While browsing Facebook yesterday…

While I was browsing Facebook yesterday I saw something really interesting.  It was a post by a man discussing his mother’s death, their relationship, life.  And he mentioned, almost in passing, having lost his backpack once in college, and a homeless lady found it.  On one of the notepads he had written “Mum” with a phone number, and this homeless woman called his mother and arranged to get his stuff back to her.  After that, for years, this mother and woman would check in with each other regularly.  Keeping in mind this was before cell phones, so each call they would end with the next day and time for a call, usually to a payphone, I imagine where the homeless woman would be waiting.

It really struck me.  This, well, humanity.  Two people who had a happenstance encounter then keeping tabs on one another, checking in, over years.  Maybe, too, I was struck by the effort involved.  Now, most of us can quickly reach out to pretty much anyone with a cellphone, a computer, but for both to stick to set times and places to call, to continue to make the effort when I didn’t get the impression they ran into one another, there was no family obligation, just a simple obligation, one person to another.    It reminds me a bit of my Dad.  My Dad loves looking at Craigslist (I know where I get my interest in LeBonCoin from!), and through a purchase there met an elderly gentleman that he now regularly keeps in touch with.  A chance encounter, that has led to this gentleman taking the train out to spend the weekend with my parents, my Dad stops by now and then, sends him some pocket money now and then (so he can vary his meals from ramen)…  And I think they both get something out of it, and beyond the material.  It is a positive and enriching experience for everyone involved, on a basic, human to human level.  I think some of us are “better” at this then others, maybe.  My Dad seems to attract people, of all walks of life and is friends with many many people.  I can think of many characters from my childhood, all that entered into our lives from some chance encounter.  And the beauty of all those relationships isn’t lost on me- I realize how hard it can be to make friends, find a place in a community, or even in the world.

These weird, unexpected, encounters feel like destiny, or fate.  Something meant to be, something that was meant to happen, pieces of a puzzle falling into place.  Each person bringing something to the other, everyone enjoying something from the encounters.  I like thinking that it is fate, meant to be, that we are all fulfilling some bigger picture, or moment, that we are all linked in some strange, unpredictable way.

Les Gendarmes

Next up in the series on becoming French…  A surprise visit by the Gendarmes!  While I knew it was likely to happen, somehow when they actually showed up it was a bit of a shock.  I wasn’t expecting them this “soon” (manner of speaking, after all, my file was sent in months ago!), and I half expected a note in the mailbox to organize a time for them to come.  Instead they got to see a table with remnants of breakfast still on it, a mountain of unfolded wash on a couch and many other small touches of real life.

I had the littlest home for the morning from school because she was congested and she is prone to asthma or lung type infections.  Anyways, so we were home on a weekday morning, hanging out, I was on the internet, little Miss was watching some cartoons in undies wrapped up in a blanket.

And then, TOCK TOCK TOCK, someone knocks on the door.  This is already somewhat an event in itself.  We aren’t super rural, we do have a few neighbors, are on the edge of a village, and often I close our gate, so it isn’t a daily occurrence.  The dog goes wild.  Child comes running over to investigate, naked.  I see a dark silhouette through the pane on the door and think it is the postman.  Immediately think “yay, a package!”, swing open the door in excitement.  And it isn’t.  It is two gendarmes, of course, looking rather stern.  Actually, I don’t know that they look really stern, probably just the effect of the uniform and the stance they always seem to have, legs shoulder width apart, hands behind backs.

Of course, mother and wife that I am, I think that something has happened either to my girls, or to my husband.  I’m pretty sure all the blood drained out of my face seeing them there.  They were quick to reassure that everything was fine, they were here to speak to me with regards to my nationality request.

So we stood in my messy entryway (think rain boots for a family of five, other various shoes, a kimono on the ground where it was tossed the night before upon returning from judo, a few small piles of clean clothes children were supposed to carry up to bedrooms, and weird catch-all table that lives in the entryway until I find an armoire that makes my heart flutter covered in random bits and pieces of life…), while they asked me a few questions.  When did we move here?  How did my husband and I meet?  How many kids do we have?  How old are they?  What does he do for a job?  What do I do?  A few kind of random comments that I wasn’t really sure how to reply to like “Wow this is a big house!” and “You don’t have hardly any accent at all.”  And then they left, it was all pretty friendly and not a big deal.

