Once in a while, I slow down enough to sit and reflect on this incredible adventure that we are having in France, rather than being swept up in either the mundane routine of work and school (laundry, groceries, cook, clean up, is it library day, where are the gym uniforms, lather, rinse, repeat) or in the incredible travel and cultural experiences that we are lucky enough to partake in as often as we have the energy to do so.
Some days, it’s really lonely being here in a two-working-parent expat experience. We haven’t forged the tight connections that a lot of other families do through the international schools, for the sole reason that we aren’t around to engage in a lot of the daily activities that occur. We are friendly with a lot of people, but no one here counts us among their best friends (well, not among the grown-ups, anyway!). And when our close friends and family are having a hard time back home, and we can’t be there to help, it makes the distance feel all that greater. Luckily, we are incredibly fortunate to have our French extended family here who treat us like cousins and are always happy to see us for get-togethers when they occur, and Jamey’s sister and her family are just across the Channel in London (we love the Eurostar!). Also, these circumstances have caused our little family to bond together more than we would have otherwise, I think. Our boys are very close (they are travel buddies and playmates) and we spend a lot of time all together as a result. That closeness is very precious to us, and I hope we can maintain it when we move back to the States.
Other days, I am so in awe of the learnings and travel experiences that we are all getting that I’m ready to sign up for another expat gig (sorry, Mom). I have learned so much about my own culture and biases over the past three years, and while it has been the hardest learning curve ever, I have grown as a leader in myriad ways through my job. We have all learned that there are a lot of different ways of looking at the world, and lots of different ways of doing things, and that many times there isn’t a black or white answer to the question at hand. Imagine what it’s like learning that lesson at age 6 or age 9 for the kids (though I still think it’s valuable for us at age 40-something, too)!
We have all changed. Our kids climb trees without us hovering over them, eat pâté, radishes and cornichons, count on their 4:00PM goûter like it’s a religion, can make it to 8:30 or 9:00 PM for dinner, wear little European swimsuits to the pool, and have friends from all over the world. Oh, and the fact that they speak great French with almost no accent is incredible.
While there are things that make me crazy about France (to name a few: customer service, priorité à droite, the fluidity of time, all the strikes, the arguing, and the outward coldness to people they don’t know), there are so many things that we have embraced since being here. I love how important the rhythm of the week and year is in French life: as an example, every Sunday afternoon, all of the parks are full of families taking a long walk, biking or riding trottinettes or playing football after their big meal on Sunday afternoon. And when the schools are on vacation (which by the way is for 2 weeks after every 6 weeks of school – this is on the bad side of the column), life slows down just a bit to allow people to take advantage. Even the buses reduce their schedules, and small stores will close for a week or two. And while sometimes it drives me crazy when we’re approaching a deadline, I appreciate that my colleagues sit down and eat a meal together just about every day. They appreciate their food and savor their three courses, and take a little break from working.
Food deserves another mention. The quality of the products at our markets and butchers is incredible (the merchants wouldn’t last long if it wasn’t!). Our local boulangerie is to die for (there is nothing better than walking out of there with a hot tradition and breaking off the end). The cheese, the wine, the desserts, I could go on and on.
Just like everything, there are pluses and minuses to this adventure, but I am thankful for the opportunity and for the chance to grow and change that we have all experienced!