Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moving around the world again and again

Some of us will live in our country of birth all our lives; some will perhaps live in one other country during their lifetime while others will move between countries not only during their childhoods but throughout their adult lives as well.

For those who have made different lives in multiple countries over many years, how does the concept of ‘home’ change? Tori Grimes lived in Scotland, the USA and England during her childhood; as an adult she moved back to the USA with her English husband before moving to Australia. Sydney is where they currently live, although now their family of two has expanded to five.

Tori was nine years old when she moved with her sister and parents to the American city Philadelphia. On the flight from Glasgow, Scotland she remembers feeling excited and even received a ‘Wings’ lapel badge. Quite a big deal for a child flying internationally during the 1980s. The first day of school was definitely not as exciting. ‘They made me sit in the Principal’s office alone, all day, because my parents didn't have the right documentation to prove that I had been given all my immunisations... not a very friendly welcome,’ says Tori. At first she felt like an outsider, ‘I had a strong Scottish accent didn't know all the tv shows and pop groups that the other kids liked. But I made a friend very early on and our families remain good friends today’.

Everything about living in the USA was different for Tori, ‘In Glasgow we lived in a 3-bed, semi-detached, sandstone house with a big garden. My school friends lived all around me and we went every year to the same community events, like a bonfire night on November 5th. When we moved to Philadelphia, we lived in a small 2-bed apartment. My father was a student so we didn't have much money and my parents got most of our furniture for free; either donated or picked up off the side of the road. My sister and I travelled to school on a big yellow school bus and we were a drive away from most of our friends.’

Tori remembers enjoying American summers swimming in the apartment complex’s pool but within three years her family moved back to the UK. This time it was Oxford, England and this time Tori had an American accent. ‘I was at a different place in the curriculum and this didn't make me popular with the teachers’, Tori says. ‘After my first year at school in England, aged 12, I ended up skipping a school year so in effect I had to start all over again for the third time. It was quite unsettling and although I don't have many negative memories of that time, I do remember being made fun of quite a lot.’

Moving into a larger, detached house in an affluent suburb, Tori had her school friends living around her once again and felt more surrounded by a sense of community. It is this house in Oxford, where her parents still live, that has enormous emotions attached for Tori. ‘I long for, and sometimes strongly crave again, the times we shared there. We're going back for Christmas this year and I can't wait because so many of my treasured memories are about Christmastime. Also, whenever I see a Golden Retriever I miss the house more because we had a beautiful dog and she's always there in my mind's eye when I think of that home.’

Moving overseas again with her husband Andy was perhaps easier, ‘I've always done a lot of nesting when we’ve moved to a new place to make it feel like home. I go to IKEA which is the same all over the world! I try to get pictures up as soon as possible, because they are our memories and stories and I hate blank walls.’

Today, Sydney feels more like home to Tori than anywhere else, ‘It’s the city we've lived the longest as a married couple and where all the children were born. They know no other 'home' than right here and that makes it feel like home for me too.’ And it’s the children who have given Tori the security and stability that home brings, ‘My children are the ones who I strive to provide the most sense of home for. I find myself deliberately trying to create 'traditions' or recreate the rituals of my own childhood with them, so that they will have a strong sense of home being wherever our family is together.’

Tori and Andy have just taken citizenship tests so the entire family will soon have Australian passports. ‘That was a big step but made easier by the fact that it makes perfect sense for the children.’

While Tori wouldn’t like for her children to move overseas at the age she did, she does believe that living overseas as a youngster is very formative. ‘It widens your worldview and enlarges your understanding of people. It creates resilience and maturity, I think, and that comes partly because at times it’s hard.’

But overall, where the family physically lives won’t be a concern for Tori, ‘I’ve been pondering it a lot and am convinced that, apart from Andy of course (we would not be a family without him!), the children utterly signify home to me.’

*photo by Tori Grimes

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