They went down to the  neighbors after to ask if we really were a couple…  And of course, small village, my neighbor knew the older gendarme so they stayed and had an apéro at hers before heading back down to the gendarmerie.  The neighbor actually played a pretty funny role in this whole situation before the gendarmes even got to my house, but more on that, later!

So, all in all, just under 4 months after my file was sent in, I had my gendarme visit.  Now just waiting for my entretien d’assimilation, so getting there, slowly but surely!  I can’t wait!

While I am forever seeking out the next step, considering what is next, somewhat like a neurotic planner (which is actually fairly funny since I really tend to fly by the seat of my pants!), I’ve been trying to stop.  Take what comes.  Enjoy the day.  Worry less about what is to come and focus more on us, our now, our reality, our life.

This has really been driven home lately as I watch, from afar, an acquaintance, deal with a devastating diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.  I “know” both halves of this couple, both went to college with me, I’ve shared classes with both, separately, and together.  (Joys of a small college, everyone knows or knows of, just about everyone!)  They have small children, a life they’ve built, she’s built her own job, universe, professional circle, based on a passion.  And now this.  Her writing about it has been achingly honest, and truthful.  From going to a doctor for migraines, finding a large tumor in her brain via MRI, an operation to remove the tumor, and starting radiation therapy in a bid to gain time, all within one short span of just a few weeks…  To face ones mortality in such an abrupt manner.  Be living one day, dying the next. To take stock of your life, of what you are leaving behind, how people will remember you, and trying to leave something of substance behind for your tiny children.  So, someday, they can have and carry a tangible piece of their mother and her thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams with them, even if she is gone. So they can hear her voice through her writing, at least.  All of this while choosing to fight, choosing to hope, choosing to live.  It seems like such opposing thoughts, opinions and views to reconciliate.  How can one live such opposing lives at once?  Taking the time to feel air fill lungs, to hold children forever and ever, while also taking time to set affairs in order, explain wishes for a funeral, make sure a will is up to date.  I imagine like one does for the rest of life, one foot in front of the other, but the weight of these steps must be heavy…

My heart aches for her, her family, her children…  And it has been an important reminder, to me at least, to live in the now.  To drink up every second of this sometimes messy, sometimes frustrating existence, because, this, the here, the now, it is beautiful, magical, special and may just be the best yet, or ever.

 

What is next…?

And just like that it is March!  Fully into the “new year” (and yes, it takes me this long to adjust to writing the year!), and on to thinking about spring which is just around the corner, summer…  And well, what is next.  The past few years after about 18 months in one place we were already beginning, mentally at least, to prepare the next move, the next place, sometimes even already looking at houses.

So, we’ve hit the 18 month mark.  August 2017 will be two years here, and for some reason, I’ve got la bougeotte.  I find myself perusing housing ads online, dreaming of one place or another, one type of house or another.  I don’t know if it is just the frequency with which we have moved that makes me feel this way, or maybe it is some deeper part of who I am, or maybe the infamous Breton weather gets to me towards the end of winter…

It is something I’ve often noticed in my second born child.  No matter what we do, when we ask if she had fun or liked the activity or outing, she always replies with something along the lines of “It would have been better, if…”  This usually frustrates me to no end, and now, I recognize myself in those words quite strongly, and I’m not quite sure what to do with the feeling.  I dream about doing perma-agriculture in the Limousin, tourism in Bordeaux, une maison Normande

I wonder if part of it also isn’t worry or concern about someday actually finding a job, or career.  While I am actually quite happy at home, home making, gardening, caring for kids, chauffeuring them around to one activity or another, I sometimes feel uncertain if it is a wise long term choice.  If I get a job, I’ll pay quite a lot for in school lunches daily, before and after care and they will all have to choose after school activities in consequence of parents getting home later, every school break for years will involve expensive day camps, among other day to day “difficulties”.  But, this is the reality of many children. Though, I am not sure that actually finding a job would change much our monthly bottom line, for now.  I often consider sitting the CAPES to become a French civil servant teaching English, but worry about the potential of being sent to a job far from home.

