Friday, September 25, 2009
Sunday arrived and we were all a bit exhausted. We slept in, snuggled a ton – ate breakfast, did homework, had lunch and then hit the road for Vaire-Le-Grand (thanks for photo and info to http://v.l.g.free.fr/)
This chateau, located only about 20 minutes away from Besancon, was built in 1713 for J.A. Boiset, the first president of the Besançon parliament – and it is a lovely jewel of a place. The chateau used to hold an eleventh century castle, destroyed in the mid-1400’s by the forces of Louis the 11th. The ruins remained until Boiset came along and the current chateau was raised. It became the location of the first ever classic French garden in all of Franche Comté. The Chateau became the home of many famous people (including Madame Pompadour, a notorious mistress of King Louis the 15th) and has served many other functions until both the house and the gardens were restored and opened as a museum starting in the mid 1990’s. It was a bit hard to find – I’m sure I mentioned before how Google Maps doesn’t do the French countryside all that well – but we managed to get there.
On the way we passed this amazing field of rosebushes. It even had a sign post next to it and you could write and get a catalog – apparently they sell the plants once a year for you to put in your own garden. Roses are everywhere in our part of France, they are used as road borders, in gardens – they seem to like the Bisontin climate. We took a small drive through the town as well – it seemed quite old with winding roads and stone houses. I loved this old stone house, right. It is quite common to see these houses in French villages with tractors or other farm vehicles parked right outside their doors. They probably roll out of bed in the morning and commute to the field. In France, farmers commute – but in the US, it’s one of the few professions left without a long drive!
We then got to the Chateau. The weather was great and we had fun seeing all the volunteers dressed up in period costumes. This must really be a popular place because it was very crowded and there were at least 30 or 40 people wandering around in Jacobean garb. (Or as Callie would say, princess dresses) Lots of wigs, high collars and cravats on the men and hoops and lace on the women. There were also teens and even children dressed to the hilt. They should have sold some of these clothes – I would have been sorely tempted! We spent a long time watching 4 couples demonstrate some of the traditional dances. The intricacies of the steps and the obvious social customs that went along with the dance were fun to observe. Everything was very subdued, no skin touched skin (they even wear gloves) and the amount of time you were with only one partner was extremely brief. Despite all these efforts to be proper, there was obviously also plenty of opportunities to flirt, if you were so inclined. The ladies had to continually lift up their giant skirts to avoid stepping on them and they looked enchanting just swishing over the floor. I was wishing my mother was there – she would have looked perfect in this garb! We wandered around the house, appreciating the old furniture and the music being played on traditional instruments. I liked the way this house was fancy, but not overly ornate. When I was at Versailles, I felt like I was under attack, overwhelmed by all the ostentatious wealth. This house seemed like people could actually live in it – and be comfortable. I loved this one bedroom – it had tapestry on the walls that matched the bed canopy and featured delicate Asian inspired paneling along the walls. I could live here! We were talking as we walked and actually got interrupted by one of the workers. She is an American studying in France until Christmas and wanted to know our story. Great to have a chance to chat in English! We went back out front and spent a long time just looking at he building and appreciating the view it had over the little town below. What a wonderful location!
