Monday, February 23, 2009

Roller Coaster

So my life is having lots of ups and downs, as usual - hope you are ready for another meandering wander through my brain.

Up, up and away.... On Friday - I got a call from an American living in Besancon - I am meeting with her and another few English speakers this Wednesday. It is strange - I feel like a child, or just a pity case. People take a look at me and say, hey, she needs to have a play date - let's invite her over to our house! In the past, at least as an adult, I've always met people through my volunteer activities or the gym or at work etc... I think as a kid, I met my mom's friends kids, the kids from my classes and on my teams. Here I feel like I am nothing and no one, except the mom of three - and who does that hook me up with??? Perhaps the play date method is the way it works when you can't speak the language. Or, perhaps this is just the way it happens in France? It seems much more stressful this way - what to wear, what to say, oh no, what if they don't like me one bit??? But I am VERY happy to at least have the chance to bomb and the hostess hails from Wisconsin, where also lives one of my dearest friends, so that is always a good omen.

Down, down that steep hill.... went to my second riding class Friday evening. Alone, this time. I really enjoyed the class last week and was looking forward to it. But the level of independence they expect from me at this school is quite shocking. This week I was only told the name of my horse. I had to groom, saddle and bridle him on my own (which I can sort of do, but, no one ever checked my girth - or ANYTHING before I hopped on the horse, which seemed odd to me - how do they know that I know what the hell I'm doing?) Then, of course, there was the lesson. It was incredibly challenging for many reasons. First, I had a more normal horse (last week they gave me the autopilot model, used safely by first timers everywhere). Second, I am just not used to English saddle/reins and, most especially, the little whippy thing they want me to use. Third, I can't understand the language! I don't know why this wasn't a bigger problem last time, perhaps André's presence in the viewing area somehow reached me osmotically? Well this week I was really struggling. The instructor (who seems to be quite excellent, by the way, despite Andre's fears) is really trying to get us to control our horses, find our seat etc... and keeps asking us for more and more complicated actions on the horse, which I simply can't follow and keep screwing up. This is frustrating not only because it makes me look like a big fool (which isn't the most fun) but also because it is impinging upon my ability to learn. I am a very coachable person - but not a natural athletic type. I need the instructions to get better! At the end he had me galloping around the ring (again with no stirrups) and I almost got tossed off a few times because I can't really control the little whippy stick and it kept whacking the horse who was (understandably) pissed off by that. How embarrassing! Then they left me to unsaddle and unbridle and blanketize my horse (again completely on my own) and I took the bus home, discouraged, but determined to return.

