This week of Spring break in France has been very wet! I found myself becoming extra creative with the boys with the wet weather. At first this meant staying inside and watching movies. Very creative, I know. Once that wore thin, exposure to other children and intellectual stimulation for their young minds was at the top of my list. Not ripping our lovely flat into pieces was also a motivation. So, we became tourists and visited the wonderful Natural History Museum in Toulouse!
What a beautiful building! It was filled with gorgeous plants and wonderful animals. We walked and played. After thirty minutes though boredom sank in and I was exhausted. My two year old was crying to come back home and play with his Lego’s. The weather was only getting worse. I was at a loss.. how could I make this rainy week in France memorable without going crazy in the process?
One day during the week I noticed how lovely my two year old and nine month old were playing together. They were both crawling around on the floor and laughing with each other. This was the image I had in my mind when I had children- that they would grow together and these experiences in their younger years
would make them close. Here it was, happening! After we had lunch they went to sleep for four hours. I could not believe it. Not even my “park playing” could produced those type of results.
As the days living in France pass they keep finding comfort in each others company. My two year old is even trying to teach the baby a bit of French now. Maybe if the weather had been nice I would have ran them all over town. Maybe not, who’s to say? This week I fell in love with “rainy days” in France. The love that it produced in my household is priceless.
As the sun comes out more, I find myself graviting to a very special old friend; “The Park”. Since I was going to be alone with my two youngest boys, while my husband and older son went to California for two weeks, getting out of the house was the top priority for me. Two hours after we said our farewells, I found myself full of energy preparing for the day ahead at the park.
I have to admit that it was hard making my way to the park. I contemplated stopping at a cafe or taking the boys out for pizza but I kept my goal in mind. Fifteen minutes later we arrived a the very beautiful Jardin des Plantes in Toulouse! I felt like I was in a French film. Families were out on the grass having picnics, little children were playing soccer on the grass and vendors were selling every sweet treat your heart could desire. It was like a carnival for the young at heart! The boys dove right into the fun by heading to the play structure. They seemed quite caught up in the whimsical nature of it all.
As I was sitting nursing my youngest son, I noticed my two year old had made friends with a little girl. They had decided going down the slide backwards was a wonderful idea. They gave it a go about ten more times! When I looked up again he was having a cracker with the girl and her family. They were sitting on a bench not to far away from mine. I thought: that is strange normally he is so shy with strangers mainly due to the language barriers he faces in France.
As I approached the bench to make sure he was not “wearing out his welcome”, I noticed the couple was speaking English to him. As it turned out, the mother is from Seattle and her husband is French. They will be staying in Toulouse for awhile! She was just as happy as I was to meet another family from the States. We quickly exchanged number with promises to have a string of play dates during the spring and summer. I was so happy for myself and my children that we were able to make this great connection at the park. We spent two more hours there hanging out with the our new friends and having a good time. Before leaving I bought the boys a soccer ball made in Italy for 2 euros 50. It has earned the role as the sixth member of the family. What a bargain!
Our day at the park helped me discover that no matter what continent you are living on, “The Park” is a glorious refuge for families!
This Saturday my husband and my seven year old son are heading to California for my son’s spring time visit with his father. Although I know these trips are needed for a flourishing relationship, I still can’t help but be teary eyed as the moment of truth approaches.
We have really made a life for ourselves here in Toulouse! Going to the “marche” on the weekends,taking our nightly walks and having our French neighbors over for dinner. I sometimes forget that there are other people waiting and longing for our return to America. It is so easy for me to become caught up in the reality that my oldest son is now a bi-lingual boy of the world! To see him get up every morning with a smile on his face to tackle a new way of learning and communicating is truly inspiring for me. I am in awe of him when we
take our evening walks and he can read the notices in the local bakeries or when he is able to give the hour of day to someone who requests it in French. I start to daydream about what would happen if we want to India, Africa or Asia together. How long would it be before he could master three languages and find “ZEN” at the young age of twelve?
Then I remember that he has a whole other family waiting breathlessly in California. His father, grandmother, uncles and cousins. How would they feel about him traveling the globe with me and only being able to see him on holidays or vacations? What if I wanted to travel to a so called “unsafe” region? Would he “fight” for him to come back to “safe” California? I am starting to realize that when my son and I hold hands on our Sunday walk or have our lunch together on Wednesdays that he is just on loan to me for a short spell. Then I have to give him up. France is AMAZING and it is easy to become smitten with this dreamy life. Being a blended family though has made me up wake up from my dream a little sooner then I would like.
