June 27, 2016
We are on the threshold of a new life - country, house, schools, friends, work, modes of transportation, weather - everything is going to shift. For about a month, though, things are on hold. Our material things are sailing across the Atlantic in a shipping container while we ourselves came west before flying to France for good. It feels strange knowing the ins and outs of our New York life and not really knowing all that much about the one we will make in Provence. We’ve dreamed a lot about it. We know the house and the area. But the lived reality is beyond our musing. Ruffling my brain feathers a bit. It also feels exciting in good ways. Liberating and loaded with the suspense of so many unknown outcomes.
A stop in Utah has felt therapeutic. My parents are both from Utah and much of my extended family and a few of my siblings live here. Reassuring to spend time with people who you’ve always loved and who have always loved you. There are also a few snowcapped glories towering above the valleys that make me feel peaceful. Utah mountains are something else. They sing a song you keep in your head for a long time after leaving. Hiking on the Mount Timpanogos trail, I was humming along - one I knew and remembered how much I loved. We’ve also spent some time up at Snowbird - rolling in summertime mountain brine.
Romy feeling invigorated by the mountain air.
Colette - immediately after getting out of the car in the canyon near the mountains: "Mom, are any of these volcanoes?" Very nervous. She then asked for stories of villages of people being covered by lava.
Mount Timpanogos - Timpooneke Trail.
Up at Silver Lake - American Fork Canyon. Colette turned out to be an excellent hiking partner.
Romy too, when her skirt wasn't falling down.
My brother Paul, little Mallory and his catch for the day.
High on Hidden Peak (11,000 ft) up at Snowbird
Romy and Colette jumped for a few hours (literally) on the harnessed trampolines.
We saw a moose walking on this trail with Caitlyn and Mallory.
June 14, 2016
One of the hardest things about moving away is leaving our incredible nanny Claire. She has been with us since Colette was a tiny baby. It was sort of love at first sight. We knew within ten minutes of meeting her that Claire was really special. She has a magnetic presence. Over the next 4 years Claire became a co-parent with us. We trust her as much as we trust ourselves with our girls. Being disconnected at work, I would breathe my children in through Claire. I came to understand parts of them through her.
When Claire would recount stories at the end of the day, her eyes would light up with pride or her expression would be masked with worry the same way a parent's would be talking about her children.
I have flashes of Claire in mind: baby carrying African style - little versions of the girls wrapped around her back, delicately sewing up Romy's precious bunny, giggling sounds only she could provoke from the girls, endless sidewalk chalk drawings, getting thrown up on and hardly flinching - just rubbing Colette's back in comfort, weekly trips to the library for story time - no matter how cold or rainy, singing songs in Malagasy, walking up the hill to the park - moseying along, taking 20 minutes if they felt like it - a child's pace and diversions never taxing for Claire. Every day outside.
Claire taught me about accepting my children - their emotions, their form of expression - and how to celebrate them. To look deep in their eyes when they tell a story - nodding her head, under their spell, repeating back the best parts of the tale to their delight. How to let them scream and cry and demand nothing in that moment - but to circle back to talk it through once they could articulate words again.
Claire became a symbol of our neighborhood. She knew everyone on our block - all the dog walkers, the superintendents, the woman who adopted feral cats at the end of the block, longtime Harlem residents, every kid and parent, the park rangers at Hamilton Grange. Over the years we felt luckier and luckier - hearing parents and neighborhood friends ask on weekends "where did you guys find your nanny? Your nanny is extraordinary." We wholly agree. Xavier and I would often find ourselves looking at each other in wonder, thanking the stars for such a person in our lives.
The reality is I feel daunted to be without her. I sobbed when we were saying goodbye. The girls didn't understand then. I think I will cry for a while thinking of our Claire. Of course we will stay in touch, but not having a daily dose of her feels like a brutal rupture.
This morning Little Romy chirped "Claire? Where's Claire?”
And Colette on the way to the airport: “I miss Claire.”
My heart winces.
June 10, 2016
Hamilton Heights corner.
Colette flirting with a tiny garden hiding on 87th Street.
Final weekend. This week has been like a vacation in the place we love, celebrating with all we've come to know and adore. I left work a week ago and have just rollicked in our New York life since then. Last night at least 13 kids hid under beds and scattered through the house for Colette's final game of hide and seek. It came and went. In the lead up it felt far off. But now our departure is gaining on us and my heart feels like it is up near my tonsils. I peep into each room in our house before I enter to hold it in my head - leave with the scene wrapped up for me when I close my eyes. A memory cache. The pictures aren't it. It is a sensation - the smell, the aroma and feel of the air just after the girls leave a room. The sound of the bath water. The smell of Harlem air coming through the windows.