After we finished out front we headed to the gardens. The formal French garden became very popular in the 17th century and the epitome, of course, is supposed to be Versailles, where we went this spring. I wasn’t so very impressed with the Versailles gardens, but I was enchanted at Vaire le Grand. It was all stately and tasteful and grand – but not too perfect and sterile. There were also all these little hidden things – like this miniature labyrinth tucked next to the house. The kids loved that thing! They found a very cool spider hanging off one of the bushes and, as I was trying to take a photo of it, a bee flew into my hair. This wouldn’t be a problem, usually, except, for whatever reason, it got tangled up in the hair behind my ear and it couldn’t get out. It was buzzing and buzzing madly trying to escape. I stopped what I was doing and basically started freaking out. It’s terrible, sometimes, being faced with your own hypocrisy. I always tell the kids things like: “Bees don’t sting you unless you really bother them.” or “Just hold still and it will go away.” or (my personal fave) “Just don’t panic and you’ll be fine.” Well, all that is great until you are the one with the bee stuck in your hair. I started to jump up and down a bit and babble frantically in André’s direction “Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me, help me help me!” He claims he was heading over as fast as he possibly could, although he had no idea what the hell was going on. To be fair, I’m sure he was coming and more eloquence on my part probably would have helped. Unfortunately, my brain seemed to have left the arena when my overwhelming panic arrived and, to me, it felt like several minutes passed by when I was clearly in distress and no help was forthcoming. Plus the only sound I could hear was the frantic buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz in my ear. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer and reached up - STING! Voila, no more bee and also the arrival of my husband – and a group of about 20 tourists on a guided visit. Of course, I was totally embarrassed and did the only natural thing, the only thing I really could do – blame André. For some reason, this approach did not end up with me getting the sympathy I, as the victim, so clearly deserved. Do you know that bee stings hurt? And I mean, not just a little. Those suckers are feared for a reason. I kid you not, that the area behind my ear was so sensitive I had to remove my glasses and the poison from the sting spread clear down one side of my neck to my collarbone – making it painful to turn my head – for two days! Even now, 5 days post sting, the itchy bump is still there and my neck is not quite right. We wandered off into the garden, discovering some little sailboats to play with in the fountain. I had myself a nice cry and regained my sanity enough to apologize for my irrational behavior. “Sorry André, I know it wasn’t your fault” and “I’m OK now, but see kids, what happens when you panic?” Practice what you preach – it’s more than just a saying.
We spent another half hour or so enjoying the French garden. A French garden (thanks wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jardin_francais) is the attempt to correct nature by enforcing symmetry. It attempts to embody the triumph of order over disorder. It features lines of trees, water, shaped boxwood, topiaries and sculptures. This was all happening at Vaire Le Grand – but the entire right side of the garden was a set of smaller and unique portions – each hidden until you were inside it, and each completely different than the one before. The kids loved the surprise aspect of the place and had a great time running around and pretending to hide from the bad guys. At one point Callie said excitedly: “Come on everyone, we have to go into the thicket!” Thicket??? Where does she pick up these words??? I mean, she’s not hearing English from anyone but us any longer, right? I also saw, again, the American we had met in the house and accosted her (in what I hope was a friendly fashion). I am just still so lonely and friendless and perhaps, I could find a new friend. I mean, I always tell the kids, if you want to make friends, you just have to take a risk! (And we all know about the valuable lesson I just learned about practicing what I preach). So, I got brave, approached her and gave her my email and the blog address, she seemed interested, but 5 days later, no contact. Oh well… at least I have you guys to talk to, sort of, in a one sided, still feeling completely lonely kind of a way.
Well, as luck would have it, this weekend was the Jours de Patrimoine in our area. This just means that lots of stuff that’s not normally open to the public, is. Plus, it’s usually free. We had been out of town or otherwise engaged for the last few of these so I was totally psyched!
We started out our morning with the usual homework stuff but did it very quickly so we could get to the important things – like finally getting to set up all our decorations and presents we had been preparing. As the kids grow, they get more and more excited about other people’s birthdays and they really got into doing things for the big day. I love that they are getting a tiny bit less selfish and also that they can truly enjoy another person’s happiness (at least some of the time).
Callie and Zander both made elaborate paper chains that took hours and Griffin had drawn several pictures. Callie also worked over several days on the special ‘Happy Birthday Dad’ sign we hung on the wall. We had hit a vide-grenier where Zander had chosen a ship night light and Callie chose a couple of beautiful copper plates to give as gifts. Each of the kids made a special card as well. As for the gift from me? Well, I was on a quest to find a new, nice dress watch. I had bought André one back in our dating days, about 13 years ago – that had quit about 2 or 3 years before. In the interim he has had a few new ones, but none that lasted. Besançon is famous for watch making so I really wanted to get him something special. Of course, my budget was tight but usually I can still make it work – I went to thrift stores, vide greniers, pawn shops and multiple jewelry places and I finally found one I liked (and I was hoping he would like as well!). Unfortunately, he didn’t really like it (sadness).
