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.