Sunday, June 28, 2020

Why I love Young Sheldon (and you should, too!)

I have a confession to make.  It might make some of you gasp or un-friend me on Facebook.  I have never been a big fan of (hiding head in shame...) The Big Bang Theory.  I know!  You can't believe it.  The concept is one I should dig, being something of a nerd myself.  But I could never get past the canned laughter and some of the running jokes have run their course for me.  (Feel free to argue with me in the comments!).  Of all the characters on that show, Sheldon is probably my favorite though.

But Young Sheldon is a whole different universe and one my family and I gladly dip into each week.  They have smartly ditched the canned laughter and traded university and apartment for a ranch-style house in East Texas.  The show has planted us firmly in the late 80s when Sheldon, just ten, has skipped enough grades to start high school.

There are just so many things to love about this show, so I'll make a list:

1. Each episode is well-written and sometimes downright poignant.  They pack a lot into their 22ish minutes without superfluous moments.  The episode where the mom is pregnant (SPOILER ALERT....) and then she miscarries, doesn't go into the maudlin but captures the pain of the parents with respect and tenderness. There is humor without being slapstick (what I don't like so much in their parent series, The Big Bang Theory).  They don't bang you over the head with their message.  It's kid-friendly too even if they touch on mature subjects sometimes.

2. It's a trip down the 80s nostalgia lane.  If you were a child of the 80s you will find at least one cultural reference you know.  The daughter Missy is into Cabbage Patch Dolls and Cyndi Lauper.  They talk about Alf and Carl Sagan.  The episode where the dad couldn't figure out how to turn on the washer (which is practically the same 80s type my mom still has!) just tickled me to death ("It's a button you PULL!").  And frankly it's refreshing to go back into a world where cell phones and even cordless phones didn't exist. 

3. The characters are flawed but loveable. It took me a while to warm up to the older son's character on the show but as the series goes on I start to understand him more- the kid who isn't really made for school but loves mechanics and girls.  The dad could literally pass for any middle-aged good ole boy but he is deeper than that and loves and supports his family fiercely.

The mom is golden with her soft Texas accent and her eternal struggle to do good for her family and be a good Baptist (she made a deal with God when her daughter almost died at birth).  Despite her 80s hairstyle and wardrobe she could easily be a modern mom, juggling work and home. 

Sheldon and his sister Missy are spitfires in totally different ways.  The star of the show, Sheldon, is smarter than his teachers but often clueless about everyday life.  Missy is Southern sassy and doesn't let her twin brother's attention-hogging intelligence get to her.

And then there is Mee-Maw, probably our favorite (because Juliette loves this show, too!).  Annie Potts is perfect as the I-don't-give-a-damn young widowed grandma.  She lives across the street from Sheldon's family and is the kind of grandmother who spoils the kids silly and pops open a beer and goes bowling with her buddies.  My great-grandmother was also known as Mee-Maw. 

5. But what I think I love the most is that it takes place in the South.  I have never had a strong Southern accent but when I watch this show, it's like mine starts coming back with a vengeance!  I don't know if all the actors are indeed Southern but they do a damn fine job with their accents.  I have family in Eastern/Middle Texas so I know this area.  One evening Juliette wanted to pretend we were Sheldon't family at dinner and she was amazed at how much I could channel his mom's accent! Well, I am from the South, I told her proudly!

So if you haven't checked out this gem of a sitcom, what are you waiting for?  It's funny, well-scripted and an ode to the south that for once doesn't paint us as hicks and rednecks but just people who have an accent (and love football). 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The one word that means so much

I was talking with a couple my husband knows who both worked non-stop in their large supermarket during the lockdown period.  The wife is a cashier and had to wear gloves and a mask and visor, sitting behind her plexiglas shield.  I asked her if it was hard facing the virus (potentially) and working while others stayed at home.  She replied right away.  "No.  Because I had a reason to get up every day."

I almost took it as a rebuke but knew she didn't mean it that way.  Instead I agreed sincerely, because I was lucky to have realized quite quickly during this lockdown what I needed to get out of bed every morning.  One word that can change everything in your day.  In your life.  Motivation.

