Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year, New You...nah!

I'm sitting here watching the sky turn dimmer on a winter evening.  It's 5.40ish and luckily the days are getting longer.  But they are still short enough to make me want to hunker down when it gets dark.  Christmas and the warmth of the festivities is over and we have to turn our thoughts to the new year ahead. 

But do we really have to? 

It's so predictable.  My new year phobia.

As predictable as all the weight loss and gym membership ads after Christmas.
As predictable as all those year-in-review montages.
As predictable as white sales in January.
As predictable as...all the predictions experts and astrologers are going to make about 2016!

Because another year means stock taking and measuring up.  It means comparing where I was last year to this year.  And generally realizing I haven't fulfilled all my goals/dreams/wanderlusts... Hence my new year phobia.

But remember last year I made a "to do" list?  I thought it would be more doable, after all.  Let's see how I did...

Last year's list included:
Getting published: still not there yet but I did submit two short essays to Chicken Soup for the Soul and sent one pitch to an online publication.  Nothing back, but I will keep trying.  I guess I mostly write for me.  I don't get many pageviews, but your comments (here or on FB) really encourage me.  So I'll keep writing, because it's part of who I am.

Visit Barcelona: Not yet, but I did buy a book about it!  And talked to my husband about it, who didn't pooh-pooh the idea.  Still dreaming about that one.

Find physical activity: I have done a few (ok, just three) classes at the fitness association that meets in my neighborhood.  For 70€ a year, I don't feel bad if I don't go every week.  Plus, I did learn how exotic I was! 

Try new recipes: I did make a chocolate mousse charlotte.  And recently brioche, using my bread maker to mix the dough.  This is one of the easier ones to fulfill because I do love sweets and especially eating them! 

So for this new and shiny year ahead, I hope to keep working on those goals.  I would also add that I want to learn to knit!  I have a few people in my entourage who know how to do it and have said they can teach me.  Heaven help them.  I bought the yarn and needles, so I am ready.

And I hope to find more balance in my life.  It's not that I work non-stop, but I need to find the right mix of work and play and take care of myself.  And not feel guilty about doing nothing.  Because doing nothing is sometimes the best way to realize what you need. 

So, deep breaths for 2016, which I hope will be a kinder and gentler one for this planet and its people!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Doing vs. Being in the holiday season

I always have this holiday vision.  Not of sugarplums dancing in my head.  Wouldn't know a sugarplum if it rang my door anyway.  Rather I dream of having a cutesy gingerbread house and perfectly decorated sugar cookies.  And every year I fall far short of my expectations.  This year is no exception.

There I was searching for the perfect gingerbread house template online.  Something simple and small.  I found a basic one but was afraid I didn't have enough dough for the dimensions.  So I cut down the paper templates a bit and reduced the slope of the roof.  I was calling up old middle school geometry wisdom and modeling my paper cut-outs for size. 

Then I rolled out the dough after letting J have a go at it first.  I cut out my templates rather approximately and removed some dough for windows and doors, too.  Then it was in the oven for 10 minutes followed by cooling on a plate.

Meanwhile J had found my iPad and was "liking" things on my Facebook account without me knowing.  Perhaps even liking my own posts and passing me off as a narcissist.  That's when I realized I had been going about this all wrong.  Plus she told me the Charley Brown Christmas music I had put on was "sad."  And though I normally love the 60s jazz myself, I had to admit it was perhaps not always so joyous for today's seven-year olds.  

So since I had my main pieces cut, I let J roll out and cut cookies to her heart's content with the remaining dough.  She's come a long way since her three-year old self.  At seven she proclaimed herself an "artist" as she expertly cut out her snowflakes and angels.  And I switched iTunes to my Bollywood's greatest hits album.  We were improvising Bollywood dances while the cookies cooked.

Once the house pieces had cooled, I used my royal icing to start assembling the gingerbread house.  Two side pieces, stable.  But all four walls and the roof, err, not happening.  Total cave in. 

I tried saving the structure, reconstructing, bracing.  But my front piece with the door now had a crack and J was seriously doubting my architectural skills.  I had to laugh.  I started eating one part of the roof and just used the remaining piece for a flat roof.  At least it tasted good.

But this is just another example of me aiming high and falling low.  And often ignoring the most important thing: spending time with my daughter and having fun.  We did end up having fun but not before my perfectionist tendancies nearly made me scrap the whole thing.

It's the old battle between doing and being.  I get so absorbed in "to do" lists and think that everything will be great when that list is done.  And I often forget to have fun while "doing."  In the holiday season we seem to have so many more things to "do".  Or "make."   

Make pastries for the school Christmas market, for colleagues or students.  Do the Christmas shopping, of course. Make Christmas meals and organize visits.  Do the decorating of the house just so.  Do the caroling or church events.  And while all of these things can bring joy and fulfillment, I mustn't forget what I need to "be" this season.

I need to Be Generous.  Not just by buying presents.  Anyone with a credit card can do that.  I need to be generous in my words, in my acts, more forgiving of my husband, child and myself.  Be generous to those outside my inner circle: charities, the homeless.

I need to Be Cozy.  With all that "doing" and "making" I forget that some couch time and holiday movies or reading are also great soul food.  Relaxing with my family, That's more important than a perfect house, and heaven knows I'll never get that anyway.

I need to Be Present.  If I keep telling my little girl, just a minute, hold on a sec, I'm not being with her and enjoying the moment.  It's such a balancing act being a mom anyway, but I need to just be there for her and put aside some of the things on my list.

And that goes for me, too. I need to Be Here Now and enjoy the season instead of waiting for everything to be perfect to feel contentment.

So my gingerbread house wasn't perfect this year.  But after a day the royal icing had cemented the structure well.  We kept decorating together the next day (to Echosmith on youtube, this time).  I put the frosting on the candies and she placed them.  I added a chimney. 

It's an improvement on my gingerbread ghetto a few years ago.  Maybe an Alabama gingerbread barn that is in need of repair.  There are chinks where the light comes through this house.  But it's not too bad and I hope it has made some nice holiday memories for Juliette.  And in a week we can look forward to eating it while we're being cozy and chilling.

To be honest, I will still keep my "to do" list and hopefully get some of the things actually done on it.  But I will also keep in mind my "to be" list and try to maintain that precious balance.

So friends and family, Be Kind to yourself and others this holiday season and I'll try to do the same!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why the French are gonna be alright

Family and friends have been asking me how things are in France.  We are now going on three weeks since my adopted country got shaken by the worst acts of terrorism most of the French have seen in their lifetimes.  If the horrific images of November 13th are starting to grow distant, they are still in the back of our minds.  If the hunt for the terrorists isn't the top story on the news, we keep wondering if something else will happen soon.

One of my students asked me if it was perhaps easier for me to deal with since, as an American, I'd already experienced 9/11.  As we were sitting there five days after what people were already calling the French 9/11, I had to say, no.  It doesn't make it any easier, I said, as I wiped away the beginning of a tear.  And besides, as France is also my home now, it was like they were attacking my second homeland.

After the rawness started fading more into resolution that life in France had changed, I noticed something else starting to happen.  Resistance.  "The danger is eveywhere, so the danger is nowhere," an older stage actor said on the news as he encouraged people to keep going to the theatre.  And not more than a week after, I saw Parisian ladies drinking mojitos on TV and proudly  saying they were going out anyway.

