There are two events in the year that I would never spend without my family - my birthday and Christmas. Not because of the presents but because being with them on these milestones is a tradition I am not willing to change.
And so I made my way to JFK for the former event at 6 am at the end of April, blurry eyed and craving caffeine, having woken up too late to grab a coffee before jumping into the cab.
I was less than amused when the BA clerk told me that my luggage could not be checked all the way to Lyon as I was landing in Terminal 4 in London but my onward flight was departing from the new Terminal 5, leaving me no time to transfer. My mind worked fast, despite the despicably early hour, and within 30 minutes I had called my friend Marie, arranged to stay with her in London for the night and booked myself on the first flight out to France the following morning.
The unexpected extended stop over gave me 12 hours to catch up and gossip with her over dinner - a very pleasant interlude as it were.
My family and I quickly settle into a reassuringly familiar routine as soon as I arrive home. The first few hours are usually spent decyphering what I am trying to say as my French always takes a little while to come back. After that, it feels like nothing has changed much since I left home 13 years ago.
My sister lives at home with my parents and my brother, despite living a few miles away with his girlfriend, usually takes time off when I am in town so that we can all spend as much time together as possible. And so, for a week, our family unit is intact, almost suspended in a time warp where we are somehow ageless - not quite children anymore, but not quite adults yet.
Each day is anchored around dinner, a sacred time during which everything is discussed but primarily politics - how bad Sarkozy is, the collapse of the sub-prime market, the state of the national health service ... Our extended family also keeps us busy, my mother having 10 brothers and sisters - and therefore us having a myriad of uncles, aunties and cousins - mean that life is sometimes uncomfortably, but entertainingly, close to a sitcom.
But the main theme of my holidays back to France is "bonding".
Bonding with my brother and my sister as we play squash every day - 45 minutes filled with raw energy, excitement but mainly laughter as we nearly miss hitting each other with the racket on numerous occasions, swear in a perfectly bilingual manner or giggle at my sometimes Monica Selles'esque grunting! We leave the court exhausted, high on happy hormones and ready to do it all over again the next day.
Bonding with my father as the two of us head off for our daily cross-country bicycle ride along the river and the neighbouring fields and forests. I remember the days, only a few years ago, when Dad (the man who can never sit still) had to force us to go cycling but I am now the one asking to go. I thoroughly enjoy these rides, whizzing through the small paths, hitting rocks and tree roots, jumping obstacles, crossing muddy puddles. This is when my long lost Tom boy comes out to play again.
Bonding with my mum, usually while helping her prepare dinner, trying to explain that it is normal to have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince, while never actually telling her how many frogs there are or have been ... Trying desperately to make her understand me and my decisions, while knowing she never really will as our generations are so utterly different.
Another tradition I love is my mum recounting the day of my birth on my actual birthday. While I could probably do with less of the gory details (12 hour labour without a peridural or even gas and air!), I never tire of hearing it. I am looking forward to my next birthday already ...