Wednesday, 1 July 2020
Is there a right time for France? Yes.
Is there a perfect time? No.
I'm not talking about a holiday, but the question of how one decides on the timing for that big French trip - family adventure, permanent move, year-long sabbatical...?
The thing is, most of us, given a little encouragement, will choose inertia; what we are familiar or comfortable with. It takes effort, commitment, and a real belief in what you are doing, to resist the urge to stay put.
It also takes clarity about why you are even thinking about going to France. Have you put pen to paper and debated the answers to questions such as:
Why France and not another country?
For how long do you want to go?
Where in France do you think you will be happy - be specific: city, village, seaside, mountains...?
Is it to run away from what is your current normal?
What if you don't like it when you get there?
What if you decide to stay longer than your original plan?
Do you have the finances to cover your time away?
How does work, present and future, fit into the plan to go to France?
How will you find accommodation, schools, doctors, dentists, information..?
How will you cope with being distant from family and friends?
Is learning the language important to you?
Each person's situation is different, but I want to focus specifically on planning your French adventure with children. Timing, then, is a subject of enormous consideration, and often great angst for parents. From talking to families planning their time away, doing our own French adventure and my years of working as Head of School, I would say this: we are very good at protecting our children, shielding them from difficulties, and not fully believing that they are (or can become) resilient and strong when things don't work out for them. More questions:
Is your trip principally for them, for you or for the family?
Is your trip so that your children can become bilingual?
Is it so that your children can see the world from a different perspective?
How will they cope with a change from what is familiar?
Only you know what your children are capable of, but I would guard against making decisions based on what you believe your children do and don't want. They don't yet know and unless you give them an opportunity to spread their wings, they may not know for longer...or ever. My experience is that more people regret not going than going, even when things are difficult for a period of time.
Gathering information and talking with others that have done, or are thinking of doing, their trip to France is useful, although, once again, the questions will never all be answered fully, and the timing will never be perfect for every member of your family. Don't be swayed, or side-tracked, by another family's decision making (including mine 😏).
All good luck to you. My personal perspective is that most things are surmountable, and that the positives do outweigh the negatives. If you need a sounding board, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read about our French experience, 'But you are in France, Madame' can be purchased directly from me (email above) or by clicking on the link.
Monday, 20 April 2020
Asked the question, "What is your greatest achievement?" obvious answers come to mind. But, whether I have middle-child status to thank for this or not, I have always hated conforming. So, clear and clichéd answers I give you not. In fact, I don't even like the question. Why do I have to have just one? I guess you could turn all pedantic on me and state that the word 'greatest' was used. Q.E.D.
France. That's my answer. Getting there, being there, living there. It was one of the most - and least - obvious things to do at that point in my life. I had ticked off study, work, travel, home, marriage and children and might have simply continued down this path. What would that have looked like? Next step in my career? Nicer car? Home renovation? BBQs on Saturday with good friends? Increasingly brief communal family moments? Dissatisfaction with the mundane or the routine? Who knows? Perhaps, I am being overly dramatic, overly pessimistic but I know that I would have struggled with continuing the trajectory that I was on.
“It was just a normal morning. Almost exactly five years ago. I was making tea in the kitchen. Bobby was still in bed. And we get this knock on the door. I opened it up slowly, and saw the police standing there."
My daughter kept speaking. I closed my computer and sat back in my chair. My son kept playing with his Rubik's cube but edged closer to where she was sitting on the deck, separated from us by a metallic fence.
"They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby. I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’
Even my husband looked up from what he was doing.
We had arrived on the deck individually, no doubt hoping to give some moral support to my daughter in self-isolation.
"It didn’t make any sense. I’d been married to Bobby for forty years. He didn’t even have a criminal record. At this point I’m crying, and I screamed: ‘Bobby, what’s going on?’ Did you kill somebody?’ And he tells me: ‘This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you. Way back.."
Despite it being a sunny day, despite the fact that we were outside, each cradling high-tech devices, her reading aloud of one of the stories from the Instagram account of @humansofny felt more like a scene from a London living room during the Great War. She was our radio and we were tuned in attentively.
Since that day, Covid 19 confinement has imposed aeons of family time: multiple opportunities for talking, sharing and debating. Not unlike when we went to live in France.
My intention in writing this is not to reduce the seriousness of the health pandemic that we are living through now, but back then, on arrival in France, there was fear, there was uncertainty, there were moments of intense frustration and even anger, there was little outside help and a lot of the information coming through to us was hard to understand.
There was also shared joy at minor successes, solace in diary writing and time to chew the fat around the dining room table or squashed into the car for our hour-long morning and afternoon trips to school or, thanks to an empty social calendar, to sit and have a coffee under the quince tree, or play 'pin the tail on the donkey' (map of the Haute Savoie region) in order to select a destination for a family outing...
Just being there, living there, making it through each day was a great achievement and, with the exception of not being able to choose where to go, not unlike this period in our lives.
But, back to Bobby. What did happen 'way back', before he met Cheryl? I will give you the pleasure of heading to @humansofny to find out. (This excerpt is Part 1/11)
To read more of our family's French story, click here for your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame'.
Saturday, 30 April 2016
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.
"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.
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.
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?
But, I have made a choice to give them the freedom to see the world differently. I can't go back on that now.