Showing posts with label children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children. Show all posts

Monday, 11 June 2018

A Parisian Life - Part Two


I hope that you enjoyed Part One of my interview with Tahnee (@treasuredjourneysin which she talks about the decision to move her family from Australia to Paris for a year and gives many useful pointers regarding the preparation phase of this family adventure. If you missed it, you can find it here.  

In today's blog, Tahnee continues the story. Even though we haven't met, I have so enjoyed hearing about her family's experiences; many of which brought back memories of similar triumphs and struggles for my own family. 


You chose to live in Paris. This sounds very romantic and exotic. I’d love to hear why you chose Paris and some snippets from your Parisian life?

We chose Paris for our love of the city and, yes, it is so very romantic. There is beauty everywhere you look. There’s a village feel in each arrondissement so, even though it is a big city, it can feel intimate too. Every member of my family loves this city and, in my humble opinion, Paris truly is the most beautiful, wonderful, enchanting, interesting, history filled city. I have traveled a bit and Paris always takes my breath away. I never took it for granted, and every day we lived there I would reiterate this to my children. I would say to them as we walked around to breathe it all in and soak in all the beauty. Even in the car we looked at everything, as if it was the first time we were seeing things. Having a sunroof was awesome for being able to look up, too! Paris is everything you read about, every cliché, it is also what you want it to be. I believe that you make it yours, and if you have eyes of appreciation and a spirit of positivity, then the way you view things really reflects what you’re giving out. In effect, we saw Paris as food for our souls, so we were very well fed!

Our decision to move relied heavily on finding the right school for our children. We knew that this could make or break the experience for them. They needed to be happy, as this would be the place that they would spend the majority of their time. I had researched schools in France and, after a very long process of elimination, chose either Lyon or Paris. My husband and I visited both cities in May 2015 on our reconnaissance trip, but when we walked into the school in Paris, we knew instantly that it was the right one for them.

Initially, we were aiming for 18 months away. This we felt was too short a time to put the children into the French system. It would have taken a good six months or longer for them to acquire the language- so they probably wouldn’t have understood most subjects taught. We didn’t want to potentially set them up for failure, as this would have had a negative impact on them emotionally. If we were moving there for a few years, then yes, we would have gone down the road of the French schooling system. Instead, we chose the British school of Paris, where the curriculum was in English, but they were taught French there too. Joining after-school sports clubs where all communication was in French was a good compromise for us. (Although our son’s soccer coach hailed from Manchester, so when he had trouble understanding, some English was spoken!).

I needed a city that could keep me busy during the school day. There is so much to do and see in Paris; one can never be bored there, there is always something new to discover. Even sitting on a park bench and watching the sun change the way the tiles on roofs look, and the buildings reflected in different light, is magical. Something as simple as this made me happy. I didn’t need to be in a museum or shopping: just being there was enough, hearing French spoken, the ambience, just everything about the city made me happy. That said, most days we would set off to discover new areas, and walk the streets. Our compromise after the terrorist attacks, though, was that we drove quite a bit more. We had arrived in October 2015, three-and-a-half weeks before the Paris attacks, and this really shook us up. I was a little hesitant at first to use the metro, as I felt very vulnerable. My thought process was that if something happened and I was stuck underground and couldn’t get to my children, I’d freak out, which made me a little anxious. So we drove a lot and felt more in control. This proved to be invaluable as, rather than traveling underground, we saw where we were going, and really got to know the city quite well. I’d even say we got to know some sneaky side streets!

Going to the markets to buy food, not being allowed to touch produce, but having it being chosen for you wasn’t my greatest joy. You are sternly told off if you touch any fruit or vegetable or pick it up to smell it. I never took to this, as sometimes I would be given produce that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Needless to say, the French all seemed to accept this and waited patiently in long queues to purchase. 

There is a real sense of village life within a big city when you use the local markets. I got to know the vendors quite well, as I bought everything from individual sellers; the fruit and veggie lady, the cheese man, the baker, the butcher, the fishmonger etc, so food shopping was an entertaining time for me and the shopkeepers were all very tolerant of my French.

After some time, it was nice to see people that I knew or recognized on the streets or in shops, and so nice when sales assistants recognised me and made conversation.

With children in school there is a certain routine that you need to adhere to. My husband and I would explore during the day but as soon as school finished we were back to routine: sport training, homework, just like life back in Australia. But nearly every weekend, if there wasn’t any sport on, we travelled. We drove to different cities and loved exploring the beautiful country that we were calling home. We’d involve the kids and ask where they’d like to go, and found by doing this that they had more of an invested interest in where we were going. Our eldest son became quite good at researching nice restaurants to go to as well!

If we weren’t traveling on the weekends, we would go into Paris and once again explore. The kids all had favourite areas and places to go, so they would ask to go to these.

One thing I would laugh at was when tourists would ask me for help, thinking I was French (which I loved). They were almost always relieved to hear me answer them in English!

