Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Yesterday I took a half vacation day so we could go to see the Bien Formidable Géant, or BFG, a great and entertaining book by Roald Dahl--translated and adapted into a French play. It's our first chance going to the théatre here, and for more fun we took a couple friends (Olivier's two kids). This particular play wasn't great for our kids (confusing since all 5 or so roles were played by the same actress, so when I translated with a whisper it was never clear who I was speaking for), but I enjoyed it--the actress had invented some interesting and creative ways of telling the story. We intended to stop at a vendor that makes fresh crèpes after the show (a treat only to be enjoyed when wheat-allergy-boy is with the sitter) but they were closed, so we stopped by our local corner-store instead. It is called the mic mac (we like to think of it as our french version of wawa) and sells essentials of french life: baguettes, french fries, pastries and a wall of candy!
260 approx week days in a year
218 number of days I will work
42 days paid time off (25 vacation days, 12 RTT, 5 holidays)
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
My idea was to have lots of activities, to keep the masses happy and to cut the need to converse in French (not my strong point, as you know) to a minimum. We played witches' brew and had a haunted room in our house complete with a scary ghost (Zander) hiding in a trunk, body parts to touch and a leap through a monsters mouth out into the back yard. This project was mostly masterminded by Zander and Andre' on Saturday - but, unfortunately, the string they used to hold up the paper maze walls collapsed right before show time - we had to get some extra adult helpers to hold them up. We also had lots of scary thematic Halloween music playing. Only about 6 of the kids were even brave enough to walk through the room - but I'm pretty positive they'd never done anything like it before - they loved it!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
So for now, Zander will stay where he is and our tutor (sous tiens) and his teacher will start working together.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Apparently it's easier to get a plane ticket for a human than for a cat. We called British Airways the next day and they said they don't allow animals on their planes at all--if we want to bring our cat, it will cost almost $800 -- to put this in perspective, our tickets were $1300... and, we have to arrange this through BA cargo. We called them, too, with no answer. We called a few times that day and left a couple of messages... same the next day... Friday we finally hear from them that we need to give them 5-13 days' notice, and since we're down to less than 48 hours there's nothing they can do. Rebecca spent probably another 5 hours on the phone and ultimately we find out that if we'd flown Air France we could have brought the cat into the cabin with us for free... but being so cat-friendly as the French are, they'd gladly take our cat next week for (only) about $300. We scramble to get friends to take care of these details (thanks to Shana and Leah) and fly in to France ourselves.
Ah, but this is only the beginning. Our cat is scheduled to arrive in Paris / CDG on Sept 18th, and I have booked a TGV (bullet train) ride from here to there, leaving at 5:30am, only to find out that there's no bus that runs before 6am and I need to go 3 miles from the apartment in the dark. Well, I'll just pack light I decide, and I scope it out by bus the day before, as well as pick up my tickets in advance. The ticket vending machines here don't work with American credit cards, and knowing this I thought everything should go smoothly in the morning.
I'm pretty familiar with the trip from Besançon to CDG so it does go smoothly, until I get to the airport itself. I assumed the train stations would be labelled like they are in the US--something like Arrivals, British Airways, terminal A; Arrivals, Air France, terminal B, or the like. But no. There are only two train stops, labeled abstractly: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. So I guess, get off, and see no airport at all--just office buildings. I find one for Air France, ask in sputters of franglais where I might find my cat... yes, really, I'm looking for a meow, meow CHAT, and when the people are convinced I'm not joking they send me to Terminal 2, Arrivals. Oh well, wait for a train, a shuttle, and find my way to the Arrivals. Just one problem. This is international arrivals, and there's a wall of sealed doors between me and baggage claim. You see, most international baggage comes along with the passenger. Well, I'm picturing my poor cat sitting on the side of the conveyor belts meowing and meowing for someone to pay attention to her, and I look all around for some employee somewhere. None in sight, just weary travelers hustling away with their bags. So I decide to go up to departures, figuring there must be some Air France people up there. Repeat the whole comic skit again--yes, a chat, where can I get her? They have no idea... maybe I should ask at the Arrivals window. Where's that? Blah blah descendre blah blah blah blah. Oh, that means down. But that's just where I came from. This is not going very well, and I've now been here for 2 hours. My return train ticket is scheduled for noon so I can be back to Besançon to meet Zander's prospective teacher. I go back down and find the right window and literally wait for 30 minutes as this Air France agent calls number after number looking for someone that knows where my cat is. Finally she says I need to go back to Terminal 1, take a bus to Fret 1, and ask the guards at the gate for further instructions. OK, so I do that (takes 45 minutes) and I'm now see it is already 11am. Forget the return train--I'm over an hour away from the station. Now I'm sweating bullets because I know lunch break starts at noon, and everyone, and I mean, everyone, will be gone for 2 hours.