We've been wandering around the city with the eyes, ears, senses for taking in. It is a basic lesson but not easily digested. If only we were always on the verge of heading out - it would all be so concentrated. I am so sad to leave I bought my first real pair of sunglasses and stash my tears behind them every day now. But as Colette says with wise eyes, reassuring: "we will probably be back, Mommy."
The Lion and the Mouse. Rome's favorite - wants to read it every single night.
Popsicles in the backyard. (Romy: "papa-school")
Sister chat in early evening light.
The cast of hide and seek.
"That's you, Mama." Colette
Typically odd place for repose.
My 8am meeting this week. Such a nice development.
My NYC brothers.
A band of friends.
May 24, 2016
A recent moment of nostalgia before it was even over. Rowing on the pond in Central Park. Papa and his girls. Heave-ho (in French). Romy wouldn't let anyone else row.
There is no space to waste anywhere in this city, therefore so much of the space is perfected - exact. I am often stunned at the amount of style that can be packed into a small New York apartment (my brother Stephen’s 400 sq ft in the Village, for instance).
Central Park is the same story. In the greater scheme of open space, the park is just a postage stamp of green in urban New York. Yet, every turn in every trail, every vista, every line of trees, plants, flowerbed has been carefully considered, methodically sown and positioned for the years to come. Each seasonal reappearance. So packed in. Spring is staggering.
I will thoroughly miss the park – a sanctuary. My connection to natural things in metropolis – meditation while commuting.
May 17, 2016
(Beautiful photos of the house by Stephen Johnson)
The story of our house in Harlem is a story of pure grit. Xavier is made of it. When we moved back to New York from Paris in 2010 he was convinced we needed to buy a house in Harlem. I was not. I was adamant about being free, unattached. Spending my money on travel and experience, not on something literally immobile. I was convinced my priorities were right and his were both old-fashioned and extreme.
Our house has turned out to be the best investment we may ever make in our lives. Six years ago, before Colette and Romy came along, I had no idea what the house would come to mean to us.
In the early days, I felt swallowed up by the space. Whole sections of the house were almost cordoned off – just ask my brother Marc, who occupied the third floor. We never went up there. The first winter, the house felt cold and drafty and Harlem was a world I didn't want to come to know yet.
Xavier persistently examined each corner of the house, deciding how to proceed. He vanquished all of it, tackling every surface in the house – drenched with sweat and grime, carrying on long after I dropped off to bed at night. The remarkable part is what he was doing was pure restoration – not renovation or gutting or replacement.
This house welcomed our babies’ tiny souls and has contained moment after moment of their and our unfolding: chalkboard drawings of family portraits and chateaux; piles of stuffed animal kingdoms; doudous hidden away inside secret cabinets; dreams of snow and sledding; the ghost of Mr. Hamilton looming across the street; tulips, peonies and cherry blossoms; Marguerite’s “Boite aux Lettres” (mailbox) – outside her bedroom door (into which I would drop goodies late after work); the arrival of new sisters; bubbles in the backyard; Colette's tantrums and wit in almost every zone; Romy’s giggles; leaps and pounding and sister shrieking; bath water bursting beyond the tub; rolls of 1920 player piano jangles setting little bodies to motion; backyard bulbs; shadow puppets; soft tales of Maisy Mouse and Mike Mulligan and the Little Red Light House; January galettes des rois parties; Thanksgiving celebrations; birthday balloons; bathroom tiles; oversize Christmas trees; Totoro; séances under the gas chandelier; our Star Wars Halloween; dressup; couch bouncing; sits on the front stoop; sun baths on the roof; shoe shining with Papa; secrets in the window seat; backyard payphone calls; thunder storms booming; Colette's 'hello to the sky' tribute to the universe; our Harlem community garden across the street; hide and seek – little bodies under furniture, beds, in closets, cupboards.
These are the moments that made our house great – that transformed the space and made it a character in our lives and not just an immobile investment. I’m converted to Xavier’s outlook. Our solace is knowing we are going to do the same thing in another place, with another house. Knowing that Romy, Colette and Marguerite’s spirits will leaven the house and make it animate is enough inspiration to jump off this cliff.
As a goodbye, we are having all the neighborhood kids come for a final game of hide and seek. Colette’s idea.