Friday, November 11, 2016

When politics resemble high school

To me this election wasn't about political parties.  (Trump used to identify himself as a Democrat.)  It surely wasn't about God (God doesn't decide elections or football games or exam results for that matter.)   It wasn't even so much about policy choices. 

This election was about something much deeper and yet superficial at the same time: high school.

I thought high school was over.  I thought we'd outgrown the petty remarks about people's appearance and social status or excluding those who are different.  But more than once during this election, I've felt like it was high school all over again. 

Early on it started to remind me of that film Election, where Reese Witherspoon is the goody-two-shoes who feels she is a shoe-in for class president and has to face off with the school jock.   Like Witherspoon's character, Clinton was the hard-working, intellectual type who wasn't necessarily well-liked by her fellow students.  She ate, breathed and lived the election. 

That's perhaps where the similarities end.  The football player in the movie, unlike Trump, could barely make his speech.  But people still voted for him to stick it to the girl and have a new face. 

The sophomoric humor displayed by Trump in this election, his admittedly "locker room talk" seemed to win certain people over.  Like the kids in the playground who laugh when the bully taunts their classmates.  If it did create an uneasiness in some of his supporters, they seemed to overlook it in their zeal for a new kid. 

Early on he made fun of fellow Republican candidate Cruz's wife's appearance, saying that his (Trump's) women were more beautiful.  He called Hillary "nasty."  Why not go back to kindergarten and say she's smelly, too and "liar, liar, pants on fire".  His attitude toward immigrants, and even Muslims who are already American citizens, certainly did not exude openness. 

These are soundbytes, I know.  But they echo back to the kind of high school banter and bullying that we all heard on the bus ride back home.  In gym class, and yes, the locker room.  And it's unbefitting for any presidential candidate. 

Hillary is anything but Miss Congeniality, and that was perhaps part of her downfall.  She's the nerdy girl that people are tired of seeing raise her hand with the answer all the time.  And Trump's the loose-talking guy who makes people laugh.  But the presidential election shouldn't be like high school. 

The things we might have laughed at in high school and that we still do in a Judd Apatow film, shouldn't be lauded or excused in a president-elect.  Maybe, like the characters in Apatow's film Knocked Up, Trump will step up to the plate, prove he is more than the class clown who gets the laughs.  Maybe.  

In the meantime, a lot of us are feeling like high school lessons were never learned.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Going, growing, gone!

"It can come around 8 or 8 and a half years old," the pediatrician told me after he had examined Juliette.  It took me a split-second to realize what he meant.  "It" was the p-word.  Puberty.  I wanted to shoot him a dirty look.  Not that.  Not yet.

Juliette was on the papered exam table, legs stretched out straight in front of her.  The curls that fall down her back are still blond even if the roots are getting darker.  I noticed a few particularly long toe nails on her bare feet and felt a bit ashamed.  She still doesn't like cutting her toe nails but will do it by herself when prompted.  There she was sitting in her aqua colored girls' briefs, straight up and down figure like nearly all the girls her age.  So why was the doctor bringing this up already?

In fact he didn't mean specifically for her, but he meant that today it is possible to have early cases.  Or at least one sign, such as some body hair, that comes a year or two before the real change.  (If snark is a sign, then we are in trouble.)

And though I chatted with him about the phenomenon (due to environmental factors, it seems) what I really wanted to do was put my hands over my ears and sing, la la la until he changed the subject. 

I had seen a few documentaries or TV news reports on it.  The images of a six-year old who had the beginning of cleavage haunted me for weeks after.  Or an eight-year old who had to have painful injections to suppress a very early case of development.  Is it from plastics that we heat?  For a while now I have tried to be extra careful not to heat things in plastic in the microwave, though occasionally I do it.  When she was a baby the bottles were BPA-free.  Was it pesticides in our water, in our food?  I don't always buy organic food or spring water, and we are often in Remi's greenhouse which certainly has residues of chemicals no matter how careful we are.  As if there weren't enough reasons for parents to stress and feel guilty, here was another one looming down on us. 

Maybe it is my own memories of growing up and the mixed emotions of adolescence that are giving me pause.  I know how tough it can be for girls especially, and I dread her having to go through those sometimes painful physical and emotional changes. 

