Ready Set Aix

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Author: kerrirae (page 1 of 3)

We’re so… “Lucky”

Sometimes people we know comment on how lucky we are, I don’t mind, in reality we are lucky, but sometimes people say words that completely dismiss the hard work and sacrifices we’ve made in order to be here. For MANY months we had a running joke in our house; “This bag of chips, or France” “Well, it’s a night out, or France” I got weird looks when I told people I would LOVE to but a litre of that artisanal honey, but I cant, I’m saving up for France.  Sorry, I’d love to support your child’s current fundraiser, but this year we’re saving up for something special. Let me say it straight: We did not win the lottery. We did not have mucho dinero just laying around before we decided what to do with it. The cost of being here (both in Canadian dollars and in emotional costs) has been, and continue to be INCREDIBLE.  We are not millionaires, we worked our asses off and went over every dollar for a LONG time before we decided it would be ok to take this trip. We put off renovations, we put off vacations, and we excluded ourselves from some of our favourite things in order to give ourselves and (more importantly) our children this opportunity, it was not a light decision, and it was not made in vain.

 

On that same note, we get a lot of our difficulties dismissed. “Ok, so you’re struggling, but you’re struggling in the south of France!” True, absolutely,  but is a struggle lessened because of the location, really? Is the fact that I/we have very few friends and social connections really not that bad because we’re in a place with a different culture where people don’t speak our language? Should I be comforted through my troubles by the chevre and baguettes? Sorry, thats not how it’s done out here.

 

I am absolutely lucky to be here, so are my children. We have made it through two very difficult economical crises, one which continues to threaten us daily, but are we here by some sort of magical happening? No. We worked our asses off and made a decision to spend time and money in order to remove ourselves from our comfort zones. We have learned a lot from this trip, and I imagine a lot of that will stay with us for a long time. I can only hope that when all is said and done I can look back on all the sacrifices and hardships and simply say “Worth it”.

 

 

 

Yeah, we’re dropouts!

I have started this blog post over and over, it’s a complicated one I know some of our readers are very interested in, and it’s rather interesting for us too, but more difficult to explain on a blog than in person, it’s a long haul story after all.

I have officially withdrew the kids from school. I would love to say it was a difficult, long thought out decision, but honestly, it wasn’t. One day I tweeted “Some days I don’t know why I bring my kids into that building” Not too long after I asked my self… wait, should I keep bringing them there everyday? I didn’t think about it a long time before I realized NO, of course I shouldn’t! I could have fought and had multiple meetings, and assessments, and if my kids were staying here permanently, or even longer I would have done that in a heart beat, but they aren’t, so I didn’t. I have stressed that my kids did not fail at this experience, the school system failed them, and I stress again, WE COULD HAVE DONE MORE, but taking off one extra month of school until returning to Canada seemed like a much easier choice, and a better one.

 

My kids started off school in France with high hopes, open hearts and kind souls, it didn’t take long until the french school system crushed all of that. My kids were being bullied, on a daily basis, and I want nothing more than to say it was from only the other children, but I will never be ok with how the teachers treated my kids, the worst teacher we’ve ever had in Canada seems like a total angel here. I had paths in front of me that included lawyers, psychiatrists, educations boards, etc. or on the other side, travel, hands on experience and true quality time together. Easy choice once it’s presented that way, right? Right. We’ll still be debriefing with psychologists back in Canada, not because the kids suffered any amazing amount of trauma (I think) but because I think it will do them both good to talk about their experience with an impartial person, because I love to normalize counselling, and because we have a ton of coverage for it before the new school year starts, so why not?

 

So, that’s that. We had enough of the French school system, or perhaps, the specific school my kids were assigned to. Now, them being out of school has it’s pros and cons, language learning was a major reason we were there in the first place, The kids being out of school actually did change our budget quite a bit, and we get to spend some amazing time exploring Provence.

C’est la vie! This entire trip was meant to take us out of our comfort zone, and here we are, giggling, travelling, and being uncomfortable.

 

 

Blog? What blog?