It was still morning so we headed off to see a few churches. The first, right next to Zander’s school, was closed (rats!) so we headed downtown to see one that is right over Pont Battant – L’eglise de la Madeleine. This site is one of the oldest churches in the city and dates back to before the Citadelle. I was surprised and happy to see that there were meridian markings on the floor of the church. I hadn’t seen that since Paris! I love the way these buildings incorporated the light of the sun to help them measure the passing of seasons to find out when to celebrate holidays such as Easter. You can see the gnomic hole (the pinhole in the window where the light comes through) in the photo, left. The nave of the church was beautiful, most remarkable feature being the elaborate sculpture set above the altar, almost at the ceiling, featuring Mary surrounded by the angels. They had it backlit – so it was impossible to get a good shot, but it was a unique and truly beautiful sculpture. Because of the special open house, they had lots of other rooms open in the church – we could walk up to be near the organ and also walk through the area where they kept historical robes worn by priests etc…. This particular church has always been closely connected with educating the students and scholars of the region and seems to have quite a collection of archives and artifacts.
Then, we headed to the next stop, Le Basilique de Saint Ferjoux. This was not on the list of open churches, but André has run past it a bunch of times and was hoping it would be open. It is a giant building – the front has a clock and a weather predictor of some kind – both seemed to be accurate, but there was no indication the doors were open. At the side door, however, we got lucky. A nun was in there, sweeping the mammoth floor with a little straw broom, (swish, swish, swish) so the doors were open. I enjoyed the Egyptian like figures of Jesus and the Apostles that were painted up in the cupola. The best part, though, was definitely the cemetery. Located across the street from the church it is huge and had both old and new monuments. We were getting hungry for lunch but ended up spending half an hour or so just wandering through. The sculpture, right, was situated next to the tomb of a young woman. Apparently, her husband was so wracked by grief at her passing, he carved it by hand. I looked to the internet (of course) to discover the meaning of the snake, and the urn and found a nice page on the official website for the state of Indiana – who’d of thunk? So thanks to http://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/3750.htm I can tell you that the snake is a symbol for everlasting life and the urn represents the return of our body to dust and the rebirth it will gain in the next realm. (They didn’t have the wreath on their list – come on Indiana!) Zander and Callie walked pretty serenely around but Griffin always wants to find the ‘secret’ way. After a while Daddy had to admonish him: “Griffin, don’t step on top of the dead people, it’s not polite.” We also had a nice conversation as a family about the pros and cons of cremation. Conclusion being, it is better for our earth to be cremated BUT it is nice to have a special place to go to remember your loved one. Zander, of course, came up with a solution – he plans to get a bench in the forest dedicated to our family – and then dump all our ashes there – forever (but don’t tell anyone so they won’t think it’s gross). Well, I’ll be dead so I guess it works for me! I had fun exploring some of the more modern headstones. I like this style with the stain glass back drop. Also, it is cool when people put photos on the headstone – it really helps you get an idea of the person – they seem to be ceramic – neat. One thing, though, that I can’t get used to is the way they use ‘souvenir’ to mark some headstones here. I realize, of course, logically, that in French ‘souvenir’ means to remember – so it makes sense that the graves are littered with little items such as the one pictured left. But, I just can’t get over a lifetime of conditioning that forces me to think of a souvenir as something you get to bring home from a fun vacation!
We headed home for lunch. On the way there we happened to pass a watch factory. This is a Timex factory that also has a factory outlet store. I had passed it a long time ago while riding the bus, but couldn’t remember exactly where it was or how to get there (typical for me, right?). So, I hadn’t checked it out on my watch quest. We stopped in, just to see, and ended up finding the perfect watch. (Luckily, I can return the other one) It’s a Timex – and an automatic – that means it uses the inertia of your body to wind it – and never needs a battery – super cool. It has a clear window in the front and a glass back so you can see how it works. Plus it seems flawless and cost about half of retail price. We love the fact that it is manufactured in Besançon (well, mostly, some parts are assembled in Thailand and then sent back here – but such is the state of the global economy) Hopefully this one will last another 10 years. You can see André modeling it below – he is sooooo GQ!
