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Month: March 2016

It’s beginning to feel a lot like… home

So this week something has clicked with Kaylee’s teacher. It’s amazing how much a teacher affects a child’s outlook on life. Kaylee is finally getting help in class and is offered work to is more fitting to her classroom experience. I hope it lasts, honestly, because this week my daughter had her first good day at school, after a month (though there was a two week break in there). Having good days at school means she’s happier at home, she’s more interactive with strangers (an important part of this trip), she’s offering way more help with chores and daily needs and she isn’t contrary with me and her brother as much. It’s amazing to have my happy, bubbly girl back again.

Kaleb continues to enjoy school, despite the challenges. “It’s regular school for them, it’s hard school for me” I think his class was more suited to his school experience and he has a teacher that doesn’t tell the class to shut up, which also goes a long way.

I really wish the kids could play after school. The kids have made a few friends in school who they play with at recess and sit with at lunch, and I’d love to be able to offer more opportunities for them to hang out. I think that back in Canada, playing on the playground after school was an important part of their (and my) days, and we all miss it. In a month I may be asking the kids to invite a friend over for dinner or something, but I’m not there yet.

Next week we are headed to Spain. Cheap flights around here are calling us in all directions, but since our travelling companions are headed there, we decided to tag along. We’ll fly into Madrid, spend a night in a hotel and then bus to Granada the next day, spend a couple days there before bussing back to Madrid, spending a couple more days there then flying back home. Kids in France do not take vacations outside of regular scheduled vacation weeks, I’m told. It is just unheard of. I haven’t yet explained my intentions to the principal, I’m still working up the nerve to have that conversation, but I’m assuming he’ll understand. When he first met me and asked about our trip, I called it a vacation because it was the easiest way for me to explain the experience in french, I assume I’m not the only foreigner to take a trip during school weeks. C’est la vie.

This week we got to experience our first cold. A really bad, head splitting, sinus aching, tissue consuming cold. It actually was unlike any cold we’ve experienced in the last 5 years (and before that my kids were still young enough that all my memories are fuzzy). Luckily I had brought some of my favourite medication (My theory is when you’re sick is the last time you want to be out shopping, never mind experimenting with foreign drugs). I had also brought some for the kids, but only a nighttime formula. Apparently I ran low on space in my med/first aid kit and prioritized being able to knock my kids out over them being able to breathe and function during the day. Since this cold came with an incredible amount of sinus pain and headaches for all of us, medication was not something we put on the back burner. I went out to buy some decongestants for the kids at a medical medicine pharmacy (Yeah, I have since figured out which pharmacy specializes in what, that was a real relief) and learned that in France, you don’t give decongestants to children. Ugh. Night time medication it is. And you better believe My visitors from Canada will be hoarding a FULL first aid/meds kit. With my kids either unable to breathe and in incredible pain, or a little doped up from the anti histamines, they missed two days of school this week. Double Ugh. Missing school is also a different game in France. In Canada, you contact the school and let them know your child will be absent (Note the tense), In France, you send a note once your child returns begging forgiveness, and it comes with a doctor’s note. I will not be wasting my, or a doctor’s time having bad colds diagnosed, not to mention the cost for a doctor’s visit (While 25 Euros seems totally reasonable when you NEED a doctor, double that for two school notes and it seems insane).

Damned foreigners always expecting a pass from the expected behaviours.

Yesterday, in pain, slightly feverish and tired as hell, we had to leave the apartment while our landlord showed it (He’s hoping we’re the last tenants here and somebody will take possession shortly after we leave). It sucked. It was 5pm, so very few places were open, we really didn’t want to walk around but benches don’t exist here outside of parks and the cafes that were open were too bustling and loud for our tired bodies and headachy brains. We wandered around dreaming of a place that would serve us hot soup or a place to sit that wasn’t the ground. We ended up walking by a place that served fried chicken and fries, and I was surprised his door was open and his sign was out. Most places to grab a bite aren’t open this early. We went on in and took a seat. I was only mildly surprised when he told us he didn’t have any chicken for us (In a chicken restaurant) but could make us some fries. I didn’t care at all, I would pay for any food he had just for a place to sit. He brought us out two giant portions of fries with Mayo on the side. He had been speaking english early on (My accent must be horrendous, because we did start out in french) so I asked him where he was from. He didn’t have a french accent when he spoke in english like everybody else. He told me he originally learned english in India, after that he spent two years living in England before moving to Ireland. It was in Ireland that he decided he wanted to move to the united States, so he spent the next year trying to arrange a visa that he could eventually apply for citizenship with, He spent a month in California, a month in Washington and two weeks in New York before he gave up on trying to find a place in the US that he didn’t loathe, so he came back home, to France. Amazing. We learned that he hadn’t started prepping chicken yet because he didn’t expect any customers, but had come in early to try a few new recipes, and he would very much like to have some testers. So we tried his chicken nuggets, his chicken wings, his onion rings, fried onions and a few other dishes, for free. All of it was incredibly delicious, I started looking for things to criticize just so he didn’t think I was just being polite. We went back home with our spirits lifted, our bellys full and in a much better mood. Kaleb was raving about the guys food and Kaylee was raving about how incredibly nice he was to us. I thought all night about his story. India, England, Ireland, US, Home. He made it sound so easy.