I have a few posts I’m working on, and people keep hinting that they aren’t hearing enough from us, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share our twitter account , it has a lot of info on our daily happenings if you need a fix quicker than I can seem to deliver on the blog!

Thanks for your patience!

My little Shvitzkas – Mom to mom

I’m going to keep this post short and sweet, just like my kids.

gag.

At home I have a wonderful network of amazing moms, I maybe didn’t realize how good I had it until I left it all behind. I LOVE hearing and sharing stories about how our kids are driving us bonkers or how our kids have done something so cool we were left feeling bad for having underestimated them. It makes a chaotic life seem a little more normal. I love knowing other people have the same problems, or completely different ones and I love seeing pride in a mom’s face when she shares a story that only she really cares about, but cares enough to share it. I love talking about a stupid parenting problem over wine or beer and hearing eight different opinions on it.

Since I don’t have that here, here it is:

I am so SICK of sharing a single bathroom with my stinky kids. And the toilet here SUCKS and constantly needs to be scrubbed, and for god’s sake, does the toothpaste issue EVER go away? How does it get EVERYWHERE?!? ugh.

The washing machine here SUCKS and because we have a super limited wardrobe, the shitty machine combined with a higher rate of use means my kids are blowing through clothes like nobody’s business, but the clothes here are so expensive! I just want one trip to gapkids and old navy (my god, I almost forgot Costco!!), I’d even take Walmart clothes right now, ugh.

How the hell do people in this country raise children?!? They are up until 10-11pm, there is almost nowhere for them to run and play (did I mention the idea of kids playing in pools is outrageous to the french?) and people constantly treat them like little inconveniences, ugh.

I thought a smaller space would be easier to keep clean, why do I find myself spending hours a day cleaning this tiny little space? ugh.

That being said, I thought by now I’d be a lot more sick of my kids, I thought by now I would feel like I need a massive break, but I’m not there at all. I have a husband who doesn’t travel for work, who helps with chores and parenting, and I thought by now I’d be totally insane without him, but I’m not (Ok, I’m insane from missing him, but not needing him to help me). My kids and I have actually grown closer through this trip. I feel like I have never understood my kids so much and they have never been so accommodating to me. Even on days where we are up until 11pm and then up at 4:30am to catch a flight, or when they tell me they are “really hungry” but I have to fumble through a different culture for 3 hours before I can feed them. I can’t believe how much they’ve held it together, how considerate they’ve been to me and to each other, and how much we’re absolutely loving being together. I can’t believe I am so lucky to be on this trip with such amazing little human beings.

 

 

 

Yo no hablo español.

My french language skills leaves a lot to be desired, I know this. But, as the people of Spain loved to point out, my spanish language skills are non existent. I know around 10 phrases, all of them completely basic, I had to stop my son from singing “Yo no hablo espanol” over and over, because it was getting really boring for him to say.

My experience in Spain was very mixed. On one hand, it was VERY beautiful, The drive from Madrid to Granada was spent looking at the countryside in awe and contemplation of our amazing opportunity to be there. We saw the Alhambra, and Flamenco dancers in Granada. The Alhambra was one of the most amazing places I have seen in my life. We spent a few hours wandering the grounds on our own before we met up with the Stacks and went into one of the castles together, amazing! I wish I had taken 1,000 more pictures. The Flamenco dancers were nothing short of awe inspiring. It was a late night, Our walking tour started at 10pm and lasted for more than an hour before we went into the restaurant/cave, my kids handled it like champs. It was a little chilly but our guide was great and my kids were attentive. Once the show started Kaleb cuddled in and I spent the next 90 minutes trying not to let my jaw hit the floor or look too stunned. It was truly amazing. About halfway through I had to hold a sleeping Kaleb’s head up so he didn’t fall right out of his chair. It was so loud and we were so close, I was a little surprised he was able to sleep, but he didn’t whine, cry or complain once so I didn’t mind holding his face with my elbow. I also noticed that people in Spain loved my kids, in fact, all kids were treated differently than here in France. People constantly talked to them, handed them flowers, laughed with them playing in the squares, and even tried to comfort them when they seemed upset, Kaleb was all out hugged by an older man with honest intentions at the Alhambra when he had a 45 second meltdown, I’m sure it would have been longer had the man not approached Kaleb, but the boy was so stunned he stopped immediately and tried to figure out what was happening. The man wiped his tears with his own sleeve and ushered Kaleb a few feet to a water fountain. Then they high fived and separated, just an example of how kids in Spain are looked upon. Here in France I get the feeling people really want me to beat my kids if they dare to cry in public. The Sangria’s were the best I’d ever had, hands down. Our hotel in Madrid was very central, so it was quick and easy to do anything and everything we wanted to do, we were very close to a large square so it was easy for me to sit in the sun and have a coffee while the kids played around or watched entertainment, living statues, magicians, people blowing bubbles larger than my kids. In Madrid and in Granada it really seemed like foreigners banded together, people were happy to speak in English or French to me, ask me about our trip and tell me about theirs. I had coffee one morning with an old man from Peru, he didn’t speak english or french and he only sat with me because I had one of the last empty chairs in the sun at my table, but we got across that I was from Canada, he was from Peru, and my kids were being silly enough that we could laugh at them together. But, there’s a reason I believe the foreigners tend to band together. Again, My experience in Spain was very mixed.