Replay the skit where I insist I'm looking for an animal, a chat, and they suggest I go to veterinary services. Makes sense to me. They give me driving directions, then realize I'm on foot, so suggest I go outside the security fence, walk along the sidewalk, and go in the other entrance, 1/2 a mile away. OK. Get to veterinary services to a person that can't understand my accent AND is fending off an angry customer on the phone, and have to wait 15 minutes to find out that no, they don't have my cat here... but wait, they can call around and see where she is. Now it's 11:30. I get to the freight claims desk, and they say--oh, we were trying to call you. There's a problem with your paperwork. It says here that a man is coming to pick up the cat, but that won't work, because the owner, Rebecca Dhondt must pick up the cat, or fax us authorization for you instead.
Hmmm.... Flash back to Besançon, about 9:30am. Olivier gets a call. He tries to stop by our apartment, but Rebecca's already left for shopping for the day, and she has NO phone or any other way to be reached.
I guess we're not getting that fax.
I rifle through my stack of papers, and find something from a vet that lists me as the owner. I then beg. I assert that this is my pet. The clerk says he needs to go find his supervisor.
They come back at 11:50 and say they have decided to approve me as the one who can pick up the cat without the fax. Now I have to pay them 70€. For what?? I protest. I already paid hundreds of dollars to get this cat here. They simply show me an invoice and I resignedly pay. They stamp it, disappear, and I sit down, awaiting a scared and jetlagged cat.
But NO. They come back out and say I'm free to proceed to customs now to retrieve my cat. It is 11:55. I see a whole bunch of coworkers headed out of the building for their lunch break. I'm ready to cry, but I choke out--where's customs?
The first guy has no idea what I'm talking about. I can't believe I'm going to have to wait another 2 hours. Then somebody yells out--it's up that ramp.
So I run. I get inside and hand over my paperwork to a customs guy who says, gruffly: there are problems with your papers. None that I know of. I say hopefully. At this point, two other people walk in to the room, asking about a pickup as well, and he replies to them curtly: it's lunch time. You can come back in 2 hours. (see, we are not always completely unlucky!) Although, it was not that fortunate that I hadn't managed to eat at all that day, what with leaving before the rising of the sun and trekking all over the airport ever since.... For anyone, this would be tough - but for me, this is torture. My body is literally digesting itself.
He looks at my papers again, rips apart the stapled stack, hands the top sheet to me, and walks away. I strain my ears for any meowing... he comes back with another rubber stamp and tells me I'm good to go and get my cat.
I wait another 15 minutes in some cargo bay and, by some miracle, the workers haven't left yet for lunch. I am finally able to get a Simone! I then walk outside (it starts to drizzle) and see my bus (that runs on a 30 minute interval) drive by. Simone kitty and I start crying together - at lease I am no longer alone. I walk to the bus stop, wait for 1/2 hour and eventually get home around 6pm.
Happy birthday to me (oh - did i forget to mention this all occured on the anniversary of my birth this year?)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
So today was the day we had to meet with the director of Griffin's school (who is also his teacher), a government official, the school doctor, the assistant in the classroom and the partridge in the pear tree. Schools are managed by 2 structures - the teaching staff which is governed by the French government concerning curriculum etc... and the municipal government that provides things like paper, pens, resources and non-teaching staff (assistants in the class, lunchroom aides etc...). All teams have to be represented. We wanted Olivier to come along as well to help translate - but they wouldn't let him in the room. (Only family allowed - besides the 5 other people there, of course...). This is frustrating b/c Olivier is good at speaking in a non-offensive way to people - where we are challenged due to not only language barriers, but cultural differences.
For those of you who haven't been following - this is all because Griffin is NOT potty trained and, despite our best efforts, continues to mess in his pants - often poop during school hours. This meeting was to discuss what to do about this situation.
A bit of background on Griffin and poop. As many of you know, the guy has been having GI problems since he was weaned and was put through a battery of tests over the past 2 years because of this. Nothing serious was discovered, and, through our own efforts, we finally discovered putting him on a gluten free diet stopped his pain and cut his poops down from 5-10 per day to 2-3 per day. Doctors in the US agreed that we should just keep him gluten free and hope that he outgrows it in a few years since we have ruled out all serious ailments. We are fine with this decision as the idea of putting him through more medical intervention is detestable and not neccessary. However, this means he still poops far more than the average guy - and it is still always incredibly stinky diaharrhea type poop (very fun to clean out of underwear several times per day as I have been doing for several weeks) and sometimes he accidentally gets some wheat and he ends up in pain for days and pooping even more. Anyhow, we are pretty certain he can't predict when he is going to poop, as he only made poop in the potty 1x (seemingly by lucky chance) in the several weeks we've been potty training - although the pee has been steadily making it into the pot more often. At least, it makes it when he is at home- he absolutely WILL NOT pee anywhere else - whether he is with me or at school.