Could it be that easy? Hmm, that gives me an idea…

Things I miss (and things I don’t)

We’ve been here for a month now, I can hardly believe it. Some things have gone by SO fast and others have dragged out and taken forever. The ideas I had of where I’d be and what I’d be settled with and what I would still be struggling with far differ from reality.Certain things I thought I would miss dearly, and others I didn’t think about for a moment, turns out I am no good at predicting the future. So, in no order, here is a list of things I really do miss, and a list of things I could live without.

 

Things I miss

  1. My dog. There’s something about coming home and dumping all your bags of crap inside the door and being greeted by someone who is so incredibly happy to see you that feels like home. I miss walking her even when I didn’t want to. I miss watching her find the perfect play partner at the dog park and getting dirty with said dog. I miss watching her run her heart out fully encompassed in joy. I miss bathing the dog park dirt off of her, and I miss giving her treats in exchange for the most ridiculous tricks.
  2. Knowing what to put on a pizza. Seriously, I don’t even care that the majority of cheeses out here are goat cheese, I love goat cheese..I love cheese, but using it in recipes in a way that makes sense? I have yet to master the tastes and placements. I’m not used to the cured meats I see around here, none of them taste familiar and I wouldn’t know how to use them in a recipe if I tried. You know how you can walk into a grocery store and find those little recipe cards with meal ideas on them? I need those, for things I can buy in the market around here. In english.
  3. The many aisles of OTC drugs in stores. If I know what I’m looking for and what dosing I’m comfortable with, why do I have to go and ask for it? Can’t the pharmacists just make themselves available? Is it really necessary that every little bottle of Advil and cough drops be kept under lock and key? Do I really need to discuss my probiotic needs with somebody? Cant I just read the boxes and decide for myself? It’s SO much easier to understand when I’m looking at the words with a moment to think than when they are thrown at me super fast while I’m at the front of a line of 15 people.
  4. Picking an easy dinner. I was really sick last week, REALLY sick, I told the kids I didn’t have it in me to make dinner, we were going to sit somewhere or pick something up. After walking around for about 30 minutes, I gave up, bought a box of spaghetti and died a little inside. It was a Monday around 4:30pm, so none of the restaurants were open yet (They typically open closer to 7pm) and because it was Monday, most of the quaint little sandwich and snack shops were closed. It crushed my soul that I couldn’t just say no to cooking. (I have since found a place that sells frozen foods, never have I seen a frozen lasagna for the miracle it is!)
  5. Asking for drugs. I have a medical condition that occasionally requires prescription pain killers. At home in Canada, I run out, I get more, easy peasy. Before I left I visited my doctor and told him what I needed and in what quantities. The only thing he even questioned was the pain killers, and if I’d chosen enough. I don’t take them on any sort of regular basis, some weeks I might need 8 doses, and then I may go 6 weeks without needing any. He told me I should have more, I told him I’d averaged out my usage over the last six months and thought I’d be fine. The prescription he ended up writing for me was about 1.5 times as many as I’d asked for and I am thankful he did, every time I need to open my bottle I wonder if they’ll last me the entire trip, what I would do without them, and how it would look asking another doctor, who has never seen me, for pain killers. Honestly, I was scared about customs, I was scared about going through 3 countries with narcotics (despite the prescription), I shouldn’t have been, nobody even looked at them.
  6. Moms, on the playground. Seriously, I miss every one of you, even the ones I only talked to only once in a while. When I pick up my kids, I don’t say a word to anybody. I have, three or four times, approached other parents and asked them things to start conversation. It took a lot of courage, there were language barriers, but every time I was left feeling even worse. Turns out they aren’t very approachable, maybe I should have greeted them with a kiss the next day? Good lord, those kisses. A little small talk goes a long way. Asking about the upcoming project/field trip/ other happening at school, goes a LONG way. AND THE PLAYGROUND, MY GOD. I pick my kids up from a giant gate in a dirty, smelly alley. When your child exits, you leave. There is no standing around while the kids play and burn off energy, no chatting while the kids run through the field, no place to have a snack and enjoy being outside for a few minutes. I never realized how nice that part of my day was.
  7. My tutor. Learning french here is not what I have expected it to be. Yes, I have picked up a lot, yes I am improving everyday, but coming across things and googling it later is not the same as sitting down with a native speaker and asking the question in your own native language. (Actually now, I found a tutor! Kyla, myself and another english speaker sit down once per week with our new tutor and she is FANTASTIC. She has taught french in a classroom setting and her english is great, plus she knows the area, so she can answer a lot of my questions about how the hell to make life bearable, yay!) I can learn an endless amount of vocabulary but grammar doesn’t exactly come naturally through speaking and listening.