That's when I realized, the French are gonna be alright.  And it's for the very reasons they are sometimes mocked around the world.  But now those "faults" have become their strengths.

It's because they're proud and stubborn.  How many times have I bemoaned these very things on my blog in some gentle French-bashing?  Like how they love to brag about how their country and food are so great, for example.  But now that pride will serve them well as they remember how much they love their country.

And as they keep going to concerts, even if they are afraid and check out the exit doors before, as one TV report showed, they are also one of the most hard-headed nations I've ever seen!  Just look how many train strikes these people can pull off in a year!  Never try to win an argument with a Frenchman.

It's because they love life.  Joie de vivre.  It's a French expression that has even crept into English.  As one journalist mentioned after the attack, it seemed that's what the terrorists were targeting when they so cowardly shot people on terrace cafés.  But you can't kill the spirit of a people who love life this much, who can go into ecstasy over the subtelties of cheese and wine and pastries.  I know, 'cause I teach French people, and their capacity to talk about the little things in life is endless.  And in these dark days after the attacks, that will help them get through things.

It's because they are more like Americans than they realize!  For all the jokes our two nations may trade across the ocean, we are actually eerily similar.  After the attacks, there were more French flags put proudly on display.  The president even encouraged people to hang them from their windows two Fridays ago during the national "hommage."   The flag that used to be reserved for sporting events and Bastille Day has come out of the closet.  The French are just as patriotic as we are, just in their own way.

So even though I am still worried about the threats out there, I know the French are strong.  Strong-willed, too.  It takes one to know one.  And just like America after our 9/11, they will keep on going.  Keep on living and laughing and fighting.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fakin' it in a tweetin' world

Tweet! Get it?!
Yes, I am one of those people who writes silly hashtags on my Facebook posts from time to time.  Another attempt to be witty and get a like or a virtual chuckle.  I really should consult a professional about this perpetual need for approval. 

But I was wondering what happens to all those fake hashtags I add as an afterthought to some posts. So I signed up with Twitter. For the sole purpose of investigating my hashtags.

This is monumental if you know that I swore I would never have a Twitter account.  Something about not wasting all my time on the Internet.  Yeah, that one worked out well.  And my mom actually had a Twitter account before me.  I know!

So there I am, eager to see my hashtags in the Twittersphere and...silence.  Virtual crickets chirping. 

A newsflash that will come as a surprise to no one except me- if you don't link Facebook and Twitter and make your posts public, your hashtag will fall silently in that deep forest that is in the Internet.

But I wouldn't let it go.  I was still curious if other people had used some of my "fake" hashtags.  So I searched for some of my more recent ones like: #toomanyfairytales or #shesgotapoint and #childlogic. And, bingo, a string of unrelated posts (not mine) of people saying these very same things.  Different situations but the same hashtag. 

And I felt an immediate kinship with these people.  Ok, we're not going out for coffee or anything, but I got a kick out of the fact that there are other people who were having some funny or frustrating moment in their lives and categorized it with the same feeling or phrase as me. 

And I got to thinking that Twitter, with its limited number of characters, is a bit like our modern day haiku.  And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Forcing us to condense ideas in a small space, adding a tag to label that moment.  To capture the essence.

So the take-home message is, there is no such thing as a fake hashtag.  Because we are the authors of the Internet and we are making this up as we go along. 

Recently there have been some funny and powerful uses of hashtags.  No doubt you've heard of the Muslim backlash against ISIS or Al Qaeda with #notinmyname. But there was also a slew of humorous cat tweets in the  #Brusselslockdown situation last weekend where Belgians posted cat pics instead of giving away information on police or military searches. 

Not to mention #MuslimID recently from Muslims posting their military, hospital or police badges in response to Donal Trump's suggestion that all Muslims have an ID or closer surveillance.  Or the husband who honored his deceased wife with #100lovenotes and inspired others to express their feelings to their loved ones.

Frankly, I love the idea that one person can come up with an idea and it can set fire to the Internet and spread a message so quickly.  So with all the ugliness in this world and all the futile stuff we can find on the Net, sometimes a little tag can go along way.  Will Twitter and hashtags last forever? #onlytimewilltell

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Message from a war zone

I woke up this morning because my husband was blowing his nose rather loudly.

My daughter came in shortly after and woke us up again (though we were already up).  We had a family cuddle and I gave her Eskimo and butterfly kisses. 

Then she opened the living room door letting the cat come and "wake us up" in his turn. 

I woke up to rain on a chillier autumn day than we have had recently. 

I woke up to three iMessages from my mom.  Asking me if I'd seen the news, was I ok. 

I woke up to the bad news that most of the rest of the world already knew.

I woke up to three messages on Facebook and several emails from concerned friends and family.

I woke up in a war zone of sorts.  I woke up to a France more terrorized than ever.  To a Paris that was mourning its dead and wondering what would happen next.

If my my small city two hours from Paris seemed spared this time, it is still all a little too close to home.   It is also a little too familiar after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January and the near miss of the Thalys train in August. 

Where I live, life goes on pretty much as before.  People gathered to light candles and observe about half an hour of silence.  But other than that, we are here for another day, shopping and driving and just living. 

And as with every attack before, we are saddened, and scratching our heads.  Wondering how people could kill innocents like that, kill themselves, all for a cause that is so perverted and so far from godly.

I have a dream, a lot like Marin Luther King, Jr.  A dream that Muslim children and Christian children play together.  A dream that kids play together no matter where their parents come from or what language they speak at home.  A dream that people from different backgrounds talk openly and see how very much they are alike.

The thing is, that dream is already here.  I see it everyday in Juliette's school.  Her best friend is from a Muslim family.  Yesterday when I picked her up I did the cheek kisses with several moms, two of whom are Muslim, one of whom was wearing a scarf that let a few black strands of hair peek out. 

I heard the Syrian father who came to France with his family about a year ago and whose French is improving every day.  I saw his son come happily out of the schoolyard, speaking French like the other kids but his own language with his father.

So if it can work in the schoolyard in my little middle-class city neighborhood, and if it can work in so many Parisian offices and schools and park benches, why is this kind of evil still being perpetrated?  The terrorists attacked Paris, attacked the French everyday citizen.  But how many of those people are/were living out a peaceful coexistence with different faiths and cultures?

These terrorists picked the wrong target.  Not that there ever is a right target.  France, the way I see it, is already doing pretty well at integrating and accepting different nationalities and religions.  It's not perfect, but it's getting there. 

And I know, as the father of Juliette's best friend has told me time and again, this is not Islam.  Real Muslims don't kill in the name of their god.  And I know French Muslims weep today just as I am. 

And I know that my dream of different cultures living and working together will keep being played out.   We have to keep that dream alive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How the French do Halloween

Candy and pumpkins, check!
I thought about calling this post "How the French DON'T do Halloween."  But that wouldn't be exactly true.  They do celebrate Halloween, just in there own way.  That is to say, not exactly how North Americans do.

