In “Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family“, Melissa Dalton-Bradford takes us on a gripping journey through the global life of her family. Written in a compelling and eloquent style, this book is about the twenty year long adventure of Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s family in Oslo, Versailles, New Jersey, Paris, Munich, Singapore and Geneva.
Starting from her Parisian apartment, the author introduces the massive Norwegian farm table which is not only the constant companion during their movings, but serves as anchor of the family and their friends. It is the pivot around which their lives revolve vertiginously: “our table is the heart of our home” (p.12).
Melissa Dalton-Bradford invites us “to sit and look out my back window, the Jura mountains of France on this side of the house, the Swiss Alps out the other, and I’ll take you as far as my words can manage: to a few special spots far beyond these mountains, to places and people my family and I know well and love much” (p.15).
She takes us back to the years the Dalton-Bradford family spent in Norway (chapters 2 to 8) to continue the narrative about France in the chapters 9 to 18. Chapter 19 represents the turning point in this Memoir before the life takes the family to Munich (chapters 20-21), Singapore (chapters 22-23) and Geneva (chapters 24-25), concluding with chapter 26, called In medias res (i.e. “into the middle of things”) where everything coalesces.
Melissa Dalton-Bradford eloquently describes how she experienced, adopted and absorbed the different cultures at first hand and how she managed over and over again to “nose-dive” indefatigably into her many different cultural homes.
She emphasises several aspects of the different languages she managed to all speak perfectly (!) and shares with us some little faux pas and glitches with refreshing honesty and humility. I particularly liked the one about BCG and BCBG (the former being a vaccine and the latter the abbreviation for bon chic bon genre, see chapter 13 La langue, p.142-143) and her talk with her youngest son Luc : “Then I told my youngest boy, the one born in France, the one whose name is French, this last child I raise on the road with all its bumps and potholes and language barriers, I told him story after story after painful and mortifying story of my own history of language panic” (p.286).
She shares her initial reluctance towards the Norwegian daycare barnepark and illustrates terms like Janteloven and Julestemning. She also gives insight into the Norwegian law about name-giving (chapter 7 Vi er Norske). We assist Melissa Dalton-Bradford succeeding and “fully awakening” (p.89) professionally in Norway and finding her way back on stage (like she used to do in New York before!). She became artistic director, choreographer etc. before packing again and move to France…
The reader feels with her when she leaves “her” Norway to move to Versailles, the vieille France. A move that felt to her like going from “Eden to the world” (p. 96; in the video here below 1:10 ssg “it’s like Birkenstock sandals to the tightest high heels you have ever worn”). She openheartedly describes her experience with the French school system, the cuisine, the langue and generally with the French way of life; how she learned about being bien chaussée and that the attention to beauty and aesthetics are the values that drive French culture. She also compares the medical systems in Norway and France and points out the difference about giving birth in those two countries, admitting that, for her, “Norway had set the standard for giving birth” (p.151).
After the events on 9/11, her family has to return to the US (chapter 15 Encore!), to the “bucolic, historic swath of Americana with two-hundred-year-old farmhouses and snaking stone walls surrounding horse farms and apple orchards, a place known (…) for its Blue Ribbon schools and Blue Ribbon beer” (p.159). The author vividly depicts the reverse culture shock her family experienced – “We felt strangely alien, unable to share a great part of ourselves with others. (…) Feeling alien in what’s supposed to be your home country? I knew less about being a soccer mom than I did about buying fresh produce from loud vendors in an open market, less about American sports teams than about Norwegian arctic explorers, less about my native country than I did about ones that, in the end, no one seemed to want to hear much about.” (S. 162) – speaking to the heart of every Third Culture Kid, Global nomad or expat experiencing repatriation.
But the repatriation to the US is transient. The Dalton-Bradford family returns to Paris (cfr. chapter 15) and re-dives for the second time into the French life, picking up the strings from the introducory chapter. – This time, the adjustment seems smoother. – But the author faces difficult moments and describes her need to recover. With the description of those weak moments, Melissa Dalton-Bradford unveils that a global life is not a bed of roses, it is demanding and can be very excruciating.
The turning point
The deepest turning point in the life of the Dalton-Bradford family is marked by the tragic death of the firstborn, Parker. From chapter 19 onwards, we assist the author on her incredibly painful path towards the “life after”, or like she describes it: “leaving behind the before and entering the after“. We participate in her traumatic experience and comprehend her emotions in this “strange and barren continent of grief”, like she perceives the world after the loss of her son.
But nomad life goes on…
The time in Munich is depicted a bit less colourful than the life before and the reader senses that the traumatic loss has profoundly changed the whole family. Going on with life after becomes incredibly painful and alienates from everything. And this mourning family needs a very special place where they can grieve in peace:
After Munich, we follow the family to Singapore and eventually Geneva. It is fascinating how the author describes her observations and experiences with uncanny accuracy and empathy. The difference of life in Singapore intrigues her and she observes every detail: how people behave in public transport or whilst buying things etc.: “In Europe I learned to be circumspect. Here, I learned to be microscopic” (p.245).
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“Global Mom” is much more than a story about a “globe-trotting lady with kids”, it’s about “falling in love with many cultures”, it is the multi-colored part of it. But it is also a Memoir and a his-story, a way to commemorate Parkers’ life: “The little boy from Blakstad barnepark, the one from the Versailles Club du Basket, the drummer from the Pont des Arts, the same one all his French buddies called “Par Coeur” or “by heart” – he continues. His nature, like his story, is eternal and can do nothing but continue” (p.293).
“Of all the borders I’ve crossed, of all the addresses I’ve inhabited and of all the lands I’ve been priviledged to call my home, there’s but one terrain that’s defined me more than any other: that is the land of loss” (p.292).
But this book is more than a Memoir. It is a also a guidebook with precious and detailed insights about life and culture, for all those who already lead or are considering to start a global life or are simply fascinated by it.
“Those who move, dig in deeply, move again, and take a healthy layer of the last soil with them, (…) need some assistance in adjusting (…) planting in new soil…” (S. 132).
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(by Michelle Lehnhardt)
Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s website:
“Global Mom” is also available as audible audio edition
The latest interview with Melissa Dalton-Bradford:
- Good reads and sites about “Third Culture Kids” (expatsincebirth.com)
- Revealing Interview: Mormon Women Project Talks With Global Mom, Part 1 (melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com)
- How to cope with repatriation (expatsincebirth.com)
- Global Mom: A Memoir – Book Trailer (melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com)