Monday, January 31, 2011

You know the feeling...

...when one of those oldie but goodies comes on the radio? You turn it up a bit too loud. You start driving a bit too fast, not intentionally, but because your foot is tapping to the beat. You start singing along even if you don't have tinted windows and you don't care if you look like a fool to the drivers around you. Because you are in the moment. And it doesn't get any better than this.

I'm guessing you've all got a song or two that are on your "must turn up loud" lists (and I'd love to know which ones). For me lately it's that Chaka Khan song, I feel for you. Yeah, I know, you whippersnappers born after 1980 are groaning about now. But you just wait. One day a song from your childhood will come on and kids (and by this I mean those only ten years younger than you) will scoff. Let them scoff all they want. One man's musical trash is my musical get down and boogey treasure.

My husband and I are basically from the same generation (he's four years younger), but I've found that the cultural differences can create some chasms in our musical tastes. Some sappy French 80s song will attract his attention while I'm trying not to make too many snide comments. But for him it recalls fond memories driving around with his dad when he was 10 or so.

But a car ride with Remi can also be a real exercise in patience because he's a pathological channel turner (same with the TV). I don't even have enough time to say, "Wait, that's a great Sting song," and he's turning it, and turning it again. The worst is when he'll have been listening 20 seconds, enough for me to get into a song, then abruptly turn. His internal song-o-meter must have told him it wasn't worthy.

Luckily we can agree on a few bands or artists, like most songs by Muse, Rhianna, Lady Gaga, and, oops, not too many more. His taste tends more towards all things dancey and slightly techno. I can dig some of those types of music, but also appreciate folksy rock and stuff he considers country, like the Eagles (help me out here, foks, they aren't country, right?, which I do like sometimes too, by the way).

Then there are those funny moments when I'll hear some strange French remake of The House of New Orleans. And a debate ensues about which country wrote it first. I'm inclined to think that would be my country, but not always.

Here's a game if you've got some time to waste: Listen to these French songs and name the American song. Answers at the end of the post.




So, did you get those? 1. Black is black, apparently by a Spanish band. 2. Do wah diddy diddy. Written by a British group. 3. My Way. And this one was actually written by the French artist first.

And yes I'm a little ashamed at how much time I spent on this post, but it sure was fun!

Friday, January 28, 2011

This is the hard part

I'm an expat who happens to have a blog. But I feel I should be relatively honest about what an expat's life is. Sometimes I'll come across a student who'll tell me they used to live in the south of France (a twelve-hour drive from where they live now) and how it was just too far from their family. I know what you mean, I say. And then some.

No more is that true than when family members fall ill. That was our case last week when my grandma fell and had to go to the hospital for a little less than a week. I wished I could just hop in the car or take a short plane ride to see her. But for me, seeing my family involves a minimum of about a 16 or 17-hour day when you count the train ride before and the car ride after. So I feel a bit helpless whenever anything happens way over there. I can call and hear my grandma's cheery voice and assure myself she's doing a little better. I can send emails and, more importantly, receive them to get updates. But not much more.

Luckily she's home from the hospital now but still recovering from her fall. Now my family is taking turns taking care of her, and again I'm a bit left out in that aspect. I know they don't resent me for it, but I just wish things were easier.

The best I can do from way over here is send out a big get well to her and a big hug to all the family over there!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The buzz is gone, sort of

I thought this time would be different. That I could hold on to the positive attitude I'd come back with after three warm and cozy weeks with my family. And for a few days it seemed to be working. I didn't let things get to me like I used to, pre-vacation. I brushed off the snarky comments from so and so and didn't get peeved at that jerky driver. But the post-vacation buzz went away fast. Those five straight days of grey, rainy weather (so like this region) didn't help matters. I started wondering how I'd ever survived these winter mornings when the sun didn't peak out till 8:15. And those totally inconsiderate drivers. And the messy people in my apartment complex who are too lazy to just take their bulky trash to the recycling center instead of dirtying up our complex. Oh, well, I guess my attitude adjustment wasn't permament but my need for optimism (yes, it is in my vocabulary), has made me try to keep looking on the bright side.

Just as expat-pal Crystal mentioned, this is the period when vacation nostalgia starts kicking in. I put on a shirt we washed in the US and bury my face in the fabric because it smells like US dryer sheets! Or I look at my new Almay eye shadow kit and remember how I picked it out at Target. I proudly tell Juliette that such and such family member gave her that sweater. She's really gotten into it, to the point that she keeps saying "Janie (or other relative) gave you that" even if it's not true at all. Way to go for the big sentence structure though!

Her first day back at the sitter's she apparently jabbered away in English when Tata gave her a new babydoll (her Christmas present). Remi had to translate for the sitter as Juliette went on about "baby bib, baby bottle, baby diaper..." The second or third day I could see her adjusting back into her French mode. So it must be for her to interact with her little French friends and at school. But at home she's been speaking a lot of English.

And so the routine of work and grocery shopping and telling the cat not to eat the raw ground beef from the frying pan (wish that weren't a true story...) is starting again. But why don't we indulge in a little more nostalgia (I'm still in the two-week grace period, right?!) just one more time with a few videos from when we were on the other side...

Here she is singing and talking as we ride around my sister's town:

Did you catch her talking about the green light and that it means "go"?

And here she is sort of dancing (when she's not too self-conscious about the camera) to that so baby-friendly Akon song...