On the other hand, a wingspan away from the first one, visiting Spain was a difficult venture. Where I live in France, people are very patient and kind with me trying my best to speak french, it can be obvious when somebody is annoyed, but they aren’t overly rude, ever. My phone was useless in Spain, except when I was connected to Wifi, so using my translation apps, I practiced anything I thought I’d need during each outing, but I couldn’t translate on the fly, at all. I was constantly angering people. Cab drivers when I showed them an address or didn’t have exact change and had a hard time communicating that, employees of every single restaurant that I had to point at items from the menu, people asking me questions on the street, it seemed more people were angry with me in my five days in Spain than in my two months in France, by far. My attempts at asking questions or saying things in spanish were not taken kindly, people did not slow down their speaking or attempt to help me understand anything. Not that they have to, it was my job to navigate my five days there, it was just unexpected. I also did not expect to be physically pushed out of the door of a restaurant when I asked if they were serving food (asked, in rough spainsh) pushed and yelled at about not speaking spainsh (I think). It was more difficult to navigate feeding my kids than it should have been. Spain runs late, and I don’t mean the bars are open until 2am, I mean people don’t go for dinner until around 10pm, and often later. When we left the Flamenco caves and headed back to our hotel around 12:30am we saw people outside sipping coffees at cafes, restaurants (not bars) were packed with people eating dinner, the city was alive, from toddlers to seniors, everywhere. Doesn’t seem like an issue until it’s 5pm, your kids are starving and there isn’t a SINGLE place to eat. On one occasion I had to buy chips and other convenience store snacks just to tide my kids over until 7pm when the earliest (and likely crappiest) restaurant opened, and even then we ate in a room full of seniors. If it had been appropriate to take pictures of us in this setting, I would have, it was hilarious, I was the youngest one there by about 40 years. Eating was a weird balance of adjusting to another country and not starving my kids just for a cultural experience. My kids ate more bar nuts on that trip than I hope they do for the rest of their lives. So we learned that Lunch needed to be the big meal (3pm lunch? No problem!) and granola bars, trail mix, fruit and yogurt would be dinner. Our companions also had a bit of a rough go on our trip. Two of them ended up with a stomach virus that lasted longer than anybody would like. Having a stomach virus is an extremely difficult thing to deal with at the best of times, never mind being in a country where you know no words and seem to piss people off everywhere you go, and are stuck in a stuffy, tiny hotel room. Luckily, they didn’t go on their own, can’t imagine how rough that would have been.

Like I said, it was a very mixed experience. I am glad I went, saw some amazing things and met some great people but I think I can honestly say “been there, done that” about Spain. There are many other places I’d rather see before returning to Spain. On a positive note, it made me realize how much I actually CAN communicate in french, upon our return to France it felt like a miracle to understand most things and be able to ask questions again. While I was fumbling outside of our building with still packed bags from Spain looking for my keys I was stopped by a couple who asked me if the store two doors down was always closed, or just closed on Mondays (in french, of course) the feeling of relief I felt realizing I was back to understanding people was so strong I wanted to hug those strangers right there on the street. But I didn’t, because I’m not THAT weird. I just said “Ils n’ont pas ete ouvert pour un mois, ils ont construction a l’interieur”  and opened my door and went home.