When you are motivated, or more precisely, when you have a goal each day, waking up is the first step on your fabulous journey.  It can be a goal in your house like organizing that problem corner in the living room or cleaning the windows, but what worked best for me were creative goals.

After a week or so of sleeping late-ish (and when I had my small bout with the virus I did rest more), I started, wait for it... setting my alarm!  I made myself get up at least by 8 and more often 7:30 before the kids were up.  (Ok, granted, that is not super early by some people's standards!) 

At first it was out of necessity.  The intranet site for downloading homework for my daughter was saturated at other times of the day.  So I connected early and printed out her homework. But after that I kept the habit and used that time to do something I wanted to do or at least something creative.

I started making quizzes for my company's Facebook page to hopefully help attract customers in these slow times.  I wrote a blog post.  I edited a few videos on my iPhone for the library or friends.  I started my sillier than silly Glee parody videos.

And now I vary the activities.  Some days I water the plants before it gets too hot or I garden or weed in the front yard.  Or I watch one of my shows on Netflix that the kids don't like as much (Brooklyn 9-9) or that I shouldn't watch with them around (Outlander).

At other parts of the day we try to keep busy, too, while still allowing some chill time!  The kids and I planted climbing flower seeds and beans around our new bamboo tee-pee.  We planted seeds in toilet paper roll containers (Five Minute Crafts that Juliette watched!) to get them started before transplanting.  Juliette made a killer brownie recipe we had seen on TV.

Some days I may try a new recipe myself or make homemade hamburger buns for dinner.  I don't always do each of these things every day.  And if I get my little one to nap, I may nap too.  I help my big girl with her homework.  I try to read some myself when time allows.  But I certainly can't say I have been bored during lockdown and now post-lockdown.

I don't have time between household tasks, trying to do something creative, occasional recipes, gardening, constant toddler surveillance and de facto tutor to my middle schooler.  And honestly despite not being able to get out as much (especially during official lockdown), I have to say I have enjoyed this opportunity to explore hobbies I didn't have much time for before.  Most days I wake up pumped to get started on a new project or just get the house more liveable (endless, fruitless task, but I persist!).

Not every day is perfect and productive.  But I am happy to be drinking my first cup of café au lait and listen to the birds as I type on my computer this morning.  And that's a start!

Tell me what motivates you these days! What are the tasks you still don't want to do?!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

When all this is over

"When all this is over" is a phrase I have heard myself saying these past six weeks of lockdown.  I say it to my daughter when she says she needs more art supplies from our favorite Dollar Tree equivalent store called Action.  I say it when I complain about the peeling paint on my garden table set and that I'd like a new set.  I say it about inviting the new neighbors or old friends for a barbecue.  I say it to my father-in-law about going to the coolest zoo ever (in my opinion) in Belgium, Pari Daiza, later this summer.  

Sometimes I say it in a dreamy way.  When all this is over we'll be able to go to the supermarket and take our time and not worry about wiping down our carts (ok, that probably won't be for a year at least- we'll still be wiping down carts for months to come!).  Or, when all this is over I will invite my friends for tea again.  

At other times I am almost apprehensive about getting back to my regular life.  When all this is truly over I will be back to a fairly intense job and travelling on the road during the day plus all the household and mothering duties.  Do I even remember how to manage it all?

I won't lie to you that when I learned the news in mid-March that school was suspended and daycares were closed, I was a little pumped.  Parents like me who had no alternatives could stay home and receive a stipend from the government, That later got transformed into furlough pay when my company closed temporarily.

This down-time would be a little respite from waking at six on some days, making sure my 11-year old was up by 6:50 and operational for when her schoolmate came by at 7:45 for their walk to school. Some days, depending on my schedule, I dropped Alex off at daycare at 7:30.  Then I drove around all over the place for my English classes, sometimes having a puny lunch in my car or just an apple, then picked Alex up at 4:45 on a good day or 6:20 on a long day.  Going to sleep just to start over again the next day.

