years in Worcestershire. Add in to that two spree’s in Devon and a hop over to Singapore, and I’m sort of a bit lost. If I don’t know where I’m from, how on earth are my children meant to know?
And yet, as children, we are so rarely told where we are from in terms of a place. We’re from people. We got our eyes from our mother, and our cheeky smile from our Dad. I mean, don’t we all get subjected to the annual embarrassing childhood photo comparison around Christmas time when someone (aka my mother) is feeling ever so nostalgic? As a kid it was intriguing learning about all these relatives, and as a mother I am guilty of forcing my own kids to pose for a photo alongside a blurry black and white image of one of their relatives to prove how no one is safe from a particular genetic trait. Everything about our children is down to a one off combination of genetic factors, and who they are, and where they’re from is fascinating. Whenever my daughter laughs her deep, hearty, cackle I immediately hear my youngest sister as a little girl with an almost identical laugh. The way Clara waggles her finger when she’s emphasizing her point, well that’s straight from her German great-grandmother. A woman she has never met, only heard of, and usually it’s when my mum or I are smiling and shaking our heads at the little blonde in front of us and telling her how like her Omi she is. And of course, how utterly delighted Omi would be with the next generation of feisty blonde, ensuring the future of the dynasty. Or when Clara raises her eyebrows at me with a certain look of “I told you so”, well that’s straight from her father’s side. She could be a small blonde version of one of her Aunties. The apple never falls far from the tree as my father would say. She’s the most delicious mix of us all. And as for her character? Not sure yet, she’s slightly too little still to know. And what about Finn? Well he’s his father take 2, albeit with my eyes and my smile (which came from my own mother). I can read him like a book, he’s a simplified version of my husband. Their shared love for a cheese and ham toasty has to be genetic, there is simply no other explanation.
But what of the “where are you from” conundrum facing Finn? Is this just part of the expat experience when you’re a kid? Yes, he’s most definitely a third culture kid, and that’s an amazing childhood to have there’s no doubt about it. But what of his roots? His background? The place he will call home in years to come. Somewhere to return to when the difficult moments of life hit and he needs to surround himself with the safe assurances of familiarity.
I don’t know. Really, I have no idea right now. Home isn’t a place, it’s nowhere and everywhere at the same time. As an adult that’s quite a refreshing and freeing mentality to have, but for a child? Does a child need home to be a place? Does Finn? And Clara? I don’t know…