So, back to the meeting...
We are basically expecting them to try to kick him out and are pleasantly surprised when they agree to give him the PAI (don't remember what this stands for - some french thing that means you have a medical excuse) and allow him to wear pull-ups to school. Also, since he seems to poop in the first hour he's at school, they are requiring me to come to school at 9:30 with him instead of 8:30 (to hopefully avoid the poop issue in the school building (I guess I get to be the lucky winner (have you ever seen this many nested parenthetical phrases in print (i love parentheses)))))))))). Also, I have to take him to the potty at school before I leave - to give it a last chance to come out.
This all seems OK and fairly reasonable (although - selfish whine here - it means I have my only break severely curtailed) and we agree to the conditions set forth. We all agree he is steadily doing better in school. He is no longer crying when he is there, participates in class more often, and does not whine about the prospect of school each day. We don't want to stop this progress. The group even talks about finding a bilingual psychologist to help him to overcome his fear of going anywhere but outside home.
I, however, have a concern. Griffin does not want to go to school - he would much rather be with me, (who wouldn't?) and I personally think a big part of the reason he won't even sit on the potty at school is that he knows that once he pees at school there will be no reason for them to kick him out. A few weeks earlier they asked if I would come into school during potty times to help him out and I said NO - b/c that would be a gift for him - he would never be motivated to pee if he knew once he did it I would stop visiting.
So, I have the same concern about having him start school at a later time. What do I say to him about why he is not starting at the same time as Callie? If I say, it's b/c you don't go poop on the potty - he will be elated - and never do it! My fear is that this is a path that will never be reversed and our ultimate goal should be to get him as a full part of the community - not be taking him away from it.
So, I ask for advice on this sticky conundrum. This is where translation and language and cultural barriers get really tricky....
First off - they are pissed at the question. This is part of the problem, you don't support this plan, they say. The doctor just says we should tell him, that since he is not pooping on the potty he is not allowed to go to school. Duh!
Well, I try again to explain - he will be elated at this news and NEVER change his ways - if he ever gains any control - he will use it to poop at 10:30 instead of 9ish so he will be kept out longer and (hopefully) eventually be allowed to skip school altogether. Don't you see how his 3-year old mind is working??
Well, they say -you should just tell him he is not a big boy, only babies poop in their pants and
he is not a big boy and only big boys get to go to school etc... etc...
First off, I have said this type of thing to him - almost every day in fact. This is not effective - Griffin knows he is a big boy - just one that poops in his pants. One thing to know about about both of my boys (and my man as well) is that they are internally motivated - once they make a decision peer pressure can't dissuade them. He IS big - an no one is gonna convince him otherwise.
They are not thrilled with this explanation. He is the kid - you are the parent - he says he IS big - you say NO - you aren't. You are in charge - not him. (stupid american) Listen, people, you are damn lucky we are even considering keeping him in school, he is such a pain in the ass. (At this comment, my wonderful husband aka translator thanks them profusely for all their time and help with all this and explains how we really appreciate all the work they are doing on our behalf b/c - of course - it sucks to be them - they have to deal with this stubborn, stinky, American kid who wants his mommy - it is clear they would much rather just chuck him back out - but they are just bending over backwards etc... etc...) After the grovel, they reiterate that we just need to tell him he is NOT big, and that he won't be big until he poops and pees on the potty.
Hmm... I am thinking - great, of course, we could turn up the pressure on this "you are not big" method. Get Callie and Zander in on it - possibly even his classmates. Perhaps we could find a fun name....oooh - I know! We'll call him Stinky Baby every time he has an accident and get them to do the same - let's just humiliate him as frequently as possible. It would kind of be fun - I mean, your whole life whenever you start to tease someone some grown up (or later, your conscience) comes along to tell you that it is just not nice and stop doing that. It would be a license to tease... I wonder why people have discouraged me all these years. Maybe if we are just as emotionally cruel as possible to our children - their behavior will improve . Perhaps this will be the way Griffins longstanding GI problem will miraculously reverse itself.
