Well, I arrive at school with Callie and I am informed that her teacher is ill - many of the parents greet this news by turning around with their kid and heading for home. Others seem to continue on and leave their kids there. I don't get it - don't they have substitutes in France? Normally this would not be a big deal but as we are planning on folding the back seat of the rental down and loading it up with furniture a small body is definitely not part of the equation for today! I try to figure out what decides whether or not you get to leave your kid anyway and try to question the teaching assistant to no avail - she just keeps telling me the teacher is malade. I understand she is sick - I try saying 'd'accord' (which means OK) and 'j'ai compris' (which means, I get it) but they don't seem to understand why I am not leaving or what I still need to know. Soon I am surrounded by about 10 well meaning french parents repeating 'Elle est malade" (She is sick) over and over - it's kind of like those movies where the person is deaf and they keep saying it in different ways - hmm... maybe louder "ELLE EST MALADE" maybe slower "elle...........est...........malade......." , perhaps if we act it out as charades??? and all whispering to each other, how do you say this in English?? (and also probably 'stupid American') Finally one of them hits on "ill" and they all get excited and start shouting "zee ihs ehll! zee ihs ehll!" They have won the English language lotto! Unfortunately I GET THAT!!!!
I call André to explain that I need him to come in and help me with this situation - he is still heading over from dropping Zander off (seems having a car doesn't help much when you are only going half a mile and there are 57 other parents doing the same thing). In the end, a frenchman who speaks decent English showed up before André. He turned to me and patiently explained "The teacher is sick" (ARGH!) Yes, but I need to leave her here - is that OK? Oh, yes, you may leave her if you need to - but she will have to be in with the other class until they can find a sub.... OK - great - dump her off and run to the car (darn - already behind schedule).
We go to the Croc Nature and turns out it isn't open until 2:30 on Mondays - so many stores aren't open during normal business hours here! So we decide to do our regular grocery shopping instead - whipping through in 40 minutes and dropping Griffin off. We head out to the thrift store and hit the jackpot - a rare day indeed when you find all of what you are looking for - bookshelf, craft tower, storage shelf, bedside lamp, spice rack, big holder for kitchen utensils, a genuine Salins-Les-Bains vase (we couldn't afford it yesterday, but now--only 8 Euros!), bedside table/jewelry cabinet, toy shelf, a couple christmas gifts, desk organizers and the entire 7 season collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (French and English)... all for the low, low sum of 424 Euros... The woman who works there recognizes us (hm, wonder why?) and gives us discounts on Buffy and other things... We also once again see my favorite piece of French thrift store inventory - see photo (carefully edited to shield viewers under 18 years old). This pretty little garden gnome has been there since the last time I was there with the kids. We were looking for some good French kids' DVDs and Zander shouts out, "Oh look - a naked Santa!" (I thought they had found a porno DVD mixed in with the kids stuff as it was sprinkled quite liberally throughout the shelf). Of course, Callie pipes up, "I want to see the naked Santa!" Well - I couldn't really shield their sensitive eyes from the giant gnome perched on the top of the bookshelves, surveying the little ones below... They decided he must have needed to go pee pee or something. Hey, even Santa's gotta go sometime.....maybe HE can teach Griffin how to go on the potty. (Now you know what wish is on MY Christmas list).
We stuff as much as we can into the compact car and speed back home to pick up the munchkins - in the afternoon we have Griffin with us but we retrieve what we couldn't get the first time and also schlep to a different store and spend lots more money we shouldn't have purchasing bikes for the entire family and a little bike seat for Griffin to ride behind Daddy (good thing we don't usually have a car, makes purchasing far too simple). We picked the kids up from school (only a few minutes late) and took them to the gluten free store - and returned the car 10 minutes before closing. Unfortunately, we entirely forgot about our tutor who showed up at 4pm as usual to find no one at home - sorry Cecile! She has been doing a great job with the kids and has met with Zander's teacher for a plan of action. So far progress is still very slow but we are only 2 months in so I figure I should be more patient (never one of my virtues).
On Tuesday we spend the entire day assembling all our purchases, putting them into their assigned positions and unloading the boxes into them - our house (with the exception of the water bed) is now pretty much assembled - here is a video tour for those of you yearning to place our new environment into context.
What about that waterbed? Well, the electricity is different here - and by different I mean annoying. We knew our waterbed heater wouldn't work in France and figured we would buy a new heater here. HA! First off, there are no waterbed stores in Besancon - secondly the only ones we could find someplace else in France wanted to charge 200 Euros for the heater - without shipping (yeah, right!). We ended up ordering the new heater (plus a new liner and water conditioner) off ebay for only 14o us dollars (and that's with shipping - take notes, all french people who may be reading this and are bargain hunters - with the exchange rate it is more like 100 Euros) but we have to wait until it can arrive - probably not until the end of next week. Another unanticipated snag in our French life of bliss.
In other news here is an update on each of us - here are kids on new bikes!