Life wasn’t all roses though. The French are very good at making simple things hard to achieve and do. In fact they having a saying, for this - 'pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué' (why make it simple when you can make it complicated). Paperwork, no one taking responsibility and passing things onto other people who then refer you back to the person you have just seen, waiting in hospitals whilst all the French people were seen before us even after they arrived after us, plus a heap more interesting times were all a test of our patience. If patience isn’t your thing, you sure learn to get some after living in France.

A major difference between Australia and France is that in France in order to enroll your child in any physical activity, you need a doctor's certificate, stating that your child is fit to play or participate in the activity. I found this quite amusing. So, for every activity, a new certificate was required, and once the year was up, you needed to get another one! Needless to say many trips to our doctor were made for the compulsory fit-to-play slip.

As for swimming lessons - just forget it! I went to the pool to enroll my youngest son. Of course, I was told he needed a doctor's slip. I made an appointment that week and got the slip. Back at the pool, I was asked for the slip. "Yes here it is." Oh, now he needs to have a test. Right. When can we do that? Any day is good and any time. Fabulous. The following week, we presented ourselves for the test. First question - did I have the doctor's slip. "Yes, I am here for the test." "Great."At this point, she phoned through to the instructor, to then inform me that she was sorry but all classes were full! Remember that I mentioned being frustrated with processes? This was just one example.



You have three children. How easily did they make the transition into French living? Can you tell us a bit about their experiences of school, making friends, adjusting to new routines, food etc?

My children have always loved Paris, so moving there was met with excitement. Yes, there were many tears when we left home and there was a period of them being unsettled, missing family and friends, missing certain foods from home, missing our dog, and just missing Australia. Certainly, the terror attacks shook them all deeply. Never had I ever had a conversation with them about what they would do if a terrorist entered their school in Australia. But, after the attacks, these were confronting conversations we had to have, and also to give them advice on what to do in the unlikely event of this happening. They were all very scared to begin with, my daughter in particular. She would become so anxious and teary when we were in the city. Slowly they all regained confidence in the city we loved so much. It was a tough lesson in resilience. I said to them “the Parisians aren’t going anywhere, this is their home, and ours, too, now. We need to stay strong and continue living and not let this ruin our time here”. And so this is what we did. We continued our journey.

Once they all made new friends, life for them became very settled. The thing about going to a school where the majority are ex-pats, is that friendships are formed very quickly. Friends become like family, and their school was extremely inviting, inclusive and welcoming. My oldest two children had the privilege of going on school camps: my son to the Hautes-Alpes, south east of France near the Italian border and my daughter to the Ardèche, south of France. Due to the terror attacks, they couldn’t take the train so the school hired coaches and the usual three-hour trip took them eleven hours. They both came back saying the seven-day camp was one of their school highlights, and one-and-a-half years later, they still talk of it fondly.

They also all loved the school refectory! Lunch each day was a cooked meal: a meat, fish or vegetarian option plus salad bar and yoghurts. Lunchtime was a lot longer there, and very social. They shared a meal with their friends and sat and ate all together. My children miss this, as they say here in Australia kids are quick to eat and go off to play. They miss the social aspect of enjoying a nice meal together. I, too, miss not having to worry about lunchboxes! The food in France in general was never a difficulty for the children as they are used to eating a broad variety of cuisines. There was a lot to offer if you looked for good bistros and restaurants, and avoided the typical tourist traps!

My oldest son loves to play soccer. His school team won the championship for soccer playing against many other schools, international as well as French. He also made it to the final 16 boys to be chosen for the Paris St Germain junior training squad. These are memories he will treasure, I’m sure. 

Australian kids are quite sporty in general, with a lot of healthy competition. Whilst never excelling in sport in Australia, my daughter managed to do really well in France. She was the fastest girl swimmer in her year group in France, something she had never achieved in Australia. In fact, she wouldn’t even try to compete in Australia. So her confidence really grew in France, where she also played soccer. She was fortunate to be selected to sing solos in music concerts, participate in drama productions, and play her guitar in music concerts.

The school was co-ed, something that all my children weren’t used to, as they were at single-sex schools in Australia. They all really enjoyed this, and found it balanced things out. My daughter would often have a kick about with the boys at lunch and recess, and my youngest son had an army of girls willing to look after him, which he loved!

When it was time to leave Paris, they were all devastated. They didn’t want to return home. The sadness was heart breaking. Such strong friendships were formed, it was very, very hard to say goodbye. They all asked us not to take them back to Australia, they really wanted to stay in Paris. They had all grown up in different ways, and we were really seeing them start to blossom when it was time to leave. This was such a shame, I felt like we should have stayed for another 6 months (at least!). 

In our next and last conversation (Part Three), I ask Tahnee about some of the funny experiences that they had whilst living in Paris and, now that they are back in Australia, how they view their French adventure. Tahnee also has a few words to say to anybody who might be dreaming of doing something similar. Once again, thank-you Tahnee, for sharing your experiences so generously. 

A bientôt! 
PS If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.