That night I paid close attention to her way of talking and playing.  She still likes Playmobil, good!  She is obsessed with Chica Vampiro which features a Columbian teen turned most girls between 6 and 11 in France.  She often sighs and snarks...bad.  She still giggles like mad when I make her Ken doll do something silly- good.

Let's face it, she is a little girl but she won't stay little forever.  Maybe the big bad years of hormones and more intense eye-rolling are postponed for now, but I can't run and hide.  All I can do is hope and pray that lines of communication will stay open and that she will turn into a bright, kind, healthy adult.

In the meantime, I can thank the well-meaning doctor for reminding of one thing:  to hold on to those "little girl" moments we share now and cherish her for who she is today.  And hopefully I have a few good years to get used to the idea that she'll soon be obsessing over real boys instead of ones on tv.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Summer '16 in review, pop song version

This year I almost feel like I didn't have a summer.  Cue the violin music.  I moved, which took up so much time.  We only took a few days here and there to do a few day trips while my family came to visit.  I am not feeling sorry for myself.  Ok, a little.  It's just that, I feel like summer came and went without me enjoying it to the fullest.

Of course, we knew this summer would be a transitional one.  Moving is such a big event and it takes a lot out of you (still is!).  So, here's a little summer in review for you, brought to you by a few summer hits that kept me going through all the packing, unpacking and cleaning...
This is what you came for (Rihanna)
Yes, this is what WE came for.  A house.  It was our big summer project.  We'd been waiting for over three years to have a place of our own.  And so the summer of sacrifice was for this reward.  But there is always that "be careful what you wish for" backlash.  With a bigger house comes more to clean, suprise repairs, and, of course, a house payment.  Adjustments, transitions, deep breaths!
Making our mark on the new place. 
Cheap Thrills (Sia)
The opening lines of this one were practically my summer anthem.  "Come on, come on, turn the radio on."  I have never listened to the radio at home as much as I did this summer.  When I say home I also mean the old apartment, too.  Without my favorite pop radio station, I might have nearly gone crazy as we scrubbed the grease off my old kitchen floor.  And re-painted the walls.  And then painted the walls in our new place. When Juliette hears some of those pop songs now, she says it reminds her of when we cleaned.  And she sometimes even asks me to turn the channel.
Cleaning the apartment floor.  Mommy's little helper.

Cake by the Ocean (DNCE)
I don't believe I ate cake by the ocean this summer. But we did get away for a day trip with my mom in August to a local beach. And we had a picnic and I did eat an ice cream the North Sea.  It wouldn't be summer without toes in the sand!
Beach trip and ...check!

We don't talk anymore (Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez)
We don't talk anymore, except about the house... Typically, like most couples, Remi and I tend to have animated conversations about home decorating now, or the most urgent repairs we need to make given our small disposable income. And what I knew before is still true today: having a house doesn't make everything hunky-dory.  It just makes your life a little bit more comfortable, but also more complicated.
To buy or not to buy.  Ikea visits and decorating, oh my!
 So as fall wiggles its way in, I'll try to look back on the summer of '16 as a busy but essential one.  Full of memories and singing along with the radio and elbow grease and family visits.  And a disturbing number of Justin Bieber songs that I actually liked.

Friday, July 15, 2016


heart, hands, shadow, butterfly

I'm tired of this. I'm tired of waking up to messages from family and friends asking if I'm alright.  Again.  It's not that I don't appreciate the concern.  I do, and it touches me deeply.  It's the reason I get these messages that bothers me.  I'm tired of the unthinkable happening over and over.  I'm tired of waking up to a world where innocent people are killed.  I'm tired of a world where families go out to watch fireworks and come home with huge aching holes in their hearts.

I watched the fireworks, too, this year.  But not in Nice. Far from it.  In northern France on a night so brisk we wore jackets and I wore a scarf.  On July 13th, not the 14th.  This is perhaps the last year we'll watch fireworks from this location since we are moving.  Where we live now we literally just walk downstairs and have pretty darn good places in our parking lot. 

I'm not a big fireworks person.  Either they are too loud or make me hyperemotional. Big events do that to me.  But this year I vowed to enjoy it, since we are lucky to have this view one more time.  Juliette was antsy because the noise worried her.  Even before it started she was prancing around nervously and I had to tell her to settle down as a few odd cars were driving into the lot.  But she finally settled when the show began and I held her in my lap.  I even put my hands in her hoodie pockets to warm them and held her close. 