Needless to say this conversation is going nowhere and I decide I will have to figure this out on my own (any american ideas out there???). We sign the paper detailing what everyone has agreed to (this deal will carry to the winter holiday break, at which time we reevaluate) and the director makes three copies of it, handing one to the doctor and one to the government official. I reach for the other one and they are all very surprised. I want this?
I don't get these French folk - I mean - who wouldn't want the piece of paper that is the contract for your child's school life over the next 2 months? What is the thinking of French parents? After much hemming and hawing they hand it over.
What, you may ask, are our lovely children doing during this time? Well, at the start of the meeting they were in school but when it let out we asked Olivier to go pick up Zander (no - you can't translate for us - but can you be our taxi? Olivier's answer (of course) "It is not a problem") He did, however have a noon meeting so a school aide was watching the kids whilst we discussed how to deal with Mr.G.
We come out of the meeting and I notice Callie is eating something. Upon closer inspection we realize it is a piece of bread. The ever so nice aide thought the children might be hungry and fed them each (all 3) a piece of lovely, wheat laden, baguette.
Clearly the staff has not been informed that Griffin can't have wheat - they seem to have no understanding at all of what he can and can not eat - I found out today they have been withholding juice. That's great - withhold juice and feed him slices of baguettes.
They are apologetic and seemingly concerned about the screw up. Most concern they've shown so far for his issues - since, I think, it's the first time they can't just blame me for the problems he is having.
Anyway - until tomorrow....
This afternoon Griffin has been in pain and pooped 3x so far. A sleepless and painfilled night is probably ahead for him - and consequently - for me as well!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Since I took my wife's name when we got married, everyone's always confused that my current name doesn't match the one on my birth certificate. So I always bring along my marriage certificate when they want the acte de naissance. Today the clerk helping me kept laughing at how rigolo that was--just think, in America the man can take the woman's name (or at least in Pennsylvania, where they passed the ERA decades ago).
- I had two coworkers check the paperwork I had assembled (thanks Olivier and Genevieve!), and they found a few missing things, like a stamped envelope and the original of my marriage certificate (probably because I keep taking it out to show people--everyone in France seems to need my act de naissance, from bankers to insurance companies--oh, did I mention how we need insurance for the kids in case they get hurt when they're at school? Or insurance for our bank card / ATM card in case it gets stolen? There's insurance for everything here!) Well, on Friday I attempted to complete my paperwork for Monday's trip to the prefecture, but I forgot about the birth certificate until around 9am this morning, which is when my bus was coming--which should give me about 15 minutes wiggle room in case of any mistakes for my 9:40am appointment. Around here, I figure 15 minutes is usually enough because if I have a problem with a bus or something I can usually take another route and get close enough I can walk/run the rest of the way. Well, since I remembered that I needed the marriage certificate I dug through my bag looking for it, and as the bus approached I decided I had to go back to the apartment to try to find it. So, I missed the bus. Luckily, the next came in 15 minutes, so I got to the prefecture just about 5 minutes before my appointment... whew. Then I had to wait for 40 minutes for someone to actually call me in to do the paperwork. That went smoothly, as I now had all the paperwork necessary. The clerk concluded with, that's all for today--you should get your carte de séjour in about a month. "But our health insurance", I protest, "is being held up by this"--she responded that now that I have completed the application process, I could go apply for the sécurité sociale, which would give me insurance we needed. Now, in France, everybody has health insurance, as long as they're legal residents--so it's not like if there was an emergency we wouldn't be insured right now--but, we're in this grey area where we're not officially insured, either. We've already all been to the doctor a few times and nobody knows exactly how to bill us... and at work they don't know what to do to complete the rest of my employer-sponsored health insurance paperwork either--so, we're supposed to pay out-of-pocket for now until we can be re-imbursed. Oh, they do have co-pays here, and free selection of family docs etc. But co-pays are only 1€ for visits, and about 1-2€ for meds!
- The long-stay visa application must be started within two months of arrival in France, but it can't be completed until we have finished the Medical Exam Certificate, we have proof of residence, e.g., a utility bill, a paycheck from our current employer in France... etc. So that means it can't really be done until someone's been here for about 6 weeks, though as I understand it now I may have avoided a few visits to various offices if I did some of this paperwork in parallel... but it's hard to know how to do all this since so many people only know part of the process.
- Rebecca needs a carte de séjour of type visiteur, but that is contingent upon my application, so now we basically have 2 weeks left to apply for hers, but still no carte de sejour from me. This paperwork is so complicated!
