The last week of school before vacances was, for whatever reason, a stressful one for our Zander. He had 3 or 4 giant explosions, one in the middle of the night and was generally just miserable. Finally, on Friday, when my patience was extremely thin, he told me something worth hearing – something that gives me hope that he might succeed here – and, at the same time, makes me feel very guilty! We dropped Callie at school after lunch and he just lost it completely on the hill near her school. After over a half an hour of crying and raging he finally was calm enough to talk to me. Meanwhile, Griffin was happily wandering the field collecting flowers (see photos). As for Zander’s mental state, there were two things that he said that I thought were interesting. One was that he was afraid when he went back, nothing would be the same – and he wants everything to be exactly the same. I think the trigger for this one was that he had spoken to his old kindergarten teacher on the phone and she sounded different to him…. The other was that he was very, very angry with Andre’ and I for forcing him to come here (this is an old complaint – and it is usually followed by a list of the reasons why he hates it here). This time, however, was different. He said he was really angry with us because we had made it so that, from now on, he can never be happy. You see, when he is in France, he is unhappy because he misses home and he realizes that when we move back to America someday he will be unhappy because he will miss France – and he knows how expensive it is to visit and that means we will probably never visit and he will miss everything forever! Man, he is just screwed no matter what he does, poor guy! But, after he verbalized these feelings and I sympathized, he has been happier. (Until the next crisis, of course).
We have been trying to keep him focused, as much as possible, on the positive (while still validating his sadness) and also give him fun things to do. We are finally having a meeting with a child psychologist May 6th – we’ll see how that works out. One of the most helpful things for Zander is keeping to a structured routine as much as we can. Part of that routine is the nightly bedtime story. As I mentioned in the last blog, Zander is reading Superfudge with Daddy – Callie likes to listen in after her story is over. When we read to them, we often stop and ask them questions about the story or what they think etc… Here is what Andre’ was reading the other day (Superfudge, Judy Blume pg. 132):
Daniel came over that afternoon.
‘Did you write to Santa yet?’ I asked
‘I’m Jewish,’ Daniel said, ‘I don’t believe in that stuff.’
Here’s where I interrupt.
M: What does that mean?
Z: I have no idea
C: He’s Jewish – that means he doesn’t congratulate Christmas. He has Hanukkah – like Elah. But we do.
M: He doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
C: He doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
Z: So, who celebrates Christmas?
C: Us, you know, like, normal people.
M: Oh, so, Elah isn’t normal???
C: No! I mean, she is…. Hey mom, what are the people who celebrate Christmas called, anyway? What are we called?
M: That’s right Callie – we must be the Christmas-shuns – the ones who celebrate Christmas! (We are all laughing)
I mean, really, what is there to say? We do not celebrate out of any other reason than tradition. Andre’ has actually suggested we give it up and celebrate only Solstice – which is much closer to where our spiritual hearts lie (currently, at least) . But, I don’t want to give up Christmas – in my family it wasn’t really much about religion – it was a time of traditions and fun and togetherness – and usually you get vacation time too – so why not celebrate?
Speaking of celebrations, this week has been the first week of the spring vacances. The kids are so excited to be having a chance to see their Grandma and Grandpa from Utah and to (finally) get to ride on the TGV (bullet train). They wanted to surprise Andre’ and I one night and so, after bed, they did all sorts of creative stuff together. They made their beds and got dressed for the morning BEFORE going to sleep (saves time, right?) and then decorated the room hanging many stuffed animals off a rope, organizing all the books on the bookshelf and setting up over 100 little soldiers to defend the room from ‘bad guys’, should any happen to appear. Zander also wrote a note telling everyone to stay out, which he posted on the door, and another note hung down from the light saying “Happy Vacances!”
It actually has been a very happy vacances, so far! Saturday we went on our hiking adventure and Sunday Olivier and his family came over to hang out. They haven’t been over for a while and it was fun for the kids to play together again. Olivier is a person with many, many extracurricular interests – off the top of my head I know he has taken singing lessons, art lessons, runs races, boxes, reads 2 books a month, rides bikes, takes care of blundering American families and fences. (I’m sure there is more). Well, this day he brought his fencing equipment and challenged me to a (dry) duel. For fun only, of course, but I was pleased to feel like I did pretty well against him in foil and even not too terribly with sabre. Then he showed me this other thing – with a dagger in the back hand and large heavy weapons in the front hand. That was crazy hard – and I know if I ever did it seriously it would ruin my ‘regular’ fencing. You are allowed to circle your opponent, use your back hand and can even grab a weapon with your glove to get it out of your way. His jacket and gloves were black (as you can see) and made of a far heavier material than what I was used to – it was ridiculously heavy and hot. They left a bit early to take the kids to stay with their grandparents for the week. Since Olivier and Nadine both work, the kids will be with one set of grandparents one week, and the other the next. This is normal practice here in France. Even with 5 weeks of vacation, there is not enough time for the parents to take off during every vacances. Wonder what people who don’t have grandparents around do?