I was looking for some type of accessory for Juliette to be a vampire for her day care party last week.  We were in the biggest supermarket in our city, where they had dedicated an aisle to costumes.  I was surprised that nearly all the costumes were of the scary or dark kind: witches, grim reapers, vampires, skeletons. There were a few pumpkin costumes for the little ones and some called "gothic dolls" which were more like Monster High "light" for young girls.  But what about pirates, cowboys, fairies?  If you want a costume like that in France, you have to go to the toy section, thank you very much.

That is the thing about the French and Halloween.  When they aren't dissing it for being an "American" holiday they are complaining about it only being scary and gory.  My other expat friends have noticed this, too.  No, I tell the French naysayers!  You can be anything you want for Halloween in the US.  When I was a little schoolgirl I was anything from a doctor, tooth fairy, witch or school teacher.  Halloween may indeed have its origins in ghosts and ghouls, but it is also about any costume and being anything you want, for just a day or night.  Kind of like a Halloween American Dream fusion.  And though I did see a few kids dressed in non-scary costumes, the majority of those I saw going door-to-door this year were in black and bloody attire.

Speaking of trick-or-treating, I think I am doing my American parenting thing wrong.  Living in an apartment, I have never actually taken Juliette door-to-door.  When we saw some kids out around 5 pm last Saturday, she was at first perplexed, then wondering why they were all dressed in scary things.  For the record, she was also a cowgirl for the home parties we attended and hosted.  The vampire outfit was more in honor of her favorite TV show du jour, Chica Vampiro.

Those French parents who do not let their kids do trick-or-treating may (rightfully) say it's kind of dangerous.  They might also tell you that they already have a holiday where kids dress up, and that it's not scary (oh, please, stop with the Halloween is scary thing!).  That would be carnaval, the equivalent of mardi gras.  During carnaval children dress as anything, knights and princesses and animals.

Besides, many of my French students tell me, Halloween is just an American thing to make money!  Well, not exactly.  It is Celtic and Anglo-Saxon, but not exclusively American.  Some students make a point in telling me they celebrate All Saints' Day, the day after Halloween, which is a religious holiday.  Ok, so not only is Halloween a money-making opportnity in their eyes, but they have to get all sanctimonious on me!

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on Halloween, as on so many things.  They will never exactly get my giddiness about dressing up at work for Halloween (Bollywood princess this year) and I will never understand their love of silly slapstick comedians like Jerry Lee Lewis.  Can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

40 is just a number. 40 does a number on you.

Can I just tell you, 40, no big deal?  It's those months after your birthday that you start to suddenly realize, hey, 40, that's half of 80.  Hey, 40, that's when I should have accomplished a lot of things in my life.  Hey, 40, isn't that supposed to be the new 30?  Hey, 40, would you shut up already and let me get on with my life?!

But that's the thing.  I have never been so good at getting on with my life.  As in making decisions and feeling totally at peace with them and hence myself.  So at 41 (and a half), things just start getting complicated in my head.  And don't get me started on the fine lines around my eyes.

So as I often do when in an existential dilemma, I look to my cultural references for a little help.  That would be movies and songs, as I've done before.

Sliding Doors
I can't tell you how many times I've seen this movie, but I find something new in it every time.  The concept is that Gwyneth Paltrow's character's life could take very different paths just based on whether she catches one subway or the train after it.  Hence the sliding doors reference.

Watching this movie we can see that, in a way, every moment is a yes or no decision, a binary 1 or 0.  And that can put too much pressure on each decision.   Am I making the right one?  This moment is so crucial!  Even though her life could take very different paths, in the end she is where she is supposed to be.

Take-home message:
Maybe things end up the way they should; different paths can lead to the same (correct) answer.  Plus, this movie has a killer soundtrack.

Strictly Ballroom
Another one I watched more times than I could count.  Love Baz Luhrmann.  Love the campy, kitschy characters and their awesome Aussie accents.  A mousey young woman wants to be dance partners with the handsome lead.  She is transformed by the experience and overcomes her fears.  Her mantra is: a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

Decisions are hard enough but when fear is involved it paralyzes you.  And by never making decisions (be they right or wrong), we aren't living to our full potential.

Take-home message:
Fear is killing you softly (with its song*, killing you softly). So say goodbye to fear and just do it (thank you, Nike). 

Non, je ne regrette rien
I am not a huge Edith Piaf fan, but this song has a great message.   When I teach my students the structure "should have done" I often ask them what in their life they wish had done differently.  Most say, I don't have any regrets.  Maybe they would have liked to study something different in school, but they accept where they are today and always find something positive to say about it.

Take-home message:
Isn't there a saying, he who regrets is a fool twice?  Why waste time and energy regretting, especially if it's over a small issue.

So as I am firmly on the "dark" side of 40, I am trying to see things with a pinch of persepctive and a dab of devil-may-care.  Maybe I will make the wrong decision but life goes on. I can always change my mind, re-work things, re-evaluate, change paths, retool.  Reset.  Forty is not the end.  It's just a new chapter.  And as Bon Jovi said (and I can't believe I am quoting him), "it's my life/it's now or never." 

* And if fear had a song, I bet it would be creepy, scary and keep you up at night humming it in your ear.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How to be exotic

The "eyes" have it.
"Madame est américaine," said the middle-aged woman in my stretching class two weeks ago.  She said it with a mix of pride and curiosity.  An American amid the sports mats and barefooted, mostly 50ish women who were warming up to...stretch.

"Ooohhh," the exercising ladies seemed to say collectively.  How exotic! In this pale blue room in an apartment complex in a small French city, there is a foreigner!  The teacher asked how to say my name and she repeated it a few times to get it right.  I felt their admiring or curious glances on me and was a little embarassed to be the center of attention just for my nationality.  No matter how much I try to imitate a French speaker, my accent betrays me, as it did this time.

Growing up in Alabama, somehow I was never considered exotic.  My strawberry blonde hair might have made me stand out a little, but since there are plenty of people of Scotch-Irish descent where I live, that wasn't that unusual.  In school, especially middle and high school, a little shy and uptight were more likely the words people would use to describe me.

But now that I live in France it is strange how "exotic" I have become.  It's like I am the Selma Hayek of my neighborhood.   It doesn't happen everyday but now and then I realize I am still very different from the people around me, just by my origins and accent.

Some people maybe are too shy themselves to point out that my accent isn't exactly local.  But when they do they may have a slew of questions for me.  Somehow I get bashful answering them, even though I encourage my students to ask me these things during our first lesson.  Somehow I would rather talk about my daughter or how she speaks English than my own history.

After 13 years in this country (plus one month, to be exact), I suppose I can still elicit questions.   "Is it hard to be away from your family?"  Yes.  "Do you like it here?"  Uh, depends on the day.  "Why did you come?"  For my husband.  Maybe I get tired of answering but they don't get tired of asking.

And I don't blame them.  I do the same when I meet another foreigner in France.  I barrage them with the same questions because I am curious, especially because I know what it's like to rip up your roots and plant yourself elsewhere.

Even Remi seems to forget we are "exotic" by being a "mixed" marriage.  When we saw a report about a Frenchman married to an Italian woman, he said, that must be funny to always have people asking about your accent and where you're from.  Yeah, like me, I said.