  8. Pools. Now that we all have our mandatory swim caps and Kaleb is set up with his tight, skimpy, mandatory european swim suit, turns out a lot of the pools around here are for lanes and lessons, NOT to play in. Kaleb is currently in lessons with school, so he’s the only one of us who’s seen the water, despite promising my kids that was going to be one of the first things we would find in the city. Know what would be a great rainy day activity? Swimming.
  9. Big Box stores. Do you know how often I buy toilet paper? In Canada, I buy giant quantities of my favourite toilet paper whenever it goes on sale, sometimes it seems as thought I have enough to last for years. Here, I buy two or four rolls at a time. It’s the only quantities I can find them in and honestly, I cant carry much more than that and lug it back home. Same goes with many other things around here that we use on a regular basis, small quantities means buying more often. And yes, I have actually found a big box store, it sits on the edge of town a long bus ride away and hardly seems worth the trip, especially  since I can only fill my old lady cart and a backpack, just to hop back on the bus.
  10. Being normal. Sometimes, being the obvious outsider gets old. There are times that people start with speaking english to me before I even speak with them, I want to take offence and reply in French, but most often it’s times when I feel lost and confused, and know they are just trying to help. It’s walking into the post office and wondering which of the eight lines I should be in, and needing to go to the front counter to read the signs of each line before I figure it out. It’s getting in line to pay for a purchase and being told to go to the other cashier, getting there and being told to go to a third cashier (Is this a joke? Are the employees trying to send each other difficult customers? I only have one item and have no questions What is happening here?) My kids feel it when they’re asked what level of swimming they’re in, or when they’re asked to multiply xx by yy, We feel it when we’re walking down the street and somebody talks towards us, we didn’t understand what they said but they’re making eye contact with us, do we say pardon? Do we ignore and walk away? Are they speaking to us or into the headphone mics everybody uses with their cell phone, all the time. It is felt when you’re half way through a great burger lunch and you look around only to realize that everybody here is eating burgers (and fries!) with a knife and fork. Oops.
  11. Coffee, to go. One does not grab a coffee and head out the door here, coffee, like many other things, is an experience, not something to be rushed. Which I can appreciate, honestly, but sometimes I dream of drinking an almond milk latte (yeah, also you can’t get a latte here, lattes are a breakfast drink you make at home, not something you can order anywhere) and window shopping all the crazy and wonderful shops around here. But I have yet to grab myself a thermos mug (Not surprisingly uncommon around here) and you just can’t buy a coffee to go.
  12. Milk. My kids and I no longer eat cereal. I’ll avoid any dish that has a strong milk component. It’s cheese juice. It’s watered, powdered blue cheese and gorgonzola juice. Surprisingly enough, it’s ok in coffee, so I buy 500ml and it goes bad before we finish it.
  13. Teachers. In all the years my kids have been in school we have been very lucky with teachers, I can think of only 2 I would have changed if I knew then what I do now, and I would kill for those teachers right now. Empathetic, caring, goal setting teachers. Knowing what’s going on in the classroom, knowing I can contact the teachers about any little thing and get a response in a way I appreciate, I think I maybe have taken that for granted for a while. I have always said that teachers and nurses are under appreciated, but I’ve never realized how great we’ve had it. In Canada, if a teacher told one of my kids to shut up, I would be pitching a fit, and it would be heard, here, it’s a daily thing for a teacher to say shut up to the class. Seeing the teachers get physically rough with students scared the crap out of Kaylee. Kaleb seems to have a great teacher, he is comfortable, engaged in his school work and gets a lot of help on things he doesn’t understand. Kaylee asks for help with math and is told “Forget it, go practice cursive since you can’t even do that.” It took a lot of communication, frustration and fear to get to today, the first time ever Kalyee said she got help in class and had a good day. Lots of adjustments to be made.
  14. My Husband. Best for last. I miss him in the most obvious way a wife who is apart from her husband for long time would, without a doubt, but I also miss him in less obvious ways. I would not go so far as to describe myself as a single parent, I have the love and emotional (not to mention financial) support of another person who loves me in a way nobody else on the planet does, but I have never had to be ON so much as a mom. There isn’t many times I can just hand my kids off. Having a friend here helps, yes, but I would never call up Kyla and say “My kids are being crazy and contrary, They need to be in their jammies and put to bed ASAP, I’m going to have a cold beer in a hot shower before I cry from frustration, good luck.” Not that that was a regular occurrence, but it was nice to know it was always an option. We had weekly meetings where we looked over all of our finances, our calendars, and brought up things we’d been pushing to the back burner. We’d watch a show, together, every night before bed while snuggling, and we’d decompress by talking about our days. Now, I kind of wander around a dark and quiet apartment, watch some mindless crap on Netflix (guess who’s running out of english shows) and eventually surrender to my bed (Which, I actually don’t mind having all to myself to be honest). It’s lonely.

