Saturday, February 4, 2017

Peace, love and bla bla

red paint heart palm hands art "He who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart. He who is not a conservative at 40 has no head." 

Apparently it wasn't Churchill who said this.  But rather some French statesmen.

At any rate, it's something my mom quoted to my sister and I quite a lot in our youth.

I am now approaching 43 and find myself still closer to the liberals (#!+@ing liberals, for some of you out there) on most issues, at least in the US.  I am slightly more conservative in France where people already have quite a good social and health care system.

The thing is, there is a difference between saying you care about other people and really caring.

I say I care about the poor, the homeless, those discriminated against, the war refugees.  But what do I do on a daily basis besides occasionally give money to charities or someone on the street?

I often find myself skeptical, wary, of the alcoholic beggar, reasoning more with my head that he'll just spend my euro on alcohol.  So occasionally I have given food instead.

Or the woman who seems to be a gypsy at the intersection who has a ten-year old boy begging with her.  In cold or rain.  My skeptical head says she and her boy are being manipulated by some kind of mafia and my euros will go to the head of that mafia and not her and her child.

But when another gypsy approached me as I loaded groceries in my car and asked for money I gave her a banana and a pack of ultra-sterilized milk.  She immediately pointed to my old boom box in the trunk that I use for work and asked for it, too. I told her I "no" as I needed it for work.

I said to myself I would do something for the refugee camps set up in my region of France.  Instead of going on site (which frankly seemed a bit scary to me) I gave food and toiletry items to the Red Cross.

And when I think about it, I pray for those suffering and in need.

I'm not saying these things to get congratulations.  Frankly they are small gestures compared to those who drop everything and travel across the world to help refugees in Greece or humanitarian aid workers and doctors in Africa or the Middle East.  I have never quite been that involved.  I have never been so brave.

I am just wondering out loud and to you, how does one put their money where their mouth is when it comes to caring?

In our current world climate of holier-than-thou on both sides of the political spectrum, where is the path to, for lack of a better word, righteousness?  No, earnestness.  No, kindness.

Until I figure it out, I will try to be the kindness I seek.

With a smile to the old man who takes a long time crossing the street.  By letting the lady with just two items go in front of me at the supermarket.  By looking kindly at women wearing hijabs or striking up conversations with people from all backgrounds.  By teaching my daughter not to call other children "fat" or that she should play with all the kids in her class.

Kindness and caring are not weaknesses.  They should come naturally.  We all just need a little practice.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things you only see at Disneyland

Something happens to people when they cross the turnstile to enter a Disney theme park.  They give way to the silly, the childish wonder of it all. But they also keep their adult trappings and each nationality has its own way of reacting.  I did some serious people-watching this weekend at Disneyland Paris, so I know what I'm talking about!

Since we didn't really go far this past summer, we decided to have a get-away weekend at Disneyland Paris.  In January.  When there was snow forecast.  I know!  But in the end it turned out alright, despite the eternal GPS argument and "are you sure this is the right way?" drama.  And I snuck in some pics to illustrate it all.  So here we go on a "magical" top ten list of things you can only (ok, almost only) see at Disney parks.

1. Grown men and women wearing Mickey/Minnie ears. Sometimes it is in the form of a winter hat or headband. I saw entire groups of women wearing them, no matter their age.  I wonder if they ever wear them on other occasions.  No matter.  What happens in Disney, stays in Disney.
2. Princesses and superheroes! I lost count of all the girls in their Disney princess costumes or boys dressed as Buzz Light Year or Star Wars characters.  How great that you can be whoever you want to be in Disneyland. I was tempted to buy myself one, just for cleaning the house, but they didn't have my size.
3. Everything Mickey.  Juliette ate off a Mickey-shaped plate at dinner and had a Mickey-shaped pizza for lunch.  Our hotel had Micky-eared caps for the shampoo.  Plus Mickey-shaped bedsteads.

4. In Disneyland Paris you will see signs reminding you not to smoke. And you will see park visitors (I'm guessing mostly French!) blatantly disregarding said rule

5. Possibly the biggest Christmas tree outside of Rockefeller Center.  The French extend the festive season into January so we got to see the mega Disney tree in all its glory. 
6. And if it rains, you'll see entire families bring out stylish ponchos.  To be fair this is in just about any theme park!

7.  Serious Disney bling.  For the wealthier visitors, why not take home a glass version of a Disney castle.  For fifteen thousand euros, it's a steal!  Or a tiara for your little one.  
 8. Photo-ops with costumed characters galore! The Storm Troopers (yes, Star Wars is Disney now!) and of course cartoon characters were out in force.  And each time kids and adults alike lined up to take their pictures with them.  Not our Juju though since she is still afraid of people in costumes...
Stitch was quite popular, too.
9. One too many Disney balloons lost forever.  I can only imagine the tantrums when these babies got lost. 

10.  Big smiles.  So many smiles.  Especially on this little girl's face.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A winter's tale

The glitter and gold of Christmas is slipping away.  I try to find comfort in winter's beauty.

The black lace of bare branches.

Humble pansies that hunker down in the cold.

Dried hydrangea petals that cling to the branches like faded beauty queens.

Foggy walks.

And sunny walks in parkas.

Frosty leaves.

And fluffy white tufted fruits.

Wild rose hips to brighten naked branches.

 And so many reasons to have a nice cup of tea.

Happy holidays and happy winter to one and all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My wish

Upstairs there are shreiks and laughter as I write this.  My daughter is playing with her two friends. Of course there have been minor disputes, two against one, one against two.  Three's a crowd kind of thing.  But not one of their skirmishes has been anything serious.  Certainly nothing about their different skin colors or religious origins.

My daughter is half-French and half-American, blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Her little girl friend is Muslim, of Tunisian descent, with dark curly hair.  The little boy is half-Chinese and half-French.  The only time they have ever talked about religion was when Juliette and the girl both said that Santa Claus was in heaven.  There is some skepticism about Santa himself.  That is as close to theology as they have ever gotten.

I wish they could stay as blissfully ignorant about things as they are today.  At eight years old they are united by play, by the pursuit of fun.  They are not divided by their differences.  They don't even care. 

I have a wish this Christmas season.  And for beyond that time.  It's the same wish I've expressed after each terrorist attack.  And now I have that same wish after this election.  A wish for kindness, peace and understanding between cultures.  

There is ugly proof that hate is on the rise.  Towards anyone with darker skin, different origins, a head scarf, different sexual orientation.  And even if I am none of these things, I feel their pain.  And I don't want my America to be a hateful place.

I may not live there anymore, and of course, even in France there are racial issues and prejudice.  Extreme right parties are gaining in popularity over here.

But I continue to believe, perhaps a little naïvely, that peace and harmony are possible.  And that it begins in each simple interaction we have with our fellow human beings.  A warm smile, an extended hand, an honest conversation among people with different views and backgrounds.

I don't claim to be perfect.  I succumb to stereotypes sometimes like everyone else.  But I am hopeful when I see my little girl jump with glee to see her friends even if they aren't exactly like her.

Let us see again with our childish hearts the potential in our neighbors and strangers on the street.  Let us see past appearances and see inside to that which is essential.  

So like the song says. Let there be peace on earth.  Let it begin with me.  And you.

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.