I wondered how many more fireworks she would let me hug her tightly like this.  When she got a bit heavy I passed her to Remi so he could enjoy some snuggle time, too.  I noticed he rocked her slightly and put his chin on the top of her head like I had.  The show was great, the music was fun and moving.  We had stars in our eyes, as the expression goes.  It was a lovely moment.

But last night what should have been a lovely moment for thousands turned into a nightmare I can't even imagine.  It turned into the worst night of their lives.  And I can't even bear to watch the news stories of grieving parents and family who lost their little ones or their mom and dad, cousin, neighbor on what was supposed to be a celebration. 

So I am tired, like I know you are, too, of waking up to more bad news.  To a knot in my stomach, to stinging eyes, trying to brace myself for another horrific event.  I am tired of holding back tears at work and having to pray yet again for so many victims.  I am tired of trying to understand why they hate us, or, if it is just a completely deranged individual, why he wanted to take down so many innocents with him.  I am tired of trying to pick up the pieces and keep going.  I am tired of evil winning too many battles.  And I have no answers. I'm just sick of it.

But as my friend Caroline said, somehow, life goes on.  As I watch the breeze whip my curtains around on a sunny day and the light hit my flowers, I will try to remember it's summer.  I will try to live and love and be careful.  And I will keep praying, even if I wonder if it does any good.  And I will hug my little girl as long as I can.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sense of place

My current 'hood
I really should be packing instead of blogging.  I have packed maybe a grand total of ten boxes (and that is probably being generous).  I probably have about 10,000 boxes to pack (give or take a thousand).  Not to mention just sorting through stuff before packing, like throwing away old clothes, shredding and recycling old bills I do not need to keep.  But somehow in my mind the work is compressed and could, potentially, be finished in a day.  Yeah, right. 

But this week I have been in that strange limbo world.  I am still living in my apartment but we have the keys to the new house.  We spent a good part of last weekend there doing some painting in Juliette's room.  And we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the lush garden and go back to the reality of packing. 

It is more than a physical limbo that I am in though.  This week was rather emotional having the last day of Juliette's school.  Somehow I found myself tearing up more than her.  We have both made good friends there, her with the kids, me with the parents.  And, as it always is, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.  Now I'm realizing how quaint and fairly well-run her  current school is.  It's not perfect, but the teachers have been good and kind.  Her new school will be much smaller with doubled classes (two grade levels in one class) and we hope she'll be happy there and that the quality of the education will be good.

Even though the move is just across town, to a suburb about ten minutes away, I find myself already getting nostalgic about the scenery in my current neighborhood.  I take a look at the white stone houses of downtown, the ornate details on doors and cobbled streets and realize these types of walks will be rarer now.  The proximity to the town's squares will no longer be on foot for me but now necessitate a bus or car ride.  I will have a slightly longer commute into work, Remi a shorter one. 

But we will have a garden, and that is a dream come true. And three bedrooms and much more storage to spread out all the junk we have accumulated during ten years (!) of marriage.  And the knowledge that our money is going to something that will one day truly belong to us (and not the bank). 

These are arguments that have very little weight with Juliette, who has been giving us a hard time since the reality of moving sunk in a few months ago.  Not seeing her friends on a nearly-daily basis as now is weighing on her.  One day she even started crying, which got me crying, too.  We try to tell her she will make friends easily, and that we had to do the same at certain times in our childhood. 

I can't really blame her.  When you're a child, your friends are your world.  School is your world.  And as my mom reminded me, she has only known this apartment in her life.  Things will be changing for all of us.  Hopefully in a few months we will all be on the same page about everything and each making friends and acquaintances in our new town.  But keeping up with the old ones, too.  Because moving doesn't have to mean forgetting. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When good friends go

A few years ago an expat friend went back to the US.  Her husband's work mission had ended.  I felt sad to see her go, and I wrote a post about it.  I talked about how there were the expats who stayed, like me, and those who were destined to go back to their home countries, 24/7 supermarkets and friendly customer service.  But I took the post down after a day because I felt bad putting my friends into categories like that.

But here I am today facing much the same situation.  A dear friend is going back to Canada with her family. I've known her four years and we've had great talks, sometimes commiserating, sometimes missing our home cultures, sometimes revelling in our new culture.  Our kids played together and spoke Frenglish.  We drank countless cups of tea together and enjoyed conversations about motherhood, travel and anything and everything.  But those face-to-face conversations will become few and far between now. I know going back is the best thing for her and her family.  But the selfish part of me wishes she could stay.