Again on the upswing was Saturday morning, we finally found a yoga class for me - it is only one morning per week - and won't start until after the vacances, but I am still very excited to have a chance to do some yoga again. After going to the yoga office, André led us to a local park we hadn't visited yet and the kids spent about an hour playing around. Zander made a lovely ice and dirt cake to share with a little local girl that was also there. I was really proud of him because he spoke in French to the little girl and to her grandmother. Meanwhile Griffin walked around a lot and Callie made several arrangements of twigs, pine cones and leaves that strongly reminded me of ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement). Most of the snow has melted now and we are getting more temperate weather. It was fun to be able to sit on a bench and soak up some sun. André, of course, was only wearing his thin leather jacket and got cold.
In the afternoon we went to Luna Park - a carnizaar type thing being held in the local exhibit hall for the duration of the vacances. I had saved some money but I wasn't sure what to expect -
in the US these types of things are highway robbery. Well, let me tell you folks, France is the place to go to have fun at the fair. All the rides were only 1 Euro and there were lots and lots of them. Also, they seem to realize that each ride should last longer than 35 seconds. I actually had time to get bored waiting for the kids to finish riding around on their little plasticine swings. Perhaps the reason for the reduced prices is the obvious lack of concern for personal safety. People were hanging out of cars, walking next to speedy vehicles and I didn't see any inspection stickers anywhere. I would guess the liability insurance these guys have to pay is quite a bit lower than our own. There was one loop-de-loop, though - the bumper cars. I think this tip should be added to all French guide books everywhere. For your own safety, travelers, please refrain from riding on bumper cars unless you plan on not bumping into anyone, ever. At least, not anyone who isn't already part of your entourage. Bumping other people in bumper cars, apparently, is incredibly rude. And, I might add, dangerous, as the offended person gets some serious bumper car road rage (regular road rage doesn't seem to exist here, so I guess they grabbed their chance when it appeared). A French person accidentally broke this unwritten rule (can you believe she bumped into André, in a bumper car?) and actually apologized, profusely. Well, after that particular dose of daily culture shock wore off (as well as the whiplash) we went on to enjoy trampolines and trains and a cool roller coaster that went fowards and backwards and we never had to tell the kids, sorry, we can't afford another ride..... (bliss). We even had enough money left over to get everyone (for the first time ever) their own barbe a papa (in the past we always shared one amongst the five of us). For those of you with a little linguistic knowledge I will confirm, yes, barbe a papa does mean daddy's beard. Um.... yuck - who wants to eat that? (OK, I know cotton doesn't sound all that appetizing either, but definitely nowhere near as gross as facial hair). The cotton candy shown here is the small size - there was also a famille and a 'super geant'. Since, as you can see, the small is over twice the size of Griffin's head, I can't imagine how big the 5 Euro super geant would have been. It was simply a great time.
And then, there came the swimming lessons. These started this morning at 9am. I signed the kids up for them not only because I want them to learn to swim better but also to give us something to do each morning during the vacances. I figured they'd have their lesson, then we'd all swim together for a bit and head home for a late lunch and shortened afternoon. I have been pumping up how amazingly fun this is going to be to them for about 2 weeks. Well, ixnay on that anplay! Turns out, Griffin and I aren't allowed in the pool at all (try explaining that to him) and the kids have to leave right after their lesson to make room for the next group. The exception is on Wednesday, when we can stay and play a bit longer.
Well, OK, I can deal with that. Griffin (happily bribed by a vending machine chocolate bar - bad mom, I know), Griffin and I get to watch the lesson from a viewing area above. (French like these remote viewing areas, I've noticed) The kids are very far away - hard to even distinguish one from another. There are about 20 kids between 6 and 10 years old, and 4 instructors - it is a 45 minute lesson. First, they have them all jump into the pool and see if they are scared of water. Only about 8 of them are - they go in the 'kiddie' area with one instructor and mine go with the other dozen kids to the bigger pool - this takes the first 15 minutes. They each get a noodle and then spend about 20 of the next 30 minutes waiting on line. C and Z get in the water a total of about 6 times. 4 times of these they are swimming on their back, with the noodle to support their little heads. Huh, well, they can both already swim on their back without a noodle at all. The other two times they took them where the water is deeper and, I kid you not, stuck a metal pole into the deep water which the children were supposed to slide down, firefighter style. Well, my kids would have been just fine simply jumping into the water and swimming to the edge and Zander had no problem with the pole - although I think they got a bit worried when he swam around at the bottom of the pool for a few minutes before coming up but it scared Callie a bit. Then, um, that was it, they got their towels and went back in and I collected them for the ride home. Callie is pretty happy since she got to socialize with Noemi and the other kids. Zander is pissed, he wanted to swim and this was not swimming. It took me weeks of prep to get him psyched for this class as he fears anything new, now the rest of the week is sure to be a bit of a struggle. Oh, and wait, there's more, I can't believe I forgot to mention this part. Remember the 4 instructors? None of them ever got wet. None of them even had a bathing suit on. No demos, no examples.... nothing. I just couldn't get over this and asked Noemi's mom, Alina about it. Oh, that's the way they do it in France. That's how she learned and she learned great. It must be true as over in the other lanes were a bunch of tweens and teens doing steady and gorgeous crawl, backstroke and even butterfly. But, I just can't really believe it. I suspect they must have had private tutors.
Well, tomorrow is another day!

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