June 30, 2016
We are over one major obstacle in our new life. Getting here. I know it sounds extreme, but I was seriously dreading the trip to France with our 2-year old and 4-year old. We added 2 hours to the jetlag scenario and flight time by heading to Utah and flying to Paris from Salt Lake. I have also had some past experience with transatlantic travel and toddler insubordination that left me feeling pretty weak.
Thankfully, not only did Colette kindly remember that I was her mother this round, but she also remembered she was Romy’s sister and acted protective and generous (!). Colette slept on the floor of the plane and Romy took up 2 seats, spread out - not an inch of her little body cramped. Neither Xavier nor I slept, but we were really just grateful that those two did - for most of the flight.
Running to customs after we landed (because Xavier feels a general compulsion to be at the front of any line, no matter how many bags or small people involved), Romy did have a temporary moment of obstruction - at the base of an escalator. She just stopped moving and would not be picked up. Xavier and Colette were already miles ahead. Thankfully, a sweet soul coming down the escalator just behind Romy was brilliant. She came up behind her, took Romy’s hand and said, “on y va.” Romy grabbed my hand on the other side and completely obliged. She went from being intransigent to dough in 3 seconds flat. We walked all the way to customs that way - hand in hand with a stranger. I loved this person. She was French and so helpful. I took it as a good omen of my new relationship with the French. I loved her discretion - I thanked her and she hardly responded, just kept holding Romy’s hand - no words of encouragement beyond the initial giddy-up, let’s go. Then a discrete cou-cou goodbye at the end when she had deposited us near the customs officer. What a gal! No chit chat about how hard it is to travel with toddlers. No condescending, understanding looks between two parents. A lot of respect for her approach.
I will admit that I’ve had my moments with the French. When deliberating on our move to France, Xavier and I agreed that I was going to have to open up - embrace loving my people (I am French too, after all!). So I've decided that I am all in. It has taken about ten years of being married to a Frenchman, but I think I am ready for it: francophilia. That woman in the glasses, holding Romy’s hand at the airport was a sign.
So now a few early shots from Baugé. Lovely Baugé.
"Uhh...I am pretty sure there is a ghost in here."
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.