So I am not the first to say it, but being an expat means facing these moments.  It means goodbyes and hellos and Skype sessions and international air transit that isn't always as glamorous as it seems.  It means meeting new expats, welcoming them, getting to know them, and wishing them well if/when they go back. When you are my kind of expat, the kind who is here for the long-haul, you have to get used to it.  You know people will come into your lives and enrich you and then they will go on to continue their journey elsewhere.  And that you have to continue your own journey.

But as my other fellow expats have told me, the ones who are probably staying a good long while like me, we've (still) got each other.  And if there is one thing being an expat has taught me, it's that distance doesn't mean that friendships and relationships with family will dwindle and fade away.  You may have to work a little harder at it, be more creative, but good friends stay good no matter which time zone they are in.

So bon voyage to my expat friends!  I know your wanderlust will bring you back in our neck of the woods sooner than you think.  And as they say in French, "ce n'est qu'un au revoir!" (We're just saying, "see you later/soon"!)

I'd like to dedicate this post to all my friends, near and far, coming and going and staying. You are all dear to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Five ways Netflix can change your life

I know I am preaching to the choir here.  I know that most of you have had Netflix from the get-go, as well as Apple TV and throw in a little premium channels via AT&T or what-have-you.  But as you know I resisted jumping on the Netflix bandwagon for a while, mostly just in the interest of saving pennies.  Even streaming seemed out of bounds for me since our laptop is getting on in years.  And don't even think about dowloading, cause I think it would just make my computer explode (plus there are those pesky legal aspects).  Résultat: I am pretty behind on all movies and TV shows from the last decade and then some. 

But then there was that magical day my mom was visiting and we realized that you can watch Netflix on two screens.  And in minutes, we saw the happy red logo in that now familiar font appear on our very own TV!  We didn't know it then but our life was about to change in so many little and big ways.  You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.

1. And God said, let there be Netflix, and there was peace.  No sacrilege intended, but sometimes it seems like a God-given gift to be able to watch what you want, when you want.  Not to mention, there is actually less grumbling when it comes to choosing a program.  Instead of channel-surfing and then forgetting what seemed interesting, Remi and I look at each other after dinner and say, Breaking Bad or Misfits?  It is that simple.  Less fighting, less eye-rolling at his choice of yet another action film with "Ahh-nold" or Sly Stallone.  Or both in the same film.  Remi is probably glad he doesn't have to watch as many British period pieces as on those rare occasions I won the remote before. 

2. Family movie night just got easier. In the same way, when the weekend rolls around, our new habit is looking on Juliette's kid-friendly profile and choosing an animated film or a live-action family film.  Knowing it is on the family profile means it shouldn't have bad language or compromising situations that are tricky to explain to her.  Just don't stray from the family categories or you could wind up watching Butter with a seven-year old and having to explain why that stripper is dressed like that.

3. More interesting water cooler conversations.  Now I can finally talk about some of those shows out there everyone is buzzing about.  Except that, lo and behold, not everyone out there has seen them either.  But at least now I can potentially watch The Walking Dead or Orphan Black, one day, when I've caught up on my current series.

4. Examining gray areas, explaining the intricacies of character profiles.  Everyone's an armchair, or should I say, sofa psychiatrist now.  Spend a while binge-watching and you think you're inside the character's head.  It's a nice distraction from your own problems to wonder if it was really necessary for Walt to start making crystal meth.  Or to compare your parenting techniques to those on Modern Family and realize you're not doing so bad. 

5.  English-language version, it's good to have you back!  Ok, granted this is one expats will appreciate, but after watching a lot of dubbed movies and series, Netflix guarantees you the original language version for all those US and British shows.  No more hit and miss wondering if the French channel is offering that blockbuster in VO (version originale).  Music to my ears, finally.  And great for Juliette to work on her English vocab and Remi as well. 

So maybe Netflix isn't the most earth-shattering of products, but in its own way, it has made life a little easier and certainly more pleasant.  And I just don't think I could live without it now.  Don't even mention such a blasphemous thing in my house unless you want to get hit over the head with the remote!

PS: this post was not sponsored by Netflix, but they are welcome to pay me if they want.