When I woke on weekday mornings, I longed immediately for the weekend when I could sleep till 8 (if my husband didn't kindly remind me that I shouldn't sleep all day).  In the evenings as I rushed around making dinner and trying to spend a wee bit of quality time with the kids, I thought about Saturday and Sunday around the corner when we could take our time.

I used to joke that a month of Sundays (at least the lazing around the house type) would be dreamy.  Be careful what you wish for.  Though I am generally doing ok with this lockdown life, there are times it is very limiting and tensions rise at home.  The motivation to complete projects and do spring cleaning comes and goes.  I think watching two kids all day certainly limits the amount of things I can do!

So when all this is over will we go back to our normal lives as before? Will we be glad to be back at work and more active again? Will we no longer take for granted a quick jaunt to Ikea or a hike in the local park (closed now in France)?  Will we  buy lots of things to make up for lost time? Or will we be more careful with our purchases? Will we hug our friends or just do air kisses for a while? Will we value our friends and family differently?

The way things look in France, we won't go back to a truly normal schedule till September.  Until then I suppose I will take it one day at a time and remember what the actress Terri Garr's mother used to have printed on a pin for her shirt: EGBOK.  Everything's gonna be OK. Or as they say in Italy, a country that knows the stakes in this situation: andrà tutto bene.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Silent spring

Silent as our cars stay parked in the driveway.  As the children stay home instead of playing in the parks or schoolyards.  Silent for those who have left us too early.  From this virus.  From cancer.  Silent as we contemplate life after this.

She chose a beautiful day to go.  In fact she went in her sleep in the wee hours of the morning, the call from his distraught father waking my husband and me up.  I managed to go back to sleep a little anyway and woke around 7:00.  As I went downstairs I could see from the hazy sky that it would be another gorgeous blue-sky day.  Unseasonably warm for April.

Even her funeral was more silent than usual.  Only a few family members came as the others were afraid of the virus and we were limited to 20 people maximum, including the pall bearers.

No church service, only the flowers my husband and I could find in his greenhouse.  A few arrangements were delivered from customers. But it wasn't what my husband wanted to offer her.

I have to believe she would understand though.  Where she is now there are millions of flowers she never needs to prune or water or repot.  Unless she wants to.  Now she is in a place with no cancer.

Now we continue.  Confinement is tough. The walls seem to close in on us.  Even the garden seems smaller everyday as I do my little inspection of the new growth.  We are edgy, grumpy at times.  We start to lack motivation for all those projects we thought we'd get to.

But for those who are still working, like my husband, it's tough too.  Feeling as if you are the only one still out there while the others rest at home.

"Tu peux pas savoir", my father-in-law kept saying this week as he dealt with the pain of losing his wife.  "You can't know what it's like."  He is right.  I can't know what it's like to lose someone you knew for 46 years (my whole life).  And unless you have lived in lockdown before or worked non-stop amidst this virus, you can't know either.

We helped my husband out some this week, braving the lockdown rules, being stopped once by the gendarmes and having to show our "déclaration sur honneur" that we printed from the Internet.  I know we are doing the right thing though chasing Alex in the greenhouse while my eleven-year old alternately pouts or sighs (though she has come around and is a great helper!) has been something of a nightmare. At least we have helped a little.

And this week they were allowed to truly open to the public to sell their plants.  We have been blessed with amazing weather during this lockdown and people have the time to garden.  So the clients have been streaming in, some with masks and gloves, some blissfully uncareful even shaking hands with my husband.  Some give their condolences about my mother-in-law who they knew from the cash register.

As Alex scoots around on his little tractor and we put the radio on to repot baby plants, spring has become less silent.  We hear the chatter of customers, laughs about what a strange world we are living in.

We hear birds more clearly too as there is less traffic to drown out their songs.  We hear conversations with elderly neighbors in the middle of the day that normally wouldn't take place.  We hear voices of friends on the phone that we would otherwise text or wait for church or tea time to see.

