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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mon quartier, my neighborhood

About six years ago I wrote about how I would regret leaving my old neighborhood and the connections I had made there.  I had only lived there about 2 years, and now I'm going on six at my new place.  I shouldn't have worried too much, because I quickly made this new part of town my home.  And on most days, as I putter from J's school, to the pharmacy or bakery and the park, then home again, I realize I can truly call it "mon quartier" or my neighborhood.

I am lucky to be in a place where I can easily walk to most amenities: aside from the bakery and pharmacy there is the little grocery store, the laundromat (which I used this week for my winter comforter), a few restaurants, my general practitioner, two furniture stores and several hairdressers.  And when I strike up a conversation with my pharmacist or baker, I am glad to have formed these little casual relationships with them all.  It's not like we hang out or anything, but we appreciate the cordial exchange.  The shopkeepers have seen Juliette go from newborn to shy toddler to chatty first-grader.  Now she eagerly (though sometimes it requires prodding) says "bonjour" and "au revoir" to them.  The area is small enough that we get to know each other but large enough that there is still some anonymity. 

And though there are days I am blasé or have my head in the clouds, I love discovering new nooks and crannies or appreciating the architecture.  It's close enough to the town center to have some pretty bourgeois buildings but is also a working class neighborhood with some government or subsidized housing (like my own).  Here are a few things I (re)discovered this week in mon quartier.

I love blue doors! Wish I could live at number 8.
Leafy entrance to the park.
Arches make everything elegant.
The abbey (not Downton!).
Wrought iron balconies and imposing doors.

The view from the alley.

Cherub ornamenting a window.

I pass under this statue all the time but roadworks made me cross the road to see it better.

Meandering streets on a picture perfect day.
Passion flower growing on a south-facing wall.

The same passion flower vine covering the wall.

One-way streets are annoying for cars but lovely for quaint views.
Colorful balconies bighten drab buildings.

I guess you could say I'm proud of this little neighborhood that I've made my own.  What do you like about where you live? What have you recently discovered there?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Weather showdown: Alabama versus France

I have heard a lot of well-meaning French people tell me it was hot this week.  I just have to laugh.  And if my fellow American teacher is around at work, also from the hot and humid southeastern US, we happily gang up on any students and tell them, naw, this is just warm.  And pleasant.

Terrace cafés: the good weather place to be!
It just goes to show how much your perception of weather depends on where you are from.  I experienced the scorchingly hot summers of Alabama for the first 28 years of my life.  I never liked that much heat, and since my ancestors are mostly Scotch-Irish and I'm a strawberry blonde, my skin didn't like the summer either.  I can recall many a summer weather forecast from Alabama where the highs were 98-99 or over a hundred every day (between 37 and 38°C).

And then I moved to France.  The northeastern corner of France, to be precise.  This week my region made it to about 33°C or 91°F.  And it made the news.  As in the first story.  And the fact that all of France had warm sunny weather at the same time also made national news.  The next day it was stormy, because apparently this part of France can't go more than a day and a half with that much heat without exploding.  And that also made the news.

 So it's no wonder that how you speak about the weather can change depending on your culture and where you live.  Here's a crash course on weather chat in France versus Alabama.

Describing heat:
Alabama-speak: "Hot enough for ya?"
Like most Americans, we Alabamians like a little saracasm and teasing.  That's why on a particularly hot day you'll hear this friendly jibe. 

French-speak: "Il faut trop chaud d'un coup." (It's too hot all of a sudden.)
The French are very practical sometimes. Too practical.  You're having a nice warm day and they start saying it's too hot for the season and it won't last long ("Ca ne va pas durer").  Come on, people, let me bask in the warmth!
Dressed for extreme heat in France?

Describing extreme heat:
Alabama-speak: "It's a scorcher out there."
We have so many great words for hot weather. One of my English teaching podcasts (Real Deal English) even goes over all these words, like "sizzling".

French-speak: "Il (ne) fait pas froid." (It's not cold.)
Ah, the French love understatement.  Instead of saying, it's hot (which they do say, too), they like this subtle mind trick. This phrase would usually be accompanied with an exasperated look and maybe a "pheww!" sound.
Describing upcoming rain:
Alabama-speak: "Ah, thank God it's gonna rain this afternoon!"
After a "scorcher" (over 98°F/37°C), we look forward to those "pop-up" storms on a summer afternoon to cool things down. 

French-speak: "Ca va claquer. Il va faire de l'orage." (We're going to have a thunderstorm.)
I was just getting my warm on (91°F/31°C), and once again the French like to rain on my parade, literally. It's warm and pleasant, and they're already anticipating a storm.  And the worst thing is, they're usually right about that forecast.

Describing pleasant weather:
Alabama-speak: "Football weather is around the corner."
In Alabama at the end of summer when we dip under 24°C/75°F, we start thinking about the fall and tailgating (barbecues out of the back of your car).  Ok, not me, but other Alabamians say this.  It signals the start of fall and temperatures you can breathe in.  

French-speak: "Ca fait du bien. On profite." (This feels good. We're enjoying it.)
For the French, those same temps, 24°C/75°F, combined with sun, means it's time to get out the garden chair and relax or head to the beach (before that storm comes!).
20°C/68°F in France at noon. Break out the shorts!

At any rate, today was a pleasant day (24°C/75°F) with fluffy clouds and a light breeze.  Hope it was a nice one for you, too.  As my favorite group Crowded House said, "everywhere you go/you always take the weather with you."

What expressions do you have in your country or region about the weather?