On Monday we went for a nice hike and hung out on a huge field – Zander collected lots of new wildflowers and all three kids picked amazing bouquets. I was happy to find more cowslips that smelled ‘right’.
I am also including this picture of Callie’s bouquet. I want not only to show off her impressive arrangement skills (the boys just pick randomly but Callie places each bloom with both purpose and great beauty) but also to display her simple bracelet made of purple, blue and pink beads. I wear one of these also, as does my mom back home – we made them together right before we left for France to represent the love that the 3 generations of women have for each other. We each swore not to remove it until we saw each other again. Well, 8 months later, the little things are still on all 3 of us – amazing. I love it because it reminds me of my mom every time I see it. I wonder, will we make new ones when we visit home or leave these on for the duration? Maybe we should keep these AND make a new one (insurance)– Aunt Melodie wears 85 bracelets – why can’t we wear 2?
On Tuesday we were supposed to go swimming but, instead, we took a bus to the local store. A bus? Yes, folks, a bus. You see, there is a reason (besides poverty) that we hadn’t purchased a car up until now. Cars, are annoying, they break and they all have their own personality. Well, it seems that somehow, on Monday when we got home from the day’s activities I must have left Mr. Liberty’s headlights on. How this happened I have no idea – since I never recall turning them on – but obviously I did and the car was, predictably, dead. Perhaps we were just getting a bit too comfortable here and needed something new to blunder with – first a near miring in the mud on a deserted lane and now a dead battery! Went to the store to get jumper cables and found that there are different (more expensive) ones for diesels than for regular cars. I called Andre for advice on this and spoke to people at the store and they said the others would work just as well – save the 10 Euros. Well, it turns out that the reason that you need heavier duty cables is that diesels need a stronger charge (more amps) to start – the weaker cables can burn out before you get the engine fired. Fortunately our hero, Olivier, who naturally was the one who came to give us the jump was able to restart the car with the cables I had bought. We drove around re-juicing the battery and discovering the Chateau de Moncley and a Maison du Meil (honey house). We shall return!
On Wednesday we had a treat of hanging out again with Marie, Anne and Marc. Z, C and G had been excited for their visit all week, setting up the playroom with an elaborate train track etc…. They played beautifully together for over an hour (that means they didn’t fight, or interrupt Marie and I, who were talking) and then we met up with Andre’ and Regis and headed over to Fort Bregille for a picnic lunch and hike.
We had a great time. Andre’ actually has run up here a few times and we visited once before (for our Solistice Celebration) but it was in the evening. It has gorgeous views, a crumbling fort with sheer drop offs and an interesting barren area known as “The Desert” crowning it’s top. Then we headed down again to get the dads back to work – and Andre’ got lost. Seems that you can run down in different ways than you can drive down – who’d know? Because of this, they were a few minutes late. Sometimes, even 2 hours for lunch isn’t enough.
The kids hung out together again for another hour and Marie and I talked some more. It is such a relief to me to be able to chatter in English to someone other than Andre! We had a lot to discuss since it turns out they are most likely moving to Berlin at the end of July. Advice about moving to a different country with kids – I’ve got plenty! Both Regis and Marie mentioned that our arrival reignited their long held dreams of living outside France and encouraged them to try to make it a reality. Wow, we are like – an inspiration! I am glad they will take the plunge but I am sad since we get along so well with their family. In my experience, it is hard to find such a match – lots of my US friends have husbands that Andre’ doesn’t mesh well with or have kids that my kids don’t have fun with etc… In my dream land, I want to find a family we will mesh with well enough to be like, a second family. (Of course, in this dream they would also live next door) We will miss getting to know them even better but, of course, we will stay in touch (Marie says she might start a blog – that’s the spirit) Also, we still hope to go camping together with them before they depart – and hey, it sure makes a future visit to Berlin a bit more enticing!
Thursday we headed to the pool and had a swim – the doors to the outdoor play area were open for the first time and, out in the 50 degree weather, people went out (in wet bathing suits) to run around and play on the lawn and sunbathe – topless if you want. (FYI – the kids did not even notice – same in Red Light District, Amsterdam – Partial nudity is just not remarkable to them) We did go out and shiver for about 10 minutes. The kids would have stayed out longer but I just couldn’t hack it (despite having much more insulation, and bathing suit coverage, than the other women out there).
I would be remiss not to mention the other major activity of this week – planning our Besancon visit from Grandma and Grandpa Peterson and the 5 days in Paris. Here is Andre behind the giant map we bought – think I can open it up on the street if we get lost without attracting attention??? (It was the only one we could find here) I am so excited! We have planned which sites we are going to see, in what order, what restaurants, boulangeries and patisseries to try when we are there, etc…. It is going to be so much fun (if we don’t simply collapse from exhaustion!) I am thinking I might even post our itinerary etc… here online afterwards – so if anyone wants to visit they can take some cues from us (hey, once you inspire one family – you just want to keep on going!)
Expect to hear from me again in about 10 days – post vacation!!!!!!