And for the first time in a while, we hear hope.  That there will be an "after" and that things will get better.  Maybe a little silence did us some good.  If only to appreciate that melody of sounds even more.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Light and fluffy

I remember light and fluffy.  I remember strolling in the mall and window shopping or even buying some trinket I didn't need.

I remember running by the store on the way to pick up my daughter from scouts, killing time and buying some nice dark chocolate (for me) and a bottle of white wine for dinner.

I remember saying, geez, too bad it's raining, but we could still go to the museum in town or just take our umbrellas and walk the squares anyway.

Since France has been under lockdown (officially since noon on March 17th) I can't just do those things on a whim.  All but non-essential businesses (grocery stores, pharmacies) are closed.  And you are encouraged to only go to them when you really REALLY need something.  I saw a gendarme on TV blessing a woman out for buying a cart full of six Coca Cola bottles and what looked like deli meat.  He said it wasn't essential and she needed her permission slip to leave her house.  And that she would get a stomachache.

I remember when my WhatsApp conversations went something like this:

Me: Hey, how are you guys today?
Mom/my sister/my friends: Ok, just going grocery shopping and working.
Me: Sounds good.  Off to pick up Alex and think of what to make for dinner.  Catch you later.

Now they're more like this:
Me: How are you feeling? No fever?
Mom/my sister/my friends: Ok, just going stir crazy in my house. No fever though.
Me: Yeah, same here.  Gotta find enough ingredients to make a healthy dinner.  More later.

How many of you are looking deep in your cupboards now, getting super inventive and not wasting a morsel so you can avoid going back to the store?  Facebook is full of recipes of things you can make with what you probably still have on hand.

Still I remember light and fluffy.  Making cakes just because I wanted to eat something warm and sweet. Now I scrupulously count my eggs and see how much butter I have because I also need those for other meal options.  But I still make cakes when I can ;)

But in our new normal, let's call it slow and steady, it's the little things that stand out more.  I catch the way the sun looks at different times around my house.

I know the best time for us to go in the garden and get some of that precious sun (after lunch).

I see the bulbs coming out of the ground (I had time to plant some more) and how the color is slowly coming into the buds.

I see that my white steps in the stairwell shine now (cause I finally cleaned them).

I see that my little one really does get sleepy around 2:30 and that even if he doesn't go willingly, he will settle down eventually.

I see that my daughter loves crafts and organizing (already knew that) and that she loves it when I do art with her.  And she needs mommy time even though her brother is so demanding.

I see that the cat really doesn't do anything all day except go in and out and sleep on her radiator perch.

Funny how something so little, microscopic in fact, like this virus, can stop a whole world and make me see the little things.  The little things that count.

So one day light and fluffy will come back and we will savor it that much more.  For now slow and steady is an unexpected change of pace that we must accept.  With grace and kindness to others and ourselves.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The war of words

« Lapin. »

« Bunny. »

« No, lapin. »

This is a conversation in my back seat.  Alex, a little over two years old, is surfing two languages.  His sister, 11, is trying to get him to say “bunny” which he actually knew how to say first and pronounces with an American slurring of the n’s- buhh-ny!  Big sis has already gone through the same stages of language learning but doesn’t remember when she too had to juggle with two words for everything.

I am not the only mom dealing with two languages at home and the trials and troubles and funny moments it brings.  There are beaucoup articles about this now, one very poignant and real that just came out recently about a Canadian mom with Polish origins living in London trying to teach her young son Polish.  Each time I find such an article, I eat up every word.  Not only is it a reflection of my own daily “struggle” but as a self-proclaimed lover of languages, it is fascinating.

You can say all you want about how bilingual folks may avoid dementia in later life.  Or that we may be able to problem solve or see things differently by having two languages to do it in.  But what interests me the most lately is the feeling behind those words- the cultural and emotional load in them. 

Just as the author of that article mentioned, each word “conquered” in the minority language (in our house, English) seems like a victory for me.  I can’t help but smiling more and encouraging more when my kids come up with English words and expressions.  And maybe it’s also because those new words come through special situations, like during our vacation back home, when my family comes to visit, or reading English books at bedtime. 