So I guess I'll have to get used to my tropical status.  I will always be that mom on the playground or schoolyard who talks to her kid in English.  The one who dresses up at work for Halloween.  The one who gives hugs to other Anglo colleagues instead of cheek kisses.  (Though I do the cheek kisses, too.)  Just call me Penelope Cruz or Shakira or, even, l'américaine.  That's me and I'll be happy to answer a few questions.  But just a few.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Seven is so...

For each age, there is a stage.  I've already chronicled some of the more well-known ones, most recently six and a half.  But my little one keep's getting taller and smarter and sassier.  There are also still some very sweet moments so it's frankly hard to qualify my 7-year old.  But since I like lists, I'll try anyhow.

Seven is sassy
I just came back from dropping Juliette off at her scouting walk in the woods.  Shy at first around the other parents, after five minutes she was chastizing me for not getting the right photo album to put all their scout poems in. And not to mention scooting away from me when I tried to get her to wear her raincoat.  And frankly there are some times at home when I think she is 7 going on 13 judging by her tone of voice or eye-rolling.  Oh no, the seven-year old is no stranger to sarcasm;

Seven is silly
But she still has that school girl sense of humor.  Poop and gas still make her giggle.  Or just telling silly stories or making her Playmobil characters attack each other and be "bad."  She will still make funny faces in some photographs and make up funny songs (in English, too, to my great pleasure).
Seven is serious
The age of reason is upon us.  She questions whether God exists and has her opinions about a lot of things. She listens to what happens in the news and though she doesn't always get it at the time she will later make connections about things and ask me questions.  Just today she integrated Syrian lions in her Playmobil game since we have been talking about the migrant situation lately.
Seven is sweet
She likes to play with my hair or take my face in her hands.  She loves bedtime stories and requests cuddles.  So even though she sometimes stares at me fiercely with those cool blue eyes, I know her sweet side will come back soon. 
Seven is still small
I can still pick her up and Remi can still put her on his shoulders for a piggy-back ride.  Of course she's getting heavier and these rides are shorter than before but she is still a "little" girl.  I sometimes look at her hands or feet compared to mine and marvel at their "still" smallness.
 Seven is starting...
...starting to see the world differently.  She is now enamored of slightly bigger girl shows like Chica Vampiro and she cares about how her hair will be done for school.  She is starting to read and write so much better and have real "lessons" at school about line segments and living versus non-living things.

Seven is seven
She can't escape her age, and neither can I.  She says "ewww" when people kiss on tv and she still dawdles at bedtime because she wants to watch another news report on tv.  She still asks me to stay a while with her in her bed before she goes to sleep and yells "mom" insistently because she desperately needs some construction paper.  Seven is a lot of things and I try to appreciate them all without letting her turn into a spoiled brat.

The other day at the playground that she's been going to since she was a toddler there were some middle-schoolers showing off on the swings, acting out, acting their age.  I said in English to Juliette that I didn't like it when the big kids hung around the playground.  "Does that mean you won't like me when I'm big?" she asked.  "Of course, I'll love you," I said.  "I just hope you won't get on the swings when there are little kids around."

And I'll do my best to love her for who she is today. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Scarves and changes

I just stocked up on a few scarves.  Not the wooly kind but the "cover-your-neck-cause-there's-a-mean-breeze-out" kind.  I used to scoff at scarves and the French obsession with them.  Now, after one too many throat infections and a pneumopathy a year and a half ago, I cover my neck when it dips below 70°F.  And as we are now officially in the fall season, more of those days will be around the corner.

It might not feel very fall-like as I write this, on a brilliant late September day, but I am feeling that seasonal change.  Juliette had to memorize a poem at school (so many poems!) and it sums up the change and emotions that go with it quite well.  As I helped her learn it, I now know it, too!

Un champignon et trois marrons
Sont venus en délégation
Accompagnés de feuilles mortes
Ils ont frappés à ma porte.
"Avis à la population!
Aujourd'hui, changement de saison.
Mettez les vacances au placard
Voici l'automne et le brouillard."

Didier Dufresne

English translation:
A mushroom and three chestnuts
Came in a delegation
Accompanied by dead leaves
They knocked at my door.
"Notice to the population!
Today the seasons change
Put your holidays in the closet
Here is autumn and the fog."

Ok, slightly less poetic when translated, but it does feel like we're turning a page.  Vacation memories are farther back in our mind.  School is back in swing, work routines settling in.  Days are still long but we feel them creeping in on us in the morning and evening now, condensing time.  As my mom said, this season seems to bring out emotions and melancholy like no others.

Does it mirror our own fear of ageing, I wonder?  Now is the autumn of our lives.  Sometimes I feel I am in that season now.  (Coincidentally, I am an "autumn", in the color scheme and feel my warmest and coziest in those colors.)  The end of the year is coming soon, and I wonder if I've done all I wanted this time around. 

And so we feel like hunkering down, storing our nuts and settling in for a long autumn's nap.  We can do that in autumn, right?  I am not quite ready for the glittery lights of the holiday seasons, but Halloween and a walk in crunchy leaves are coming soon, so I better get used to it. And I won't forget my scarf.

What emotions does autumn evoke in you? 

Monday, September 21, 2015

This and that

First of all, thanks to those who responded positively to my blog about wanting to help out the refugee situation.  I talked with some of my close friends in town who were feeling quite the same way and it warmed my heart.  I can't say I have all the answers or THE way to help.  My friends and I all did some researcch and found a few outlets.  We are certainly not the only ones interested in helping and there are channels that already exist, especially on the UK side.

So if you are interested in donating goods or money, the Secours Catholique, a Catholic charity, seems to be a reputable one.  They are focusing a lot on the Calais migrant camp since this is close to our area in France.  Otherwise the Red Cross/Red Crescent is, in my opinion, a good place to donate as well.  Doctors without Borders seems to be doing a lot for refugees on site in Europe as well.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...(frivolity and food)

Work has been picking up a little, which sometimes means grabbing lunch in between companies or eating in my car.  I took advantage of a two-hour break between classes and companies to eat at McDonald's.  It's always an event for me, being American and all.  I feel special going there.  And in France they have free wifi, so I can surf for free on my iPad.

So on a rainy Thursday when I was feeling a little glum, a trip to Micky Dee's (does anyone else still call it that?) cozied me up.  I ordered their Tex Mex burger (not so spicy) and a caramel frappé (basically a milkshake) and sat down.  At this particular restaurant off the highway, there were a lot of business men and women grabbing a bite.  I found it funny to watch the smartly-dressed folks sit alone and, what else, surf on their phones, as they munched fries.  One business man saw an old acquaintance so they sat together to break the solitude.

I ate and texted or checked my Facebook feed or, gasp, took a look at my lesson for the afternoon.  I do actually sometimes work.  One of my texts concerned something I was afraid I'd overlooked in a file so I checked with my colleague who seemed to have overlooked it as well.  I resisted temptation to text other colleagues for reassurance.  Do you ever feel you are in perpetual conversation with all this texting?