Biggest blunder of the day--I was home for lunch, but was really tired, so I decided to set an alarm for a 15 minute nap. That should give me about 10 minutes to get to the bus so I don't have to walk 20 minutes to work (it's a 5 minute ride). I got up on time, but missed the bus anyway because I had the time memorized wrong--I normally catch that bus next to Callie and Griffin's school after dropping them off. So I decided to try my new, 5€, thrift store roller blades so I can get to work on time. I haven't tested them yet--I imagined I'd play out front with the kids to refamiliarize myself with these things... but hey, just before we moved here I bladed over to pick up Callie and Griffin from tot lot one day, and that was fine, so off I went. Well, one of the brakes was missing, which I thought wouldn't be a problem (and I tried it on a little hill first)--but then I hit a really steep hill. I always brake with my right foot, and attempting to do so with the left for the first time on a steep hill wasn't going so well. So I started thinking about a bail-out plan. The bottom of the hill is an intersection with grass across the street--assuming there would be no traffic when I got there (pictured, right).
Going kinda fast...maybe I can do that drag my foot sideways kind of braking... no, not confident in these new blades
This is getting kinda scary... must stop... how about dragging my foot against the base of the wall? nah, that didn't seem like it would do anything but whip me head-first into the stone..
The worst part of the story? First thing people do when they arrive in the office, even if it's in the afternoon, is they walk around to shake hands or fais la bise. But that wasn't going to work with a blood-drenched hand... and even after band-aids there was no avoiding having to explain why I couldn't shake hands... and embarrass myself with this story of really really bad judgement.
Aaah, but Dr. Snyder said I need lots and lots of opportunities to feel helpless, so le-voilà. Blundering in Besançon again, despite all attempts to seem confident, punctual, and in control.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The kids are happy, the sun is shining and we all sing a little ditty (composed by Callie):
It's le bon week-end! It's le bon week-end! (repeat in sing song voice whilst skipping merrily)
Friday, October 17, 2008
Just heard from the shipping company that our stuff will not arrive until the beginning of next week. We paid beaucoup dollars for the 'best' shipper so we would get our things!
Here is the nasty note I wrote to our contact:
Just heard our stuff won't even arrive in Antwerp until monday at the earliest thats the 20th - Thursday the 23rd will be 2 full months of waiting for our stuff. In an earlier email you stated it would probably take at least an additional 2 weeks from arrival to get through customs and get on a transport to our home. This means we will be waiting probably at least 2 and 1/2 months for our items from when they were picked up in Philadelphia.
When we hired Sea and Air International over other shipping companies (at a MUCH higher rate than others) it was soley because you said you would gaurantee arrival at a quicker rate. Others said they could not get it to us until the end of October, we found this unacceptable and chose your company instead.
Not only will my (3, 5 and 7 year old) children not have their homemade Halloween costumes. I do not have proper winter clothing for them or blankets to keep them warm at night. They and my husband have been sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor for over one month.
This situation is not what we were promised - or what we paid a premium for. We believe we should recieve financial compensation for this inconvenience.
Anyway - I am livid - and very stressed! I was counting on getting that stuff.
1. we are cold
2. we are tired of sleeping on the floor
3. I am throwing a party next weekend and I needed my cooking pots and costumes etc..,
4. Kids have 2 weeks off school starting next Friday and I was counting on us having our toys/crafts and amusements to play with during this break. Now what am I supposed to do with them for 2 straight weeks?
OK - I am now going to whine a bit MORE - feel free to skip this.
In France you only get paid once per month and since A only worked 8 days in Sept that means (except for the tiny bit that this paid us) we will be completely out of work/pay for over 5 months - and need to hang on until Nov. We don't have health insurance yet (until André gets his green card/carte de séjour finalized) and I have strep throat for the 4th or 5th time this year. There is NO way we are going to be able to travel or adventure etc... for the forseeable future. Anouc (Zander's new best friend) can't come to the Pumpkin Party which is devastating Zander so much he has been destroying something every day (cut up tablecloths, smashed glasses etc..) and Griffin is still not potty trained. Our fridge doesn't work, we can't afford to replace it, Callie and Zander are peeing their beds at night and when it is pouring rain, your sleeping bag doesn't dry too well and we have no extra linens. We have broken so many of Olivier's things it is insane - and can we afford to replace them? No. I am going to have to beg our French friends for the supplies to throw this party (Oh, hey, remember that party I wanted you to come to? Well, can you give me pots, and pans, and a table, and chairs, and tablecloths, and hmmm.... a ladle or two, a decent peeler, a butcher's knife etc...., etc.... so I can actually have it?)
Anyway - off to the doctors to get my antibiotics (again!)