August 19, 2016
We have been in Provence for over a month now. I feel like our noses and lungs are full of beauty. We are breathing it all the time.
Colette told me that she is starting to like our new house, but still wants to go to back to New York to be with Claire. Romy also often chatters about Claire - brings her up most days. Xavier and I feel sad thinking about her too. There was something really special about sharing the intense devotion we have for our girls with someone else (and something very special about Claire). Our family feels smaller here. We had Claire in New York, and also a whole network of close friends and family who shared in celebrations and everyday toil.
Xavier found a babysitter this week (someone local) and it was the first time we had extracted ourselves from the girls, together, in over two months. It was odd leaving them with someone we hardly knew. We pulled back up a few hours later and Colette burst out of the house with a huge smile on her face. Relief. The babysitter represented lots of current apprehensions: language, culture, strangers.
The reality is we have two little American girls. Even if Xavier has spoken French to them their entire lives, they are American. They have listened to him and understood him, but they’ve always responded in English. I can see the beginnings of a new thread weaving. At the little village park: Romy shouting to another kid, “c’est a moi!” (It’s mine!). Colette repeating French words without the dripping American accent she’s always born when forced to speak French. After playing with one of her little cousins she came over to me delighted and breathless and said, “We were doing n’importe quoi everywhere with Siméon!” With the babysitter there was some pantomiming, but mostly Colette and Romy worked it out in their new tongue.
Romy starts ’school’ on Monday. It is actually the village crèche, but she is insistent. She is starting school. She is most excited of all by the idea of a backpack - totally fixated. French infrastructure for parents is unreal when landing from New York. We will spend very little money to have Romy occupied, playing with other kids for a few days a week - essentially becoming French. We were both certain we wanted Romy in some kind of care center, if only just for language. We recently met with the director of this particular program and saw the other children at play. The director took 30 minutes to sit with us and describe their center. Some things were spectacularly French. Food. Food first, every time. The director outlined the cadence of a given day and gave particular focus to meal and snack time. The children slow down and read books before meals and snacks. They have to be prepared and calm to enjoy the food. She doesn’t want parents coming to get their children during the ‘collation’ (goûter): translation, snacktime. Too distracting. It is a time when they need to sit calmly and pass the snack to one another to partake around the table. Other things too. There is a ‘doudou’ wall. Storage pockets for all the children’s doudous - their little blankies/lovies. Also very French. They all have one - very sweet. The director informed us that the children are free to take the doudous when needed, except during mealtimes and the goûter, of course. The 18 children (with 5 care providers) are of all different ages, 0-3 years old. I am excited and nervous for Romy’s transition.
"Doudou wall" at Romy's school
Colette will start school with the rest of the nation - at the much-referred-to ‘rentrée.’ La rentrée is essentially ‘back to school’, but adults use it as a point of reference as well. It is part of the collective conscious, how the nation meters its calendars and tempo. Beginning of September. End of prolonged vacation. Shops re-open. People pick up their pace.
School formally begins in France at 3 years-old. Colette will be in the second year of school here. We will go to meet with her teacher at the end of the month and she will have the chance to see the school and hopefully get mentally prepared for what is coming. Colette’s transition worries me. She is an articulate 4 year-old, with some big worries in her heart. It helps her enormously to express things. The month or two of feeling stunted in saying how she feels will be a burden for her. I know she will be fine, but we expect some outbursts and sulking. She told me the other day - curled in a ball, crying, “It is hard to move to a new country.”
I understand where Colette is coming from, although I haven’t had the chance to feel lonely - we’ve had so many visitors already. Mostly bits of Xavier's family from around the area (or vacationing in the south of France from Paris) - and even some friends from New York who stopped by to stay a couple nights in our new house. I do feel curious though. Curious about what comes next. When la rentrée comes around and the pace of life returns to a non-vacation clip. I haven’t really tried to connect with people yet. I am not even sure how to begin.
I feel much less foreign this time around, thankfully. When we moved to Paris in 2007 for a few years it was full system shock for me. It took a couple of years to feel like I could surface and just sort of breathe normally. This time I benefit from 10 years of being with Xavier and his family/our friends, lots of French media consumption, books, movies, culture - quoi - and ease in the language. I haven’t felt a lot of cultural strain.
I have re-remarked with admiration some things about the French. Food. It is trite, but it is so true. The French understand the importance of good ingredients (oh the markets!). Of sitting to eat a meal. Of enjoyment. They admire and congratulate their fellow-citizens who know how to do these things well. One of Xavier’s cousins was telling a story about a person she doesn't admire. Her chief complaint: “Elle ne sait pas profiter.” ('She doesn’t know how to enjoy things,' although the notion of ‘profiter’ is truly cultural). She couldn't sit and drink her coffee purposefully, for instance.
Here’s to learning to be a master of ‘profiter.'
Walks with the girls behind our house
Out the front door
Key to our front door! Foot for scale
Sky out the girls' bedroom window at dusk