It could be mid-winter blues, but I’m craving a bit of Californian sunshine right now – and there’s been plenty of it. California is going through a terrible drought at the moment, said to be the worst since records began over a century ago. There’s been very little rain for three years, so the land is parched where it isn’t irrigated.
Meanwhile, in London and the UK, there is so much rain that some people are having to be evacuated from their homes; there are whole villages and towns under water; and there’s allegedly worse yet to come. It has caused all sorts of chaos, and sparked emergency meetings with worried-looking government officials, who have been accused of not spending enough money on flood defences and basically being complacent. They tend to blame each other while images of people carrying sandbags flash across television screens.
I’m now ready to take a bit of drought over perpetual, soul-destroying drizzle and gale-force winds. I return to my Californian fantasy at regular intervals, usually at least once or twice a month. It goes something like this: I get fed up with life in London for whatever reason and then start dreaming about how much better life could be in the paradise that I imagine lies waiting for me near the Pacific. I have hazy daydreams of beaches, owning a small house and sitting on a patio eating food outside, even at Christmas.
I don’t imagine the traffic-choked freeways that look like concrete arteries from the sky; I don’t think about the cost of our healthcare; or spend time contemplating the reality of upping sticks and moving. Why let real life get in the way of dreams, right?
But my dream got a sharp does of reality this week when I casually told the seven-year-old Chatterbox that we might go to California one day. (I tell myself this in the vain hope that it will suddenly come true.) To my surprise she burst into tears and said she didn’t want to go and preferred to stay in London forever. This is the first time she has reacted this way. Up until now she has been dragged this way and that, flapping around as casually as the sails of a boat in a squally storm. She’s been in four schools in four years and coped remarkably well, but I sense a bit of resistance.
Friends and other parents warned me this would be happen. It makes sense that she would get more reluctant to leave the place where she was born as time marches on. At the age of four, when we left for California for a year, she was happy to follow me around. Now this seems less certain.
I ask why the tears and she tells me, while choking back great sobs, that it’s because she will never see her friends again. I can relate to this. My parents moved to the house I grew up in when I was about seven years old. I thought this was the end of the world, because I had to leave the school I’d got used to and my two best friends. I still see one of those friends every time I go to San Diego; I’ve known her since I was about five. It’s a small miracle we are still so close.
But moving countries is far worse. It’s not like living a few exits off the freeway. I always knew that asking the kids to leave London could lead to problems down the line. But I thought I’d have more time than this. If a seven-year-old is this distraught, how is a 12-year-old likely to act?
This is the inescapable truth about parenting: as much as I want to live in California, as much as I dream about setting up a new life, I have to come to terms with the fact that it’s not entirely about me. Am I letting my dreams get in the way of what’s best for the kids? It’s hard to know. I have some degree of certainty in the UK right now, and I would be facing an unknown future in California. My feeling is that it would all work out eventually in the United States after a period of adjustment, but would my girls still be speaking to me by then?