As the tears flow on Saturday,I will be thinking to myself; is it really worth it?
Who says having a family settles you down? It certainly is not a philosophy that I live my life by. Even though I have three very active boys I still love to go dancing with my girlfriends. I take in the occasional Broadway show and I still enjoy those late nights alone with my husband. Because of this care free type of attitude, I found myself being whisked away from California to one of the most romantic countries on earth with three kids in tow: France.
Sabbatical is the reason I find myself here with my family. Two years in Toulouse France to experience another culture and see where life will take us. My husband, having worked for five full years at Stanford University without having “visited” another campus (something that is quite normal in his line of work, finally got sabbatical. He was all too happy to have a “rest” from the rigors of his daily life. I, having fallen in love with Paris the prior year, was surprised with a round trip ticket in the summer to have a two week break from the boys. I was also grateful for a break from the normal routine when I learned of our move to France. The fact that both of us, born with “gypsy blood”, could actually do something adventurous with our lives while still being able to feed our children, felt like opportunity of a lifetime.
From day one everything about moving to France has been out of our control. This has the fact ruling our move abroad. It is also the one that continues to test our true character. I was due to deliver my third child two months before our departure. Being left at the mercy of not knowing when I would deliver the baby, there was the possibility that my husband would have to go to Toulouse first. We would follow later after the baby had been born. After all, he had to start his job! The next issue came in the way of passports and visas. The new baby was not born yet so of course he could not get a passport or visa until the last minute! In the mean time we had to book tickets to France. We floated on a wing and a prayer and payed the money for the five of us to fly across the Atlantic. The biggest issue of all was my oldest son from a previous relationship. His father, who was upset we moved from Palo Alto from Berkeley, certainly would not want us to move to France.
In the end, though, the baby came early. We all got our visas the same day we went to the office to apply and I came to an agreement of a temporary change in custody with my eldest son. We were all able to leave sunny California together and brave the snowy winter of the North and South of France.
Yes, I said North and South. While we did stay together our first weekend in France, my husband went
on to the South to start work while the boys and I stayed on a “holiday” of sorts. Everyones’ spirits were very high and everything was fascinating and new. Oh, how I enjoyed myself. The cafes, the restaurants and the night life. Tres bien. Being a seasoned parent you would think that my eyes would have been wide open, so to speak, of how my experience would be with three little boys versus being alone. I think I must have been caught up in the whole move and the glamorous notion of France. I thought to myself I will take the boys out to the cafes, we will walk the streets of Paris at night and maybe even catch a little bit of theatre.
When my husband left, I realized that I was in Paradise with three little boys staying in a beautiful STUDIO apartment for three weeks ALONE!! Alone with the kids, I think I experienced a bit of culture shock with a dash of postpartum depression added for good measure. That is the only way to describe how a city that I loved one minute became a city that I loathed the next. If I heard one more person speak French to me or have one more person not understand the words coming out of my mouth, I was going to scream. If I smelled another cigarette or had to tackle another raining day alone with the boys, I was going to get a one way ticket back home to California.
The boys on the other hand were having a blast! My oldest son was so happy to be out of school for a short time, that we could have been in the middle of the desert and he would have still been happy. My middle son was still on a high from the plane and train rides that we had taken thus far. The baby, well, he was just happy to be nursing! I was really surprised to be honest. I thought it would be the other way
around. That I would have to encourage them into adapting into their new surroundings.
The boys dove right into the culture. Eating baguettes, getting around on foot or metro and saying Bonjour. These things were slowly becoming second nature for them. We celebrated Halloween in Paris. We found this
wonderful library called The American Library In Paris. They were handing out candies to the children and even let the boys make little pumpkins to take home with them. It is a Halloween that we will never forget! They were the only children dressed up that day and it was raining. I thought they would be a little disappointed but the were so happy.
That’s when it hit me. I do not need to have control over everything. This experience is about once in a life time moments. Whether it be being the only ones dressed up for Halloween or not being able to order a chicken properly in the native tongue. Or that your husband is five hours away from you in a new country and you feel so lonely that you just want to cry. Embrace it all. The uncomfortable times and the happy times. These are what we will take back with us when we leave and what will help to shape our memories of this extraordinary adventure. My children taught me my first lesson on this journey, it is one of many that we have learned together so far.
More to come on our adventure living abroad in France…