After lunch we had Daddie’s birthday cake. By his request I made two batches of winter fun cookie dough and spiraled them into cake layers. It actually came out pretty well and was certainly faster than (but not as fun as) making all those little shapes.
Then it was off for the afternoon portion of our adventures – a visit to a local fruiterie. This one is located only about 20 minutes from our house but we never knew it was there. It was quite a popular event--the parking lot was packed. We thought we had a spot to park because there was a woman who was obviously either getting in or out of her car. When I made eye contact, she looked right at me and held up one finger. Right, I surmised, I just need to wait a minute and you’ll move. Well, actually, that interpretation would only apply if we were in America! Here, at least in this case, holding up one finger means more like what we sometimes do when kids are bad and you are trapped in an old British movie – you know – shake the finger at them and say “Naughty, naughty!” It’s always something new to interpret in the land whose culture just isn’t mine! Right, you can see us waiting by the giant vats for our tour. Those vast silver things are where all the leftover milk, etc… ends up after it goes through the cheese making process. There was a little girl counting the number of arrivals on a white board – I have it pictured left to show how French people count groups. You know how we do those little hash marks – like 1111 and then a cross through it to make the 5? Then you can look at the number and just count by 5’s to get your total, right? (Is this making any sense? You fencers out there, it’s how we keep score during rounds most of the time. What is this practice called anyway?) Well, they don’t do that in France. No, this long line of little hash marks is not just there because this kid doesn’t know about our way. They just don’t do it. (Another one for our list, folks)
But, on to the tour! This was a really amazing one because they let you go in where the cheese making equipment was and touch it all. In the past we have just been permitted to view it from above, through a glass window or something. They must really have to disinfect the place after this day! The neatest part, though, was getting to see the cave. The cave is where they age the cheese. True Comté isn’t even allowed to be eaten until it is at least 4 months old. The aging takes place in a cave. The cheese actually only stays at the cave in the fruiterie for about one month before it is transferred to a giant cave somewhere else (and yes, I really do want to visit one of these someday too!). The amazing thing that I learned during this trip is that, every day, during the first month – the cheeses have to be rubbed and turned. Each cheese is about 50 kilos – so this is no small feat. They actually have a new machine that does this for them – it is amazing to
watch it – see video! André asked if it is reliable – and the guy said it takes lots of work to keep it running well. Hmm….. modern technology meets ancient cheese making – it’s a beautiful thing.
Then we got to taste some Comté and go on to watch them make, straight from raw milk, some cheese and some butter. It was really fun to watch and, of course, delicious. She used a hotplate, and a food processor and other modern tools so it took only about 15 minutes – we tried to imagine how long it would take in the olden days. We even got to take some of the butter home with us for free. We ended up buying some Comté as well, before heading home for the evening. I made us some chicken and rice and we had more birthday cake. Augustin then showed up and André and I went out on a date. We had initially planned to go on a starwatching walk, but it was full. So we ended up at the circus Maximum – in town just for the weekend. The kids were so jealous!
This was my second European circus, and much smaller than the other one we attended. It seemed like there were probably only 15-30 people running the entire thing. The brothers who did the tightrope, also rode their motorcycles in the globe. The family that juggled, also were the clowns. The tiger tamer, camel trainer and horse trainer were all the same dude. And then, there were the two ‘beautiful ladies’. They sold tickets, sold toys to the kids, juggled a bit, danced a bit and often just stood around looking ravishing in the background of lots of acts. One of the things I thought was awesome about this show was how they had a juggling act done by the children (about 9 and 12 years old). They were already such performers and it made it obvious that this is truly a family affair. As the last time, the whole ring was small, so we had great seats. We were both particularly interested, before and after the show, in the little village that was set up all around the big top. There were a couple of RV’s but, much more impressive, were these giant mobile homes made of tractor trailers – they popped open on both sides when parked and looked super luxurious. I guess, if you truly live on the road, as the circus people do, such an investment is worth it.