As I was still feeling chilled from having gotten a bit wet walking from my car, I ordered a coffee. When I asked for milk, the cashier told me in that case I would need the double latté, ten centimes more.  So I dug deeper into my coin purse for the extra ten cents.  But in the end she forgot and still gave me a regular non-milk coffee.  So I went back up and asked and she corrected the mistake.  "There's no milk, in this?" I asked, questioningly, not accusingly.  But in France, we are somewhat excused from being overly polite in customer service situations.  How liberating ;) I did make sure to say, "Merci, madame."  And I went back to warm myself (and burn my tongue) with my latté and think about my afternoon.

Notice how the French Mc Donald's logo is green with a yellow M?  In Europe they have changed the colors from the additional red and yellow and, in France at least, are increasing their market share while the US Mc Donald's are struggling a little.  Some in France even have a Strabucks-like display case, as this article points out.

They sometimes come out with some strange offerings though, like the shiny bacon they recently advertised.  It is good that they include more fruits with the kids' menus, but Juliette was not wowed by the kiwi on a stick and finds their apples have a strange taste from the vitamin C preservatives.  As for me, my little McDo ("mack doe" as the French shorten it) trip was satisfying and had warmed me inside and out.  I left, ready to tackle the rest of my day.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Life without borders

The other weekend we went to the beach.  We dug our toes in the sand, walked on the temporary sandbars at sunset and ate crepes topped with sugar.  It was lovely.  I didn't think so much about the masses of people in Hungary in refugee camps or their plight.  Every now and then my mind would stray to the topic, but it seemed so distant, both in miles and mentally-speaking.

We came back Sunday evening, rested and sun-kissed and started our weeks back at work and school.  Still the news spoke of all the migrants.  They were protesting in the station in Budapest, trying to get out of that country to continue on their journey to Germany or Austria or beyond.  Juliette asked why they were upset.  Because their countries are at war or they are very poor and they want to live here, I explained.

Wednesday, in my little world, we realized we couldn't find Juliette's raincoat.  I looked around almost frantically for it, thinking we must have lost it on the way home from school the day before.  I was sad to think it was somewhere outside, maybe being worn by another child.  But I figured maybe that child needed it more. And I realized in the back of my mind, that grieving over a raincoat was a little silly. 

Then as I sat scrolling Facebook on the couch that evening I saw that picture.  The one that moved so many, dare I say moved the world.  The one of a toddler washed up on the shore, drowned when his boat didn't make it across the sea.  And like so many others I looked at that picture and imagined my own child being put in such a perilous situation as crossing the sea, fleeing a war-torn country.  And like others, I signed an online petition and said a prayer for that family who had lost two children and the mother in this tragedy.  This was a real reason to grieve.

But still my daily life continued.  One of getting up and forcing my eyes to open at 6:30 or some other ungodly (in my opinion) hour.  Of making my little Senseo coffee with milk and sugar and checking my emails.  Of hugging my daughter, doing her braids and seeing her off to school.  And not worrying about bombs falling on us.  And like so many others, I felt guilty at how plentiful my life is compared to some.

And then I saw how some German people were waiting at the station for the refugees who arrived there, a child giving the refugee children his old toys.  And I heard that some British families were saying they would accept refugees in their homes.  And I thought, why aren't we hearing this in France?  Is my adopted country not compassionate?  But would I open up my apartment to a refugee?  Too many questions that go unanswered. That we don't know how to answer.

Now France is talking about which cities might welcome refugees.  I still don't know that I could do anything.  Offer my services as an interpreter at the town hall if needed?  Donate clothes, toys, money?  Pray for a happy end for all these unhappy situations? Sometimes I am too timid/lazy/self-absorbed to take the first steps. 

I am not a highly religious person, but I do remember a story from my Catholic schooling that has stuck with me through the years.  One of Jesus saying, if you deny the person who is hungry or begging, you are denying me (Biblical scholars, feel free to correct me ;).

There was no talk of borders or nationalities in this story.  Humanity shouldn't stop at national lines.  But are we brave enough to imagine a life without borders?  Some people on this planet are doing just that, opening hearts and homes to strangers.  Will we find it in our hearts to do the same? 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

To Netflix or not to Netflix

Me and my first world problems, you might be thinking?  But hear me out.  There is much more than TV-viewing of cool shows in English at stake here.

I have been considering signing up for Netflix for a while.  It came to France this year and, like in the US, it's not that pricey (7.99€ per month).  And you can stop any time!  I also got a taste of what Netflix has to offer while at my mom's house, where it is part of her Apple TV package.  I especially enjoyed watching the only-on-Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the older British series, The IT Crowd (which I'd seen before in some youtube clips).  And I started thinking (cue the pros list in my head), access to funny shows and movies and cartoons in my language- we'd never leave the house (cue the cons list)!

And that's why I'm hesitating.  Juliette and Remi are very apt to sit in front of the TV for long periods of time.  A common complaint from my daughter when I say she needs to cut it off is that there's another great cartoon coming on right after.  There's ALWAYS something else on TV, I try to reason with her.  It doesn't mean we have to be here all the time.  And if we had Netflix there would be that much more to watch!

It's not just them I'm worried about though.  It's already hard enough for me to manage my own time and get stuff done what with the lure of Facebook, my blog, youtube videos, emails, accessing the work website from home, etc.  I took ages to actually finish my Mindy Project DVDs (seasons 1 and 2) because I never could find the time to sit still long enough to watch them.  Or maybe give myself permission to sit down.  Let me say I have nothing against some good TV vegging.  I'm just worried I would get even less done than I do now.

It's not that expensive though. How often do I waste 8 euro-bucks on inconsequential stuff that breaks or just piles up in my apartment? But I have to think about the other things I am considering buying or paying for...like a used iPhone or buying one through my phone subscription. It's about 250€ for a used iPhone 5.  Is it really worth it when my generic smarthone is good enough?  But my current phone camera doesn't always have the crystal clear detail of the iPhone, plus I already have other Apple products.   And then there's Zumba or a fitness membership.  Count about 20€ per month if you're lucky, so that adds up to 240€ per year...about the same as the iPhone.

So if I really think about it, I could pay 240€ for Zumba and get out of the house and off my couch more.  Or buy a better phone and take better pictures and use iMessenger all the time with my family in the US.  Or catch up on some (not all, cause I checked out the French Netflix with my friend Elsie, and it is not that same as the US one) of my shows for 96€ per year.

So in the end, whether or not I sign up for Netflix is almost an existential* question that could shape the rest of my year.  This is too much pressure for me.  I think I'll just watch a Mindy season 3 on youtube and think about it later.

*I know this is not a REAL issue.  There are of course bigger questions on this planet.  Like what to make for dinner.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TMF Syndrome: it could happen to you

A lot of people are suffering from TMF lately. They might not even know it.  But once you hear the symptoms, you may realize you too are afflicted by this syndrome.
  • Do you find yourself feeling a bit dazed?
  • Do you have mood swings or feel a bit blue for no reason?
  • Are you suffering from thermal shock?
  • Are you a little bloated or have you recently gained weight?

If you've said yes to two or more of these, then keep reading.
  • Are you wondering why you are not doing something fun and visiting some new place?
  • Are you in need of a restaurant experience or decadent dessert everyday?
  • Are you reluctant to unpack your suitcase because it will mean your vacation is truly over?