Saturday, 30 April 2016

Choices

I had finished my morning swim at the rock pool and was enjoying a few moments of peace, sitting on the slatted wooden bench at the end of one of the lanes. To my right, a long stretch of pristine sand; to my left, a rock platform abutting a cliff, from the top of which I knew there were panoramic views up and down the coastline. I registered that there were sounds ... gulls, waves... but they were not intrusive, just faint, familiar background noises. Unlike Mediterranean beaches, this beautiful place was not crowded, I had not had to pay and there was not the slightest indication that I was in reality only kilometres from the busy Sydney CBD.



A lady came up beside me. We exchanged the inclusive smile of early morning swimmers and she got on with the job of readying herself; goggles, swimming cap, towel ready for the exit from the water. An elderly man swam up to us both and mid-turn, he addressed her briefly.

"G'day."

"Hey, Dad", she answered back, before he disappeared and she slid into the water beside him.

I watched them both for a while longer and then headed back to my car, reflective, and a little sad.

My own father was hundreds of kilometres away. There was no chance of us bumping into each other during our morning rituals.

We have not had that privilege since I left home for my first teaching job, several decades ago. Then, I gave it no thought. In fact, I was driven - to leave, to explore the world, to do things differently, to experience - and what I left behind was simply unavoidable collateral damage.

My oldest daughter left home a couple of months ago. She was just about to turn 19. Since then, she has thrived in her new independent environment and I am proud, very proud, of the choices that she is making. Of course, I understand better what my own parents might have been feeling when they put me on the Overland train from Adelaide to Melbourne, with my one suitcase filled with a limited collection of clothes and novice teaching materials.

My husband and I chose to go and live in France with our children. We chose to absent ourselves from family and friends and struggle through unfamiliarity and loneliness. Several years later, we also chose to come back to Sydney. For us it was another new city, another set of challenges. We were still a long way from my family.

But, despite the occasional twinges of regret about how life could have been lived differently, closer to my first home, closer to my parents and sisters, I am witnessing for myself the benefits of the lessons that my children have already learned from the choices that we have made for them. What are they? A deeper awareness of more than what would have been their own little world; an interest in people, that allows them to want to communicate with others, a desire to do, to see, to experience, to be independent and to know better how to cope when times are tough.

What is interesting is that my parents chose to take myself and my three sisters overseas to live for a year when I was twelve. The person that I became grew from this experience ... just like my own children are growing from theirs.

Does this mean that in years to come, I will be far from them, wishing that I, too, could glance up at them from the water, as our daily paths crossed?

Probably.

But, I have made a choice to give them the freedom to see the world differently. I can't go back on that now.




Friday, 15 January 2016

Between children


It was the same for my daughters growing up in Australia. They went through a period of questioning the existence of Father Christmas. My son came home a few weeks before Christmas and announced that only he and one other boy in his class believed in Le Père Noël. They had had a conversation about this amongst the students and he had felt strongly enough about his convictions to not be swayed by popular vote and had voiced his belief out loud.

He had found an IPhone application that asked a series of questions of children and on the basis of their answers put them onto Santa’s naughty or nice list. He came out with a B+, which placed him on the nice list, although the final application message was a warning to remain on his guard, as Santa’s elves would continue to check up on him. He was chuffed about this and got his older two sisters to do the same test to see if they would be lucky enough be put on the right list with him.

A week or so later he came home and said that he didn’t believe any more as he had been called a ‘baby’ for still believing. He looked crestfallen and unsure about whether he had made the right choice. After all, he had written a beautiful letter to Santa, had included pictures cut out of magazines, of the toys that he wanted, and had wrapped it all carefully in a special piece of fabric. Independently, he had found an envelope for his offering. The envelope had simply been addressed, on the back, in his childish handwriting to Le Père Noël. It broke my heart to think of him sadly having to turn the page into a logical rational world instead of being allowed to remain in his magical fantasy one.

Then again there were no age limits to children being hurtful to each other, unintentionally or deliberately. My middle daughter at high school had participated in an inter-school cross-country event and on this occasion had mixed with students from her school that she had not come across before. One of the girls after having chatted with my daughter for all of a minute said, ‘You look like Polly Pocket. I think I’ll call you Polly.’ This annoyed my daughter more than upsetting her but my older daughter who had been listening to this story being told in the car on the way home, and who was usually so quiet and so polite burst forth with, ‘You should have said to her, you look like a dog. I think I’ll call you dog.’ I laughed all the way home.

Of course, she never would have said such a thing and I would have been most upset if she had, but occasionally it did them good to get rid of some of the inevitable antagonism of the schoolyard by speaking about it. A program on French television called ‘Fais pas ci, fais pas ça,’ centered on the daily lives of a few families. In one episode, a family was attempting to work out a date for a birthday party for the teenage daughter. Unexpectedly, the birthday girl had flounced out of the room and it was left to her older sister to explain to the mother that the date that she had proposed coincided with the party of the most popular girl in the class. No one would choose to come to her sister’s party.

Later in the same show the sisters sat the mother down and went through with her the different categories of students at the school; the popular ones, the semi-popular ones (the dangerous ones) and the bozos (stupid, not popular). Once a bozo always a bozo, they went on to explain to her, and unfortunately that was where the younger daughter had placed herself. She was still to learn that some of the most interesting people fitted comfortably into that last category and usually the most intelligent were those that simply did not care about being there.