Then we made it home and to our beds – what a busy Saturday – and tomorrow awaits!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Remember how just after 9/11/2001 a few people decided that Americans should start calling French fries “freedom fries”? I didn’t really like the trend, but now that I’m in France I realize they don’t call it French fries here, either—and French fries were invented in Belgium, anyway! Not that it really matters, anyway, until we hit a grease truck the other night and saw their menu—two kinds of burgers – regular and American. We couldn’t help but to order one of each. The supposed ‘regular’ hamburger featured meat, lettuce, dijon mustard and fried egg – but at least the bun was round. The American burger, on the other hand, was on a long roll – and featured all the stuff the other one had, plus fries inside—a creation we’d never, ever, find back home. It was so big neither Rebecca or I finished our burgers—but they were delicious and cheap.
What am I to do?
I think this is the time I have been looking forward to for so many years. I used to have a vision for what this would be like. I would get up, get the kids to school, naturally stopping to chat with friends on the way in and out (from now on this is stc--stop to chat), go to the gym, stc, do an errand or chore, have lunch and spend until 3pm writing, or volunteering in the classroom or at a library, stc. I would have time, maybe once a week, to read a book or maybe even start a new project. I was going to get a puppy! OK – you may have realized that vision belonged to Philadelphia life and involved lots of stc. Sooo….. maybe that can still happen later? But, what about the France vision? Well – I was going to do chores, travel planning and classes in the morning – and maybe get a job, or write in the afternoons or something – it was never really clear. The reality of this life is that I am bitterly alone but also busy and pressured – how is that possible? I realize I’m not that far into this phase, but so far I don’t feel like I have any free time – I am still trying to catch up on blogs, photos, packages, upcoming birthdays, travel plans, cooking, cleaning and just the normal chores of life. I still am trying to exercise daily – but I hate and loathe it- and sometimes skip it – the kids being around must have really helped my motivation over the summer. Plus, even though I have been doing this for over 30 days hating it and sweating like a pig, I don’t really see any results. I have lost about 15 pounds but my gut is still big, my clothes don’t fit any better and I don’t feel stronger. Also, I have spent years trying to accept my imperfect, flabby body as it is. Trying to be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel, not revulsion, but a gentle acceptance for me, as I AM. I have heard loving yourself is the first step to loving the world around you – and if, whenever you look at yourself, you think: “I am so fat and ugly” how will that ever work? Well, I had been making some progress on this, sometimes even thinking I was slightly pretty – and sometimes able to not judge myself so harshly. But, since this summer, I have been feeling so bad about my body – you would think that would motivate me to get skinnier – but it mostly just depresses me so I don’t want to do anything at all. The video routine is so repetitive, the people in it are so perfect and, far worse, it is just so lonely. When I used to go to FitLife, I got to interact with others – and be a part of my community.