Ah, now we're getting somewhere.  You, and I, are suffering from Too Much Fun Syndrome.  TMF affects those who have had a rip-roaring time on holiday and now have to face the fact that it is over.  After several weeks of constantly exciting and fun experiences, it takes your body and mind time to re-adjust to everyday life.  The overeating and indulging must stop, goodbyes to family and friends must be said.  The warmth and sun of your vacation time zone yield to the rather chilly and grey weather of northern Europe, in my case.
Can it get any funner than this?

Some cases of TMF are complicated by JetLagitis.  This can be much more serious as your brain still truly believes it is on Central Time.  If you find yourself waking up and not knowing what continent or house you are in, it is a sure sign of JetLagitis.  Wondering why kids aren't in school even though you know your own kid is still in daycare is also a clear indicator (in the US most kids are back in school but not in France).  Wanting to flick light switches instead of pushing them, wanting to sleep all morning or eat a hearty meal at 3 pm are also dead giveaways.

Luckily TMF with JetLagitis complications is not fatal.  It just sometimes feels like you will never sleep properly again and that going to work is the absolute worst thing in the world.  The first day back you might not want to speak to neighbors or anyone.  You may be tempted to cocoon yourself in the false reality of still being on holiday (in my case, a place I still consider home).  Your eyes can tear up a bit thinking about where you were and who you were with just last week and realizing you're not there.

Treatment is varied but actually kind of fun.  Periodically give yourself or the patient food you brought back from holiday (Pop Tarts in my case).  Allow yourself to look at holiday pictures and relive some memories, but don't obsess over it.  And slowly start seeing friends in your current place of residence.  Get out and soak in as much sunlight and fresh air in your current surroundings to remind yourself of the real time zone.

And give it time.  And don't forget to have fun where you live.  Don't save it all up for the next holiday or you could get a bigger case of TMF.

Yours truly, Dr. Milam 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Song of the South

We are back in Alabama now after about six days of road-tripping through parts of Canada and the northeastern US.  And it seems it only takes a few days of me being back in my old stomping grounds for memories to start flowing back.  I don't even know if memory is the right word. More like feelings and flashes, sounds and smells.

It feels like a poem or stream of consciousness babbling in my head. I return here and almost step back into my old life- walking down to the mailbox on baking hot days, entering supermarkets with cold a/c blasting and browsing Betty Crocker cake boxes- as if I never left.  My accent seems to come back as if by magic (or do I put it on to fit in again?), droppin' the "g" and using expressions I almost forgot existed. 

I forget that I wasn't always happy in my old workaday life here, that every day wasn't like being on vacation.  Because now I am on vacation and that does make a difference.  But home has a special flavor that I love to taste again.  Here are a few impressions and pictures…
One of my mom's crepe myrtle trees.

Dappled sunshine in my mom's yard. Crepe myrtle trees in every color.

Cicadas and crickets singing all day long. Balmy evenings and slightly cooler mornings.

Peaches and corn on the cob and farmer's markets.  Southern-style decorations and tanned college girls in pony tails.
Durbin's Farms in Chilton County.

Middle-aged men in college football polo shirts, American flags everywhere and pick-up trucks that look like monster trucks to me (and especially Juliette).
Another pick-up, er, monster truck.
US-themed bunting.

The renovated split level and one-level houses in my mom's neighborhood. A few front porches with gracious ferns hanging on the ceiling. Shutters that don't necessarily shut but are for decoration.

Familiar intersections and shops interspersed with new places I've never heard of.  Darkened movie theaters on hot summer days, back-to-school sales while I'm still playing.

People talking about their weekend on the lake or travelers coming home from beach trips on the Gulf of Mexico. Little children who say, "yes, ma'am." (Not mine, for the record, though she should take a cue from the others…)

Things that I used to slightly scorn or outright shun seem cozy now, as I smile kindly at my surroundings. 

Sometimes you need to leave home to appreciate it more.  And as I still have just shy of two weeks, I have to say (like this air freshener) "it's all good."
Pete the Cat says it, too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why I will buy my daughter Barbies...but probably not Monster High

When my dad was here in May he suggested going ahead and buying Juliette her birthday present.  It is this month, in fact, and he figured he could let her choose then and enjoy while he was there.  At first I suggested a chocolate baking kit made for kids but when we saw it in the store it wasn't quite what I had imagined.  She didn't seem as interested in it as she when she'd seen the ads on TV. So my dad, wise as he is, said, just let her pick out what SHE wants.  And she recalled seeing a Barbie whose hair you can dye in rainbow stripes.  So we found that and my dad bought it for her.

She enjoyed dyeing the hair and washing it and combing it.  "Isn't Barbie beautiful?" she'd ask me as she combed that incredibly blonde hair.  "Yeah, she's pretty," I'd say but felt like adding, of course, brunettes with glasses who aren't statuesque are lovely, too.  Six-year olds aren't quite ready for that kind of talk though.

I couldn't fight it, nor should I.  Girls like Barbies.  My sister and I sure did when we were little.   One of my fondest memories is coming home to find that my mom had sewed cute little jackets and skirts for our Barbies and set them up in their chairs, as if they were on a talk show or something.  My little sister and I spent many an afternoon making up Barbie conversations.  I also remember us beating up Ken in the backyard and clobbering his head against some wooden tool.

There are still moments I look at Barbie and say, in that judgemental way I have, I don't think I could be friends with a girl who looked and dressed like this in real life.  But why?  Because she takes good care of her hair and make-up?  Because she dresses to her advantage and isn't afraid to show off her feminity?  Because she can walk way better in stiletto heels than I ever will?  Maybe I'm being the catty one here, just assuming Barbie is an airhead because she cares about her appearance and is always flawless.  Who knows how many nights girls like Barbie go home feeling lonely because the girls diss her and talk behind her back, and the men who approach her are only interested in her looks.  Poor Barbie. 

But at 41, I've reconciled with Barbie.  She's not as shallow as she might seem.  And she's been growing up.  Here are some reasons I will let my girl play with her.
1. Because it's not Barbie I need to be afraid of.  It doesn't matter if Juliette never owns a Barbie.  She will see plenty of images of girls and women on tv that are way more damaging than a pretty plastic doll.  Some of the tweens and teens on those Disney shows are more harmful for girls to watch than Barbie because they are often extremely thin and a little too obsessed with fashion.  And just look how Miley Cyrus turned out.

2.  Because Barbie can be whatever she wants to be.  The new generation of Barbies may still love their clothes but they are also equal opportunity. They can be doctors and business women and vets.  They can be astronauts and moms, too.  Then there is Super Barbie.  Good role models for girls!

3. Because Barbie really IS a nice girl.  Yes, she's gorgeous.  This is no Cabbage Patch ugly cute.  But she's also a good friend, sister and girlfriend.  I've been watching the cartoons Life in the Dreamhouse on youtube with Juliette and they actually have some good messages and portray Barbie as a kind and hard-working, even intelligent (!) person.

4.  Because Barbie can poke fun at herself.  In these same cartoons, there is a lot of tongue in cheek humor about how Barbie spends hours picking out her clothes or the problems of getting sand in plastic joints.  Mattel has evolved and Juliette's generation sees Barbie as a girl who doesn't take herself too seriously.