 

Things I do not miss

 

  1. Packing lunches. No, seriously. My kids get fed a full, well rounded, healthy meal EVERYDAY (uhh, every school day anyways). No scrambling if  I missed a shopping trip, no barely eaten lunches that we argue about, no wondering how much packaged food I can put in lunches before the guilt takes over. My kids are also being exposed to new foods, and trying them all and loving some. You love Creamed spinach? Who knew! A full hour to eat it all? “I didn’t have time to finish my lunch” went from being a daily excuse to an extinct sentence around here.
  2. A 2:30 pick up. All the moms from our Canadian school reading this, go ahead and cringe. You know how sometimes you thought “If I just had one more hour, I could get so much more done” Well, it’s true. 8:30-3:45 is a dream, and I feel like I have SO MUCH time during the day, I have never, not once, felt like that since my kids started school. Maybe it’s all relative, maybe the moms around here would kill for an extra hour, I don’t know, but right now I am totally digging it.
  3. My car. Ok, besides the big box store thing. Also, I’m in a city that was not built around the use of cars, so it’s SO much easier to walk around for everything you need. Suddenly I get those crazy people who say cities shouldn’t include cars. Even with a knee injury, I didn’t mind. I did mind the stairs, but I didn’t miss my car. I bought the kids scooters last week and guess what? They are a tool dressed up as a toy. Asking them to walk 45 minutes to a park? Torture. Want to go scoot around for 2 hours? SCORE! I see Adults on scooters everywhere here too… Honestly, I’m considering it. That, I did not expect.
  4. Flight costs. I’m going to Spain next week. It wasn’t in my original plan, and wasn’t in my original budget, but a 20 Euro flight? Sure, no problem, let’s go see Madrid and Granada, why not. I couldn’t fly to Edmonton by myself for the price my kids and I are paying to go to Spain and back. (Just kidding, I haven’t checked flight prices to Edmonton, why the hell would I ever do that?)

The day before we left a teacher at our Canadian School (another awesomely amazing teacher) from Belgium looked me in the eye and said “It’s a different culture” in a rather serious tone. We had a quick chat in the hallway and said goodbye, I didn’t think a thing about it at the time, but those words repeat themselves in my brain often, I see his face, I hear his voice. Was he trying to warn me? Was he excited for me? Was he trying to prepare me? Was he just trying to make small talk because I was holding him up after instruction hours? I don’t know, but he was right, it is different, all day, every day, everywhere I go, everything I do. It is a wonderful, exciting, amazingly soul crushing experience and I am so lucky to be in it.

 

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