And then there are the kids. I want to be this super perfect mom. I mean, it is my supposed job right? That thankless one? The one which everyone looks down on? But not me, no, I know this is a real job, and a hard one. (At least, that’s what I have been telling myself for the last 8 and a half years). So, who can blame me for wanting a break sometimes? I mean, who doesn’t take a vacation day off of their job? Who doesn’t have an occasional bad day at work? Look at this summer, I was with them, almost 24/7, for 2 and a half months straight. I admit, I had my bad days, my times when I was less than patient, less than kind. I am only human. In general, though, it was a great summer and I was pretty happy most of the time. But not now, now, I have all this time to myself, all this time to recharge, relax, do whatever, right? So when the kids are with me, it should be easy to be consistent, follow all those parenting rules, and never, ever scream. But I find I am no better than I was before. In fact, I am worse. I find myself struggling to keep my temper and often losing the battle. Sometimes, when I am screaming at my kids or wrestling a charging Zander to the ground I feel like this must be happening to another person – surely not to me. It is easy to blame the kids for bad behavior – why don’t they just do what they are told? But the real fact is that it is hard to be a good kid when you don’t know what to expect from your mom. Some days she is soft and gentle, greeting you with homemade cookies, doing special art projects with you and being patient as you struggle through your homework. Other days, when you refuse to pick up a toy, she throws it in the trash without warning and screams her head off at you. I am so conflicted. I want to be in charge of my kids – the boss – but I don’t want to be a drill sergeant either. I know I should hide my emotions around the kids – but I am not very good at hiding anything from anyone – as loyal readers of my blog know very well. Who is this woman I have become? I wanted to be just like my mom. She worked, baked goodies, sewed our Halloween costumes, cooked our meals, helped us with our homework and kept an immaculate house. She was always there to play with me, or talk to me, or snuggle me too. She was usually very mellow, but would stand up and fight when it was really important. And she did it all with very little help from my dad. But look at me, I am none of those things. I want to be that kind of mom. That cool mom that all the other kids wish their moms were like. The mom they write those cheesy Hallmark cards about. No, I am not. My kids deserve better. I know that, but I feel helpless to change and feel like a total whiney baby for even writing about this. I know I am being extreme. Logically, if you look at my life, at my kids, at our typical day to day living, all is fine. On a logical level, I realize this. But, I also know that some of the mistakes I make are just not OK. I spoke to Zander’s counselor about how, one day, I slapped him in a store because he kept ramming the cart into Griffin. She said, that it was OK to cross that line sometimes, it means he knew I was serious and it made him stop, perhaps saving Griffin from serious harm. She said, it may have traumatized me, but it didn’t traumatize Zander. I’m not sure that I agree, but with Zander, sometimes nothing else works and he’s putting others in danger. Other times, like when I insanely broke a broom on Zander this morning for not sweeping up a dirt pile, I can’t use that excuse. It’s just not OK. In fact, despite my Zander issues, I think it’s never, ever OK for me to use force. But even more than that, it’s wrong for me to lose it. Often, when I am in the moment of making mistakes with the kids – I know I am making a mistake – but I feel like I am trapped in some sort of nightmare. You know the ones. When you are trying to run away but your feet are somehow stuck to the ground and the bad thing just keeps on coming, coming, coming, surrounding you so you can’t even breathe…. Why do these small creatures that are our children have the ability to make us so angry? Zander can push my buttons more effectively than anyone but his daddie (of course). But, in the end, I’m the adult. I need to recognize that he’s trying to infuriate me and rise above it. I’m the mom, I need to stay calm, take deep breaths and follow the agreed upon discipline plan. I know this. I know this. I know this. I have been focusing on it for a long, long time. Sometimes, though, I just fail. I recently read, in Parents magazine that, according to a study done at UNC, 89% of parents with kids ages 2 to 10 admit yelling at their kids at least twice a week. When you are a parent of a 4 year old - the number jumps to 98%. (Well, I am the parent of a 4 year old - but I hardly ever scream because of him!) It did make me feel a bit better to realize I am not alone. What I probably really, truly need is just to accept myself as a person, love myself for who I am and learn to be a bit more level. It’s a process. I just wish the evolutionary cycle wasn’t so slow – since my kids are the victims of my own ineptitude. I remember, years ago, when Zander was having a really hard time and attacking us every day, I, protecting Callie and Griffin from harm, kicked him down the stairs. He wasn’t hurt, but I felt like the worst mother in the world. Please, please, cart me off to jail right now because that is where people like me belong. Frankly, that’s how I feel again this morning. At the time, my friend Catherine overheard my crying conversation to my friend AJ and sent me this email – I have saved it for years and I read it from time to time to help me remember I’m not the only one who is struggling. I don’t feel like what she said is true. I don’t believe it. But I hope someday that I will learn these things – and that my kids will know that I made lots of mistakes but that I always felt bad after, and wanted to do the right thing.
Here it is for you to read – I got approval from Catherine ahead of time – I dedicate this note to all the moms out there who majorly screw up with their kids from time to time – if you are not lucky enough to get this note directly – know that it still applies to you….