5. Because little girls need to dream.   No, not ever girl will turn out to look like Barbie.*  But as long as girls know that Barbie is just a doll, like Rapunzel and Barbie mermaid, then she fits perfectly in their world of imaginary play.  Juliette now tells me matter of factly that mermaids don't exist.  So I think she will be able to tell the difference between dolls and people.  And all too soon she'll abandon Barbie for fashion magazines, which send more messages than Barbie can.

So, Barbie, you are welcome at my house.  We'll sing along to Barbie Girl by Aqua and brush your hair, because girls will be girls, and Barbie is a girl of her time.

*It's pretty rare to have those magical measurements, though one girl has tried.  We saw her photo in a magazine at the doctor's office and Juliette was transfixed by it.  But I told her that girl put herself through painful surgeries to look like that.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Inside Out taught me about my brain and even mental illness

Another Pixar movie, another episode of crying in the movie theater.  That's me, the forty-one year old mom asking her husband for a kleenex and being comforted by her almost seven-year old.  "Don't look, mommy," Juliette said.  No doubt it was a little embarassing for her with her best friend being there as part of J's pre-birthday gift.  Oh, well, she'd better get used to it.  She's got a sensitive mom.

But to be fair, it was also a sweet and slightly emotional movie about, well, emotions.  If you're not familiar with this film, it's about the five vying emotions in a young girl's head: joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger.  Most of the time joy wins out, especially when the character is a very young child.  But her family has moved across the country, she has no friends and even their furniture is stuck in transit.  And she's also 11, an age where things get more complicated.

In the movie we go on a journey into the girl's brain and see just how hard it can be to let the joy come out on top.  And also that we are a complex mix of feelings that are not as compartmentalized as it might seem.  We also get a glimpse of how adolescence is making the heroine a little less pleasant with her parents.  And maybe it was those moments where I could see the girl changing and evolving away from the little child she used to be that made the tears flow.

However I also found it an enlightening movie that could help me understand my own brain.  The way they personify the emotions, especially Joy, makes you want to root for her.  She is slightly fuzzy around the edges, perpetually glowing with a pixie hair cut and green dress.  It makes you think about how there are times we've got to work hard to find the silver lining and get the happy back on track.  But the other emotions all have their important role, like Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling in the English version.  Without her, we'd eat any old thing that fell on the floor, as this clip shows.

In the end (and I'm not spoiling it for you!) we see that all the emotions are important and work together.  Joy is probably the driving factor in the film and the one we also need to focus on, but moments of sadness are normal and have their purpose, too.  Sometimes they bring us together as a family and then we move on, stronger than before. 

But I also took away some more serious lessons from the film.  It made me think about depression and anxiety, and how these can be caused by an excess of those emotions of Fear and Sadness.   I knew this already, having had some moments in my life where these emotions got the better of me despite my efforts to turn things around.  I know that there are clinical causes to these conditions and that there is absolutely no shame in talking about them and especially getting treatment for them.  But seeing the emotions portrayed in the film, each thought or memory having a color corresponding to its emotional state, brought this message home to me.  I hope it will make children and adults alike see that the brain is a complex structure and that some people are struggling with a tidal wave of emotions.  And that it's nothing to be embarassed about and shouldn't be mocked.

Robin William's recent death brought serious depression into the spotlight.  I hope films like Inside Out will keep the dialogue open with kids and adults on these subjects.  And that we will help Joy to find her place in our days!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stop Drop and Relax

My mom says I can't sit still. When she comes to visit me lately she says I never stop.  I come home, sweep up the grains of cat litter on the floor, start dinner prep (yes, I washed my hands before!), put laundry in the machine, take laundry out, put Juliette in the bath, water the plants, etc. This is not to say I never goof off and do time-wasting activities like Facebook (oh, and I seemed to have crept up from one to two or three FB checks per day again), chilling a bit in front of mindless tv or just staring off into space.  And I try to always put some useful free time in there like playing with Juliette, too.  But my mom is right that I don't give myself a lot of downtime.
Life is not a sprint.

Even when I'm on vacation, the very definition of relaxation, I find that I am always wondering and worrying about the next step.  Where will I park? Will the hotel be decent? Will I find my way back to the highway easily?  Will the e-tickets be acceptable or should I have printed them?  Sometimes I find myself anticipating the end of the day or even the end of the vacation because then all my "challenges" will be accomplished!

This is no way to live.  Just like taking a whole bunch of pictures without really taking the time to enjoy them at the moment, I seem to be rushing through life in general.  I know that it's the journey, not just the destination.  But how can I get off the hamster wheel of mild worry and constant cleaning up only to have the house dirtied again in two seconds.  Lather, rinse, repeat, as my friend Crystal likes to say in these moments.

You might remember the old stop, drop and roll from fire prevention videos.  It's still the best thing to do in case of fire, by the way.  But why not stop, drop (whatever you're doing, as long as it's not breakable) and relax.  It could be the remedy for letting everyday stress go.  And it could prevent that drive for unattainable perfection from getting in the way of savoring life.  Or letting too much technology spoil enjoying the moment.  Sometimes I feel like saying to myself, put down the phone and no one will get hurt.  I know I'm on it too much.  But isn't everyone?  It's the acceptable addiction today. But maybe it gets in the way of unadulturated free time.  If I am always in the middle of a texting or email correspondence, it feels like I'm always in suspense.

So as my own vacation approaches, I want to be mindful of my tendency to overachieve around the house or want things just so.  The world keeps on turning even if my closet isn't organized.  And maybe life is still fun when things aren't planned out to the last detail.  Maybe it's even more fun.  It's ok if we get a little lost on our road trip.  Doesn't that make for a great memory after (as long as knock down-drag out fights don't ensue)?  And I will try to put down that darn phone and FB in favor of face-to-face interactions.  People, not just pixels.  Ok, a few pixels, too.

Let's stop racing and let's start living.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My country or yours?

It happened the other night.  And unfortunately it wasn't the first time.  It was Sunday July 5th.  I told Juliette to try the watermelon.  I reminded her that it was part of the July 4th menu (since we had missed it the day before) and that's what people in America often eat on this day. She replied in the withering way that today's pre-tweens do, that "We aren't in America."  And to add insult to injury she said it in French.

I quickly replied that she is half-American and I am American.  I didn't push the issue too much, but inside my American soul I was feeling a little wounded.

Sometimes I'm not sure I'm going about this bilingual bicultural family thing quite right.  I only speak to her in English, even in front of her friends.  I will sometimes say something in French to her and them to make things easier.  However, this year my little girl has really played the part of the French first grader to the letter.  Like coming home with new schoolyard expressions and "I know it all" attitudes that just seem that much snarkier when spoken in French.  I find myself asking her (pleading, sometimes) to speak to me in English.

"But you understand French!" she'll say with a sigh.  And she's right.  But I tell her it's easier for me to speak in English and I do understand it better.  When I don't understand her because she's mumbling in French, she gets exasperated with me.  And I can't always play dumb and pretend I don't understand.  Sometimes I put on an exaggerated American accent and say something in French to prove that I'm not French.  Abit like the dog Pollux in this cartoon who pronounces his "r" like an Englishman.  At least we get a good laugh about it.