Griffin is still nowhere near close to being potty trained and I basically think he may end up as the exception to that age old saying "no one goes to college in diapers." Who knows what is going to happen after the next holiday break but we are just taking it one day at a time. He is generally very happy, singing gibberish songs as we walk about town, creating many gorgeous works of art in varied mediums (oil pastel, chalk, watercolors, paint, stickers, glue, glitter etc... etc...) to decorate our home. During our afternoons together we also go to the park and often play at dress up. He really enjoys the plentiferous amounts of candy here in France - he asks for candy after every meal! He also has decided to switch nationalities. Whenever anyone suggest he doesn't know any French word or custom he confidently states 'but, I'm French' He doesn't show off his language skills like the other two try to but I know it is sinking in. When we were in the Malroches the other day, one of the rock formations was named les lapins and after we read the sign aloud he pronounced "Maybe there are bunnies here!" (lapin = bunny) His accent is perfect when he uses it as well.
Callie is doing great- she has learned how to ride a two wheeler in short order. I knew she was ready but she was refusing to try to learn for sometime. Turns out she was embarrassed that some of her friends would find out she can't ride. We found an empty soccer field and, voila, off she went - she still needs some help starting out but is generally doing great. She is also doing well socially, she has had 2 or 3 playdates now with more scheduled to come. She is (her words) 'the best' kid in her class - is learning cursive letters well (they start that really early here) and never makes trouble for the teacher - she brought in Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see? to 'read' to the class the other day. She is also moving foward quickly with the language and is starting to often toss a French word into her sentences here and there - she told me the other day she was worried she would forget English! I am dreading telling her that our carefully crafted Sculpey statues we made got burnt in the oven b/c mommy was busy blogging! (whoops)
Zander is doing great too - he is currently at a birthday party for Juliette and has another one to attend next weekend for best bud Anouc. He is also getting to be better friends with Noemi and Teebo (no clue how to spell that boy's name) who live in the apartment complex right next to ours. For Noemi's birthday he made her a hat with foam letters spelling 'Happy Birthday Queen Noemi' She loved it and wore it the whole day - she says Zander is her amoureuse (boyfriend) - they are very cute together. He is very kind to all the children, which they like and I find French children in general to be less mature than American children at the same age. It seems that many of them are still very happy with goofy roughhousing and imaginary play - which is what Zander has always loved. Here he is walking home with some of them at lunch time - fun for all every day. He told me (with quite a bit of wonder in his voice) "Kids here are like me" I think he must have been feeling like a bit of a freak before! (Hmm.... couldn't have gotten that from us, could he?) He is having a hard time with school but not for lack of enthusiasm or trying hard- I have confidence he will eventually get there. He is also the first of the three to say these words "I am NOT moving back to Philadelphia - not unless all my friends from here move there too!" So, I guess France is really starting to feel like home to him - why does that make me utterly depressed?
André can speak for himself if he wishes but I am very happy with having him around so much - we are spending so much more time together and getting closer all the time - of course, this is mostly because we have no one else to turn to, but, believe it or not, that was part of our plan all along - to learn to be closer to each other.
As for me, I go down and up. I am still very overwhelmed by it all. I am tired of people asking me when I am going to learn French - I am picking up things here and there but, currently, I simply don't have the time without being responsible for the kids to go take a class and frankly (afraid to say this but true) I don't really care all that much! I know it is holding me back socially and in many other ways, but, frankly, I don't know if I will every really learn it that great - and that's not really my highest priority. What is? Well, obviously blogging is high up there.... Really, I am worried about the kids, getting them settled, safe and normal and about making sure we have the things we need. My limited free time is currently filled with grocery shopping, laundry and preparing the next meal. When I do get some time there are things I yearn for much more than I want a french lesson - such as a yoga class that fits my schedule, time to bake, time to read a book, time to catch up on scrapbooking and felting etc... I am happy to have all our stuff here and in 'homes' our house is really coming together and I dread moving out in less than a year (our current apartment is only good for one year). I also baked 2 zucchini cakes the other day, one for Zander's class as his teacher has been asking me to bring in something american, and one for André's work (since I don't want to eat the calories - but we ended up leaving 1/2 of one home b/c André wanted to keep it!) Anyway, that was a huge hit. People loved the cake and wanted the recipe - of course my recipe would do them no good b/c they do everything with a scale... there are no cups or teaspoons or tablespoons here - also no baking powder or ring pans, but is was gratifying anyway. André said that the CEO asked who had made the cake (after only crumbs remained) and when he said Rebecca, the boss replied with a strange french idiom that, roughly translated, was something like it was torn apart by ravenous wolves...er, thanks (I guess).
Socially, things have been stagnant since the pumpkin party. No return invites or longer conversations although we did get invited to the park after school yesterday - perhaps a breakthrough? Also, with the language barrier, it is hard not to get beyond the superficial level with these people. First it's bonjour, then why are you here? and then, (a question that annoys me in the US and France) sooooooo, do you work? Oh, yes, I usually answer - I am working at caring for my three children. (In the US my standard response to this annoying questions was 'I work, I just don't get paid.' but I don't know how to say this in France - and also, my level of sarcasm might not be appreciated by French ears). So my explanation is then followed by the standard response (also US or France), but, I mean, when you were in the US (or before you had kids), did you work? Hmm... I thought France was supposed to be so enlightened and family friendly. Guess my choice of work is not considered 'real work' on this side of the pond either.
It makes me so mad - I know people in France and the US pay people to care for their children, daycare, nannies, preschools, whatever - people don't just do it for free, but when someone chooses to do it, it's no longer work. Why is that?
And I wouldn't want to forget the final member of our family, Simone - she is always begging for food and hasn't tried to escape outside even once!