Hey Rebecca: After eavesdropping on your conversation with AJ this morning, I wanted to tell you that I think you're a great mother. You're always so willing to try new things and do whatever's needed for your family. You work really hard in everything that you do and it shows in your wonderful kids. We all have really rotten days, weeks, months,... It's definitely the most challenging job that I've ever had. Your fellow survivor, Catherine
Thank you Catherine! I miss you! Oh, how I wish I was somewhere where I could talk all this over with another mom from my era and my culture. Where I could share it with a real friend who would listen and give me a hug and tell me they care. On the one hand I feel like I should be able to go it alone – part of the reason I came here was to learn to stand on my own two feet. I think I have grown in this way more than I could have imagined. On the other hand, it takes a village, right? And André, as wonderful as he is, cannot be an entire village. I miss Mt. Airy – all this being on my own is just not going very well at the moment. I get so scared when I blog like this – opening my rawest wounds to the air. I worry that I will be judged harshly and worry my family. But these concerns have been festering for a while and I think that’s part of the reason I have been having such a hard time. Just writing this helped me have a good cry – which I sorely needed – and I thank you for listening. You all are my village, at least for now.
Friday, September 18, 2009
La Rentree - this is what the French call the return to the school year. I think we refer to it as: ‘Back to school’. The photo is of the kids and I heading to school on the first day. It was raining (welcome to September in Franche-Comté) and Griffin is carrying his gluten-free cookies. We have all been trying to walk together each morning, which is very fun.
The first day back we got to Griffin’s school to discover it wouldn’t be open for another half an hour. It only took going to the other school to discover why. I had been a bit concerned since I got zero information on which class the kids would be in. Was I missing out because I’m some stupid American again? For once, the answer was no. It turns out that no one knows anything until that first morning. The parents and children all come pouring into the courtyard, attempting to find out which list contains the name of their child – and who will be their teacher. The first day is stressful enough without adding in this overwhelming mob. It was madness! It was also very unclear what to do once we finally found our kids’ names. We just tried to find the teacher, said goodbye and left the teeming masses, hoping to get Griffin to his school on time.
Griffin is doing very well. He hasn’t had any accidents at all (hooray!) and, in his own words: “loves, loves, loves” school this year. I was sad he did not get Valerie as a teacher, since I believe she is one of those rare gems of a teacher that is truly gifted (plus she speaks English), but I do like Agnes. She seems to be gentle and kind and truly loves all the children – I can’t ask for anything more than that. She says he is doing very, very well in class and excels at handiwork – things like cutting and stringing beads. (Can’t imagine why!) He has been coming home each day to have lunch with me. We do special art projects or play a game or even, one day, had a party lunch. At left, you can see him walking through the forest one day that we went for a picnic lunch. He was the leader, of course. He has so very much to say when we have one on one time. I think he often gets drowned out with his older brother and sister around and relishes the chance to have center stage. He is in a phase where he thinks he knows everything and loves to tell me all about it. “Mommy, that is a treasure rock. Did you know that? If we break it open with a hammer, the treasure will be inside. You didn’t know that, right?” etc….. My role here is to support his wisdom. It is fun for me to spend time with him, but also, strangely, a bit hard to focus. I am so used to having all 3 around I find myself feeling kind of bored and distracted – shouldn’t I be doing laundry or something??? Other things for Griffin are that he really has been enjoying music – here he is listening to his CD player – he especially loves his Elmo CD’s. He has also picked up the terrible habit of chewing off his nails lately, not great and loves to climb, as always. He’s not doing any extracurricular activities – because he doesn’t want to and he’s only 4.