I'm learning to back off and let her respond in French but I keep on talking in English.  I have noticed some encouraging signs though.  She likes watching her Disney shows in English and will often revert back to English for bathtime or when we make the Playmobil characters talk.  Bedtime stories are usually in English and at this calm time of night she tends to speak more English.  And when she wakes up and I come in her room she will invariably say, "Carry me!" in a sleepy voice and in English.

If it sounds like I'm keeping score, it's because I kind of am.  And I know it shouldn't be about one language or culture "winning" but I feel it's my duty to make sure she has that exposure to the English language and my heritage (which is hers, too).  I think I would be remiss not to give her this side of her origins.  I suppose it doesn't matter if every word coming out of her mouth is English, as long as she can understand it and communicate with my family.

As far as culture goes, she is part of the French education system and so can't help but be influenced by it.  She's growing up here, visiting French historical sites and soaking up this architecture.  It's not such a bad thing.  But I want her to know there is another part of her background, another country and set of traditions that make up her personal history.

Which brings us back to July 4th.  This year I guess I didn't do my own American heritage much justice either.  I bought watermelon but rushed out after our hamburger and rice dinner that night to meet with friends.  That's why I didn't eat it till the 5th.  I spent part of the evening of the 4th on a sidewalk café next to cobbled streets sipping some daquiri type drink and laughing with English-speaking friends.  There were no fireworks and I didn't wear red, white and blue.  But I still wanted to hear all about what my family and friends did back home.

I guess I'll have to let Juliette pick and choose which parts of her two cultures she wants to celebrate.  That's sort of what I do, after all. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Can we stop with the craziness?

Juliette is at an age where she gets into kid movies.  I'm not just talking about Despicable Me or Tangled, but any sentimental live action movie, too, however predictable and mediocre the plot may be.  As long as there are kids (and preferably animals), she will beg to watch it.  So it has become part of our weekend ritual: watching a kid movie on the couch (which I usually fall asleep halfway through). 

But for the parts I've stayed awake in, I have noticed a few key things.  There is just about always a bad guy/gal or guys.  And Juliette can pick them out right away.  Of course, they often have wild, unkempt hair or look grungy or smarmy.  They might have a deep tough guy voice or a pipsqueak one, but she knows they are the ones who will be kicked in the knees at some point in the movie.  And she's right.  The good guys always win in kid movies. 

Too bad life isn't more like a kid movie.  When we happen to be watching the news during dinner time, she sees plenty of bad guys, too.  We tell her the ones who kill cops or innocents are the "bad guys", and that they have been caught or are being pursued.  Don't worry, we tell her.  They aren't here.  They're in another city or country. 

She knows about war, too.  From things she's heard on tv or history lessons at school.  And when they show images of a war-torn country on tv, she asks, "It's not in France?"  No, there is no war in France, we tell her.  In her mind, France decided to have no more wars, as one of her teachers must have told them.

The thing is, life is just a lot more complicated than that.  So complicated that I try to avoid watching the news with her around and therefore am rather ill-informed.  But I still hear about the bad guys and scratch my head that there are so many around.  And that they kill in the name of God or history or some psychological disturbance.  Just today my mom emailed me about a beheading near Grenoble, in the south of France.  It appears once again to be related to Islamic fundamentalists.  The reporters say these groups want to bring "war" to France.  It's not the first time I've heard it said out loud. 

And it's not just France, of course.  If some misled southern boy goes on a shooting spree in a South Carolina church, we know evil is just in our backyard.  If a right-wing mentally-disturbed Norwegian can kill his own countrymen in some zealous rampage in that normally peaceful country, we certainly don't feel safe.  Total safety from these kinds of attacks just doesn't exist today, no matter how hard we wish it did.

If only it were as easy as Juliette told me the other night before bed.  She said we should just change the bad guys.  It's easy to change people, she reasoned.  You can change the color of their hair or their clothes, she told me.  I told her it was a bit more complicated.  We have to change their hearts and their brains, I said.  Like the boy in your class who's naughty, I reminded her.  Even if the teacher tells him to behave, he might act up again. 

Only problem is, the bad guys of today have automatic weapons and bombs, not just spitballs or dodgeballs like the kids in school.  And no stern talking to will change their minds.  So it's up to us "good guys" to keep the faith and stand up somehow against the darkness.  Because we know how this movie is supposed to end. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015


It's not that I want my little girl to grow up fast.  It's just that lately she's been showing signs of attitude, backtalk and pouty faces.  I had to give her a little talk about politeness and respect towards Remi and me.  And I had to threaten her with missed outings or no more morning cartoons if her attitude didn't get better.  And please, stop it with the sighing, I added.
The pout because I didn't buy that key chain.

But she's not even 7!  And the tween years are supposedly 10-13.  Her first grade year has brought changes, as I've mentioned before.  She's more poised but also has adopted the language and sometimes nonchalance of the other kids in the schoolyard.  Along with the newly acquired marbles and Pokemon cards she's been trading, there's more assurance in her walk and her talk.  As in, she knows better!

In her eyes I can be the worst mom in the world if she doesn't get something from the bakery every day after school (and she doesn't).  Or she complains I'm not helping her clean up her toys (though I did help even though I didn't get them all out).  At other moments she is way too candid.  Take for example a few of these gems she's spat out lately:

As she watches me brush my teeth: "Mom, when you get old do your teeth turn yellow?"

The day after my haircut.: "I liked your hair better when it was longer."

Talking with other moms of kids in this age group, I think it's pretty common to have these growing pains.  One mom said her child had been pretty attitude-y and the girl told her one day that she and the other kindergarteners had been pretending to be teenagers during recess.  Another mom said her son can get pretty angry over small things at home.  So I know I'm not alone. But there is the question of how to deal with it. 

I find myself saying quite often, "attitude!"  Or I say simply, "don't talk to me that way."  But I think there has to be a subtler way that makes her realize she's gone too far.  Maybe doing as my friend Jessica does and getting quiet when her kids are not polite and waiting for them to ask in a better way.  Or I should flat out say she's hurt my feelings by her words.

The other morning before the school gates opened I was observing the 9 and 10-year olds. The girls were wearing stylish sandals, small heels and kid-sized trench coats.  Their hair was crimped or perfectly tied up.  They were color-coordinated and fashionable.  I looked downright frumpy compared to them. These are kids who will either go to middle school next year or know they will be at the top of the elementary school pecking order come autumn.

My daughter, for the moment, doesn't care if her socks don't match or if she is wearing pink and red and purple in the same outfit.  She'd generally rather wear cheetah leggings than a dress.  But she's growing up, and heaven knows I can't just put a book on her head and keep her little. 

Maybe she's worried about second grade herself, as she has told me a few times.  Or maybe she already feels that she'll be higher on the school ladder when the "little" first graders come next fall.  In the meantime I know she's still a kid who wants to set up her Playmobil and pretend to be a Dalmatian on the couch.

And I know she's a good kid beneath the occasional sighs and eye-rolls.  Like the other day when I took her to the pool to practice dunking her head under water she was holding my hand and said, "I love you, mommy.  More than the blue sky and the sun."  I held her hand tighter and promised to hold on to that sweet moment. I know there will be more of them.  At least until she's 13.