Which brings us back to the famous “buhh-ny”.  This one started with an adorably illustrated book called Happy Easter Bunny.  My aunt sent it to Juliette when she was younger and now I read it to Alex and say enthusiastically at the end, “it’s bunny!” when we discover he has been hiding Easter eggs for his mouse friend.  Alex imitates the tone when he says it in other situations, and yes, that tickles me. 

And though I know very well my kids must learn French to survive in this country, would you believe me if I almost feel down when I hear how many French words my little one is saying?!  He goes to daycare with twenty other kids and hears French words all day from the nursery workers.  It’s only natural he is learning all the animals in French and nursery rhymes in that language too.  It’s illogical for me to be jealous but that’s sort of the feeling.  So when he says “cochon” for pig I am happy he has learned a new word.  I say, “yes, cochon.  And “pig” in English.” 

That is how a lot of my conversations go in this house.  I repeat what my kids say in French and then say it in English.  Or in Juliette’s case, she often tells me about her day in French and I ask her follow-up questions in English. 

Perhaps that explains this recent exchange with Alex, growing up in a bilingual house.  The other night at dinner as we were watching the news, he started saying “mion” and I couldn’t figure out what he meant.  He repeated with the missing first syllable to say “camion” then repeated in English for me, “truck” (or “tuck” in his case, hey, he’s getting there).  Was he figuring out that when someone doesn’t understand the word one way, he needs to switch to the other? It’s a lot for a toddler to handle, but he is managing, just as his sister did. 

I hope Alex will learn to love both his languages like she does, too.  At 11 she can do a passable British or Australian accent though when she speaks she is decidedly American because of me.  And I felt like doing a dance when she started using  the expression “turns out” repeatedly when describing some drama that happened at school.  Thanks to watching Glee she has picked up on some typical expressions (oh, and a few not so great ones like “to make out”). 

All in all this process takes time but seeing how well my first child managed, I shouldn’t worry too much about little Alex.  We’ll get there, one word at a time.  And we’ll try to enjoy the ride or should I say “voyage”. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Jet lag of the heart

If you’ve ever crossed a few time zones you know what jet lag feels like.  That sensation that it should be earlier or later than it is.  That the light sure seems odd for this time of day.  Go from the US to Europe (or vice versa) and your stomach will wake you at 4 a.m.  Or when you get up from a nap you can’t recognize your own room as it’s been three weeks since you slept there.  It messes with your body and mind and makes you beg for more sleep or a cure for insomnia, as the case may be.

But to add a bit of fun to the mix, when you have returned from visiting family, you get a case of jet lag of the heart, as well.  Air travel brought you home in 8 hours flat but your brain is still swimming in the home vibes.  You think you can just turn around and tell your mom or aunt something.  You think you can just see your sister next weekend instead of next year. 

This second kind of jet lag is more insidious.  Once the physical stress of skipping 7 time zones has left you, the sight of a Target bag or a jingle in your head from an ad back home can make your eyes smart again.  More than nostalgia for home, this sort of soul ache reminds me it will be a while before I am back home.

Leaving one’s family and country and culture behind all in one go is hard on a human body and soul.  I should be a pro at it now, after 17 years.  And if I cry less with time and experience, now my daughter cries more.  She is starting to understand just how far away America is.  She knows that two years between visits is a very long time (even if we are lucky to get some visits our way in between). 

To see her break down in tears a few days after our return is hard for me to watch.  I do my best to console her and extol the virtues of FaceTime and phone calls (trying to convince myself at the same time).  And when she asks me why I didn’t just stay in America and marry someone there, I have to remind her that I wouldn’t have *her* if that were the case.  And I wouldn’t have her brother.   Who by the way doesn’t seem to show too many signs of this” love lag”, though he may well be as sensitive as his sister and me.  Time will tell.

And as I must do every time, I try to get back into my routine, remember the things I *do* enjoy about being in France.   I putter in my garden and try to plan cozy moments with the bi-cultural little family that is mine here.  And I hope (in vain) that one day they will come up with a cure for this jet lag of the heart.