Callie’s big excitement of late is that she has started a weekly rhythmic gymnastics class with her good friend Lilou. I stayed for the first one and they do lots of stretching, dancing and playing with balls and ribbons. There is supposed to be some sort of competition (or maybe it’s a recital) towards the end of the year so that will be fun. She loves being active and beautiful simultaneously. I love they way she is so in shape – one game involved them running back and forth over the floor for several minutes. Callie was giggling and laughing to the end, while the other kids were turning red and gasping for air. This giant hill of gravel is right next to the gym where she has class – Griffin insists it is the new Alps--they need to build one in France so it will be more beautiful. Callie spends lots of time, lately, trying to debunk all of Griffin’s theories. As you can imagine, this leads to a bit of conflict between the two of them! She has also been quite into the music lately. On Wednesdays at home we do French and English homework, then have lunch and, after an hour or so, head off to activities. Lately all three have been listening to music during the in-between times. Callie loves 80’s pop, ABBA music from Mamma Mia and Pocket Full of Sunshine. She almost has ‘Honey Honey’ memorized and it’s hysterical to hear her sing some of the worst lyrics ever: “I heard about you before, I wanted to know some more, and Honey, to say the least, You’re a doggone beast!(Oh you really thrill me!)’ She also enjoys hanging around after school and playing on the church stairs (pictured right). Griffin is hiding behind her. She is enjoying the start of school as well. I was sad she didn’t get Madame Pakiry as a teacher – in fact she ended up in a class that is team taught by 2 teachers, neither of which speak a word of English. Luckily for Callie, this is no problem, she has 2 very good friends in her class, says she loves school, and is even enjoying staying for lunch. The lunches are incredible – I wish I could stay! A typical menu day goes like this (copied): Celeri rape mayonaise, Saute d’agneau provencal, Courgettes, Eclair Vanille (celery, lamb, zucchini and an eclair). Plus they get water and some bread. It is amazing.
And then there’s Zander. Well, he also still enjoys climbing and hanging around. Here they both are – with the church door between them! He started an art class this week. It was located at our local community house, right next to the school, but it wasn’t the right class for him. All the kids were girls, all of them were younger than him and the teacher wouldn’t let them be creative at all – she wanted them to draw the same picture, in the same color – Zander said it was worse than being at school. So, we will have to go back to the drawing room for that! He really wanted to try gymnastics this year, but I hesitate to do that with him since he is terribly uncoordinated and the last thing he needs is another place where kids can make fun of him. I am hoping we can find a better, more creative, art class, with kids his age. He also started a drama class, which, thank goodness, he seems to already love. He gets to act and be creative and he was talking about it for hours afterwards. The kids are a mix of age and sex and the teacher seems nice. I am hoping he can make some friends through this venue. They are supposed to put on a play at the end of the year – so we can look forward to that as well. He has been having a hard time, however, with the return to school. He is sullen, angry and uncooperative. He is expected to be able to read, which he can’t and he is having a very hard time socially. His teacher claims the kids like him but he isolates himself. Zander says he tries to play with them, and it works for about 5 minutes but then he can no longer follow what game they are trying to play and they kick him out. He doesn’t like that rejection so he just chooses to start off sitting it out. It is so frustrating. He seems to have no friends at all. We are trying to get him hooked up with Elie, someone he liked last year, but Elie is quite popular and doesn’t have tons of time for Zander – we do have a playdate with him today though so that will be good. We visited the autophonologist (I think that’s French for reading specialist) as well last week and she has identified him with at least a mild form of dyslexia. He will get further testing next week and then we will meet to decide what to do next. I hope we can help him have an easier time, at least academically, with this new information.
In other news, we have hired a new babysitter/tutor. His name is Augustin and the kids love him. Actually, Griffin had a bit of a rocky start since he hates a kid named Augustin in his class and was convinced he’d hate anyone with that name. Callie suggested he just call him a different name – like Violet. Luckily this seemed to work – and now Violet and Griffin are buds. Because of the new sitter, André and I have started going on dates (hooray!) and I am getting a bit of help on the French homework with the kids. This is great because my ability to spell and read with the right pronunciation is not quite as good as a native speaker, to say the least. André turns 35 today – and the tradition in France is that, on your birthday (or any other special event) you bring in croissants or something to share. This seems awfully backwards to me. You basically stop everyone, mid-morning and say, “Hey, I brought us cookies!” Everyone stops work and comes to eat and chat. If it is a birthday, they always ask how old you are. So Un-American. We will celebrate the big day tomorrow!