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!

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.

 

I saw something on my Facebook feed a few weeks (months?) ago that I’ve been sitting with ever since.  Thinking about, rolling over and over in my mind.  It was a word “hireath” and the definition.

Looking it up, now, I get the following:
hireath (n)
1. homesickness
2. an intense form of longing or nostalgia, wistfulness.
The usage notes I find interesting, too, as we now live in Brittany.  It states that the only exact translation of the Portuguese “saudade” are the Cornish “hireth” and the Breton “hiraezh“.  Living in Brittany we often see the “zh” ending.  Even “Brittany” in Breton is “Breizh”.  Bretons are fiercely proud of their region, dialect, the crachat Breton, and many choose to stay here for love of their region and roots, over higher paying jobs elsewhere.  It is some sort of poetic harmony in a way, that this word, feeling, can only be described in one word in a few languages, one of them Breton, a people so attached to their piece of land.

What I originally saw was a bit more vague, perhaps a bit more poetic:
hireath (n)
a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

This exact feeling is something I think about a lot.  I haven’t been able to unknot in my mind yet if it is due to becoming an adult far from home, alone, in a way.  Or maybe this happens to all of us as we become independent adults.  I grew up in a small town that I still consider one of my homes.  My parents have lived on the same street since I was five years old.  I am known and liked there, I still have friends from high school that are raising their own families there.  The comforts of knowing a place intimately, the comfort of sending child to the same school you knew and loved as a child, is one I can touch but don’t experience.   I wasn’t yet an adult of my own when I came to France, and as such there were some important years and life events where I was here.  I actually have never been an adult, on my own in my home country.  I feel like I have a foot in each country, a manageable split, but one that requires some mental gymnastics.

While I miss my family and bits and pieces of my first hometown, what I miss most is what is *was*.  The way I remember it.  That nostalgic feeling of safety, and security, being carefree, almost invincibile.  But, I can’t go back to that.  I’ve grown.  My life, views, feelings, even politics have all been forever changed, expanded by this other experience.  It is as if I am on one escalator, and my base, or roots, are on another.  And we are not moving at the same speed, and maybe not even in the same direction.  But isn’t this true of everyone?  We all spread our wings at some point, break away from the nuclear family unit to form our own.  I wonder if the sort of double culture I have means the gap isn’t perhaps larger.  Or maybe I simply compare me, to others, and I shouldn’t.

Life can’t stop there because I’ve left, it continues on itself, just as my life here grows and changes.  Mine just happens in incremental ways, that I participate in, that I see daily.  There, it changes by what feels like leaps and bounds, only because I not there to see it often.  Of course things change a lot over the course of a year, or eighteen months.  And the people I know and love also grow, and change, or even become more anchored in their ways in some cases.  No one is to blame, it is what it is, and is clearly part of the whole package I’ve bought into.  But it does leave a nostaligic, somewhat bitterweet feeling.  One of moving foward, while also being left behind…

Limping along

… what our reality feels like these days!  Not due to injury, just trying to have a foot everywhere all the time!

I’ve got so much happening.

I have to work on Christmas shopping, which feels weird as I have 2 children that still have birthdays before then.  Speaking of which, 2 birthdays and their respective parties to organize, and a house to have clean and tidy for both!

I’ve been spending a lot of time wrestling with my California ballot. In addition to the federal elections, there are 17 measures submitted to voters statewise, even one from my district.  Wading through all of that information to make a hopefully informed choice, is time consuming.

My laptop went all wonky with the latest iOS update, though if I am honest it too was already limping along before then.  I have to take it in for repair, I hope.  One thing about living fairly rurally- no Apple store with a Genius bar nearby!  They’ve suggested a local person that is approved by them, so, hopefully he can be my hero du jour.  I can also hope it won’t be too pricey.  Both may be in vain.  I really do need that laptop though, and I definitely do not want to be replacing it at this moment in time, so, here I sit, fingers crossed.

We changed banks, this is not easy anywhere, but I think French red tape takes the cake here.  We still have a few accounts lingering at our old bank, along with their fees, so I would really like to get those closed, asap as well.  It is a bit like a dog chasing its tail- around and around we go, hoping to one day actually catch the end goal!

My day to day life is also generally busy when school is in session, volunteering at school, cooking, cleaning, keeping up on laundry.  None of it seems huge in the moment, but, it all adds up to busy days.  My great plan for today is to hopefully make some applesauce with apples from the yard and an apple tart or maybe a pie.  Because nothing sounds better right now then a gorgeous slice of apple pie warm from the oven, to just sit with and enjoy in the moment.

One year later

One year in Brittany and the bilan is overwhelmingly positive.  I haven’t worked in the garden as much as I would have liked to.  I’m still a few boxes short of having sorted everything we have, mainly too small girls clothing but I am still holding out on actually getting ride of those (a hearts secret hope, maybe, or perhaps a bit of folie, it is what it is, I am not ready to get rid of anything, yet)…

Our village was very welcoming to us.  The girls love their school.  They have friends.  And so do I.  As many expats can attest to, making friends, your own friends, can sometimes be difficult.  I have been lucky to have made friends in France fairly easily from the start, but many were girlfriends of my husbands friends.  I am lucky to have them, even still many moves later, I count them as great friends, women I can count on, women who I witnessed becoming mothers, and vice versa.  But these friends, here, in our village, are my own. I have found them, and befriended them, on my own.  We have some things in common, children in the same school, but they are kind, they invite me to events, send me text messages, check in with me if we haven’t seen each other in a few days, they would pick up my children from school if needed, who would watch them if I had an appointment.  And it feels good.

I am invited to the girls classrooms to read or play games in English fairly regularly.  I was asked to read at the library (albeit for now in French; but I hope to start an English story time now and then).  I Zumba with the village ladies once a week, walk with the school on a hike weekly as well.  I go to the weekly market for the organic goat cheese, fruit and vegetables, the roast chickens, the cheese monger for the thick cream and eggs and beautiful cheese choices.  I know the local supermarket ladies, my neighbors, the postman.  This village has become our own.

I still let myself dream of a little chateau, or many acres with a farmhouse, animals, and extensive vegetable gardens, or even the field behind our house to add to our own 1.25 acres.  But I am content, happy, and in a place in my life I enjoy, and we are so lucky to be here, right now.