It feels like I am atop a fence of a cultural divide.  Where I grew up in the US, having a stay at home parent wasn’t unusual.  It seems to be a bit more of a rarity in France.  Most families have two working parents, even if one is only working part time, or picks up somewhat random jobs throughout the year.  I’m sure that extra retirement pension is pretty handy later in life, but at what cost?  For now, as MrB is gone just about every other week during the school year, finding a job and being alone at the helm those weeks seems huge.  And, yet, I’m sure many families do it, and many parents are solo all the time…

So all these words to say, I am happy where I am but I don’t know where I am going.  And while sometimes I love the feeling of being on the edge of something, I’m feeling quite apprehensive about it, currently.

 

Bientôt Française…?

As wife to a Frenchman, mother to Franco-American children, the idea of becoming a bi-nationaux is something I’ve been considering for quite some time. As the world we live in sometimes feels stranger and stranger, filled with less certainty, an more confusion, I decided it was a step I was ready to take.  I have been in France for many years, soon enough, I’ll have lived in France longer then I lived in the US, so I really do consider myself half French, half American.  Or, maybe I should say 100% French and 100% American?  Whatever the percentages, my identity is split between the two now, and carrying both nationalities satisfies parts of my identity, being and soul.  I carry both in my heart, one is my roots, the other are my branches.

Once I had decided to move forward, I wrote to my préfecture to inquire about the exact requirements.  I knew I had the basic requirements to apply as the spouse of a French person, but each préfecture has a slightly different process, or requirements, and they all function a bit differently.  (Mine requires files to be sent in via AR with a chronopost envelope in case they must return your file to you, others prefer a rendez-vous to drop off your file in person, so if you are interested in requesting nationality, I recommend checking with your own, local, préfecture before starting anything).

They got back to me rather fast, and with the list of paperwork required in hand, I got to work locating everything.  Luckily, it was the start of the school year, when I finally found myself with free mornings!  I started compiling my dossier, which I finally completed end of October and send off to the préfecture early November.  In total it took about 2 months to get it together, with some help from my parents as I needed copies of their birth certificates, along with the “usual suspects” when dealing with French Administration- recent bills, impôts, acte de naissance, copies of IDs, self addressed pre-stamped envelopes…  But nothing all that daunting, in fact, I think the list is quite similar for a ten year carte de séjour.

A few months of running down to the mailbox as soon as the postman had come by, I was almost suprised one day to find an envelope in my mailbox written to me, in my own handwriting!  The préfecture wrote to let me know that my file is complét (whew!!) and next I’ll be called in for an entretien d’assimilation.

So, while not a fast process, it is one that is moving forward.  I’m busy now reviewing my knowledge of French history, but I’m not concerned.  I’ll update as the process evolves, watch this space!

Affaire à suivre…

Les vacances d’hiver

Ahhh, les vacances d’hiver.  Pure bliss.  6 weeks after Christmas/New Years break the French schools have a 2 week break.  A friend in the US with some French family roots that still run deep calls this “national ski week”, which is actually fairly apt and concise of an explanation.  A lot of families head over to les alps or the Pyrénées for a week of skiing during this winter break.  It is a lot of fun, but it can be pricey when you are a famille nombreuse!  We do like to go, and try to go now and then, but not this year for us!  Maybe next year?  Instead, we’ve spent the first week working on paperwork, making glorious messes, some local tourism, I’m hopeful that we will maybe get some lights hung and a few other odd jobs this weekend, Mama likes to dream!…

We took our three valentines out to lunch on Valentine’s day.  Inadvertently we ended up at a crêpe place that seemed to be hosting a valentines lunch for a 70+ year old crowd.  We were the youngest ones there by several decades, including the patrons, the chef and even the serveur.  After, we took the girls out to the Pointe du Raz.  The “end of the Earth” as they say here.  It was a beautiful, sunny, day, though a bit windy.  (I wish I could share some pictures but I’m struggling to get them to load- I’ll keep trying so check back!)

And, as quickly as it started our week as a group of 5 ended and Papa headed back to work.  Our week of just girls was a bit less productive, but we rested, snuggled, got some paperwork sorted (new passports, galore!) and all that that entails.

Monday is back to school for the girls, and time for me to clean the house, top to bottom, and work on some of my other obligations!  My parents are coming for a visit at the end of April so I have to get the house together!  This involves hopefully hanging what little art we have on the walls, putting in light fixtures in, well, pretty much every room in the house (still!), and mopping floors, clearing dust from corners and all the exciting chores that never seem to make it to the top of the list among all the regular chores!