It's day one of the October school vacation (Toussaints) and, already, I'm on the verge. I knew it was going to be a long day when Isla asked me for a chocolate cookie immediately after breakfast.
Then there was that little regrettable instant when I tried to help her into her tights-- she was trying to go outside bare-legged, it's frigid. The kid still hasn't learned that tights go on much faster, and with help from a friendlier, more patient mommy, when you "POINT (pieds longs), rather than flex, your toes!"
By lunch time, when the girls realized I wasn't in a playful, playdough, cookie- baking mood-- I'm just not-- they decided to do a bit of playdough playing on their own, praise the lord, and commenced to arguing in French about who was the most beautiful as they sculpted. "Non. C'est moi qui la plus belle." "Non, C'est moi."
"Non. Tue est le plus moche," Isla said, which Esther tells me, means ugly.
It stopped when I pointed out that Isla had made a beautiful penis cake. It was a lovely blue cake with a baby phallus on top. It's not the first time she has made a penis cake. She might have been trying to make a birthday candle. I'm not sure.
All of this is an overlong segue into what on earth we are doing in France in the first place. Really, what are we doing here?
Why I ever thought it was a good idea to pick up and move to France, temporarily, I’ll never know.
When the opportunity for Ian to renovate his sister's house in Burgundy surfaced out of thin air, it seemed like the escape we both had been waiting for. Ian and I have always had itchy feet. We've always lived with our mental bags packed and kept near the front door, just in case.
Here was our chance, as parents now, for an adventure. Something cool, bold, intriguing, hip, swaggerific. Something to talk about other than how many times our kid pooped or what was for dinner. Here was a fresh new coat of paint to whitewash our predictably beige lives with.
Our kids would learn French--they have. I would learn French-- I’m trying, but, if I”m honest, I have as well. I can pick up the paper, or a children’s book, TinTin, read a recipe, or turn on the radio and actually understand the words, follow the thread, even when it’s a poetic one, I love that.
I can make a phone call, make and cancel appointments, and make small talk about the weather with the postmistress. The other day, in what turned out to be a very expensive French lesson, I found myself wandering into a clothing boutique and trying on several pairs of overpriced pants and an amazing soft, green cardigan, chatting, all the while with the no-longer threatening saleslady. There was a time, must half a year ago, when I would have avoided that whole scene for fear of having to speak too much French. I'm not sure if this is good or bad.
Most importantly, I know how to pronounce the words properly, for the most part, though I’m still working on the pesky word for number one. "Un" is my least favorite word in the entire French language. One is the ugliest number and I avoid it like the plague. Like many an English speaker, I will even order two croissants rather than one to avoid sounding stupid.
“Unh, unh, unh”, sounds like a caveman having sex.
But, if I am in a good mood, French is a truly beautiful language no matter how resistant I’ve been to embrace it. I’ve made major progress. Progress.
But, I tell you, when my girl brings home her schoolwork and asks for help learning the historical timeline of the formation of the European Union, and the fundamentals of a feudalistic society, in French, I start to quake a bit. Math is bad enough in any language, but at least the numbers are the same.
And the temporary transience of our lives: our things, much of them are still in bags and boxes, with limited closet space and the constant sense that we might up and move again at any minute, drives me slowly nutty. One must stay forever in the now. I have nothing to cling to. No past here, no familiar landmarks or pastimes, just the here and now. I am like a practicing Bhuddist. Or is it something else?
And if I'm honest, if I'm really present, I have to admit to a constant, pervasive feeling of homesickness. An absent sense of place. A missing limb. It's not the "I want my mommy" kind of homesickness, but just an underlying thread of loneliness, displacement. It lingers on my tongue, and in my nose, under my skin, in my bones, and just underneath my eyelids, clouding everything I see.
It's stunningly beautiful here. But it isn't mine. None of it is mine. Why that matters, I'll never know. But it does. It matters, deeply. (Some day I'll write about my attachment, the true origin of my umbilical cord, to Vermont.)
We had hoped to live in the farmhouse as Ian renovated it. Now, one year and a half, or more, later, we have little hope of getting in there before Christmas, our second since we’ve moved to France.
I'm dying to get in there. If only for the bragging rights. "Ah yes, we live in a French farm house in Burgundy." Can you hear the snobbish, clenched jaw in my tone? I won't mention, however, that the farmhouse does not belong to us.
But I have to say, a year and a half in, my entire perspective of what is happening here, what we are gleaning, and possibly losing, our sanity?, from this experience, has changed several hundred times.
I don't regret our being here. And there are times I am genuinely smug about what we are giving our children in the form of exposure to foreign language and culture. There are others when I wonder,.what for?
Will we not go back to Vermont, eventually, and will they not promptly forget this lovely, aside from that one word, new language they have learned? Will they not forget everything?
Only time will tell.