I promise the next post will be non-vacation related!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

End of trip round-up: various topics

And so we have to say goodbye...
As I said in my previous trip posts, we were just so lucky on our trip, including the fact that we got to spend three weeks stateside. It was enough time to catch up with old friends and renew family bonds. Enough to remember what it means to live in America (something I can almost forget living so far away in France). Bizarrely, I sometimes have a hard time believing I'm American when I've been in France for a long period of uninterrupted time (in this case a year and a half). But now I can proudly say where I'm from when students ask and it doesn't feel like a lie! And I can say with more authority, yes, that's the way they do it in the US. Though some things are still unfamiliar for me, believe it or not, like how much things cost or some administrative procedures.

Juliette's English improved a lot even just over the first few days. I think the fact that she was hearing English from so many sources reinforced what she'd learned from me. She started making longer phrases and picking up new words. I was pleased that she could interact easily with her American family. And of course she got to know them better and will remember them through future Skype sessions.

Travelling with a toddler
All the train and plane trips we took this time made me inevitably think about my travelling pre-baby. For you international moms who've not yet taken big trips, please enjoy the peace of an eight or nine-hour flight solo while you can. I, too, remember those flights when I had nothing to do but find good movies on the "on demand" video system, or read my book or make sure I had enough snacks to keep my tummy happy. Those days are so over. Now I don't even bring a book because Juliette is my "entertainment". I mean, keeping her whimpering or screaming down to a minimum is a full-time job and sometimes the hubby is a bit slow to react. Though I've gotten better at delegating. Like a doctor in the operating room I give him commands to get stuff out of the carry-ons. Bottle! Wipe! Toy bag! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

There were some periods of calm where she was content to just enjoy the ride, like when she held her precious bunny up and said "Up, up!" as we took off. Or when there was light turbulence she'd look over and say "wee" gleefully. Oh, the joy of not knowing how dangerous flying can be. And she did sleep a little, too, allowing me time to watch a movie (Easy A, funny) and some sitcoms. Thank God the A330 we flew back on had the personal entertainment systems. We put Toy Story 3 on Juliette's screen to distract her a bit.

We had hoped to get the CARES system delivered to us for this flight but there was a glitch with the French supplier before we left. It's a harness system that you can easily transport with you and keeps the toddler very secured in her seat. It's true that Juliette quickly discovered she could just open the airplane's safety belt. In the end she was ok "just" with the seat belt but in future flights if she's still in the weight category for it we might opt for it. Just to let you moms know, there's also a system for younger kids called Baby B'air. However it's for lap babies and is not allowed during take-off and landing (crucial times, I'd think). The literature is going towards buying babies seats for the utmost protection anyway and they recommend putting the baby in a car seat.

Somewhere between Birmingham and Atlanta, way up high!

Black suitcases and high drama

Though we escaped snow on the way out of France, our trip back was less uneventful. The flights themselves were great. Remi got our suitcases off the carousels and marveled at how they were all together. All three of them. Though we came over with two, Christmas time meant that our possessions multiplied. So we took one of our family's spare suitcases back in addition to our two others. We had plenty of time to go to the train station (connected to the airport), buy an Orangina and walk Juliette around while waiting for our train. Once the platform number appeared we started the process of taking our stuff down the escalators to wait by the tracks. And as I stood at the bottom of the escalator waiting for Remi to come with another load, I discovered in horror that the black one he'd picked up was not ours. Just like in every cheesy spy movie, he'd picked up the wrong one. As he got within earshot I yelled in what seemed a terrified whisper, "It's not our bag!" His shocked face mimicked what mine must have looked like a minute before.

Now the train would be coming in minutes and I told him we'd have to return the suitcase. Go up to the station and just explain it to them and then we'll get ours sent to us later, I suggested. In the huge underground hall of the platform it was noisy and we couldn't hear each other well. He said something about "must" and "train" and then went up with the stranger's suitcase. Meanwhile the high speed train pulled in and passengers started getting on. There I was with two suitcases, two carry-ons and a stroller that had just somehow gotten damaged and would no longer open. So I had to keep Juliette in my arms and she was crying having sensed her parents' stress. I asked a train agent if there was another train to our town as I knew this one was about to leave. He didn't know and as the alarm bell rang on the platform to signal imminent departure I just panicked. I didn't know what to do and kept turning my head from side to side hoping for an answer.

In the end we didn't take the train and I immediately second-guessed myself. Maybe Remi had wanted me to take it without him? But he had very little money on him. How could he have gotten back himself? I sat on the concrete floor with Juliette in my arms and started saying chokily "Mommy made a mistake." This made Juliette cry too and she repeated "Mommy 'take, Mommy mistake." After a few minutes I started thinking again and asked some passengers waiting for a train to watch my slew of suitcases while I went up with baby to the information desk. We modified our tickets to get on the next train at little charge. But Remi was still nowhere to be found. He finally called (using a stranger's iPhone) to tell me he needed the baggage claim number to get our suitcase. But I couldn't find any papers for it. At least I told him about the new train and that he could get his ticket at the information desk if he were too late.

I was relieved and happy to finally see his face coming down the escalator with our real suitcase. Phew! We got on the later train and made it to our town where his friend was waiting to pick us up. Now we can laugh about it (luckily), but it was stressful at the time. And we'll certainly pay more attention next time!