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.

 

A day in my life (last week)

I wake up with the sun shining brightly in my face. There was a point in my life that I hated that, and I probably will again in the summer, but for now it doesn’t make sense to close the shutters every night just to open them back up in the morning. I have two large windows and the shutters are the “modern” rolling (read:squeeky) kind. It’s a few minutes before 9am which means I got to sleep in, but it also means the kids have been on their ipads for around 2 hours now, yikes. My eyes have barely adjusted to the light as I shout “Ok guys, time is up” The kids come barrelling into my room for 30 seconds of cuddling before they start to wrestle right on top of me, this is why I now wear pajamas to sleep. I wonder for a moment if we sound like elephants to the poor souls in the apartment below us. The first two weeks here I tried my best to make the kids conscious of all the noise the floor made as they ran around, but I gave up. Six months of nagging sounds like a lot less sanity than introducing myself and apologizing for the noise. My neighbours so far have been elusive. I hear there is a girl who lives below us who is Kaylee’s age, but we have yet to see her. They wrestle each other for a minute as I try to pretend I’m getting some weird form of Swedish massage.  They quickly demand that I make them breakfast. “Go pour some cereal” doesn’t work here like it does back in Canada, they can’t stand the taste of the milk. We’ve tried six different brands now but none seem to have worked. I wonder if I could just quietly replace dairy milk with almond milk, would they notice? I bet it would taste ok, I don’t drink dairy milk in Canada, I just haven’t bought any almond milk here yet.  Kaleb has been trying new tastes and asks if he can make us eggs, sunny side up, I agree. The first thing I do as I climb out of bed is throw on slippers and a sweater and crank up the heat, it’s cold in the morning and I’m still not used to living with radiators, five throughout the apartment all of which have their own temperature settings, none of which I can seem to set with any sort of regularity. I miss setting the heat to 19.5 degrees and never thinking about it again. Kaleb screams something about being a chef.  He does a great job, he just needs me to turn on the pan, check the heat, crack the egg, check for doneness, use the spatula, plate the eggs and carry the plates to the table, he’ll grab the forks. Thanks for breakfast, Kaleb.

I ask the kids to clear the dishes as I go get dressed. Dressing myself starts with my new knee brace, that mountain climb somehow managed to completely ruin my knee and it is painful everyday, too early to tell yet if that brace helps. Finding the brace was a treat. There are pharmacies all over the place here, and I have made myself look like a fool in a lot of them. Everything is kept behind the counter, right down to Advil. The children’s Advil I packed turned out to be baby Advil, about 1.5 doses for my kids, my mistake. I had to go in one day and ask for children’s Advil. It doesn’t sound intimidating, but I got asked about dosing, syrups vs chewables vs tablets (I think) and container size. Why on earth can’t you just keep this stuff on the shelf? I know most of these words, I swear, but using them unexpectedly on the fly with a native speaker is something I’ve never done before. Luckily, I have learned saying to people that I am still learning french makes people a lot more patient than just saying that my french is terrible. Plus there was that time we needed nail polish remover. No, not fungal cream, not a manicure set, no, not nail polish, yes, dissolvant! Inside the third pharmacy that day I decided they must keep them behind the counter, since I hadn’t seen anything even close in any stores yet. I brushed up on any words I thought I might need for the conversation. I went to the counter and asked if they had any braces for knees. The dude looked at me in a way I could tell I’d already made a huge mistake. Ok, Do you have any wraps for knees? Umm, do you have any sleeves for knees? No luck. Ok, let’s try this. My knee hurts, what do you have that can help? Once his eyes lit up I knew I was getting somewhere. He led me over to a shelf filled with brown paper bags and pulled one down, he reached inside and pulled out a wrapped bunch of herbs. Wet it, he says, put it on your knee, wrap a towel around it and watch a movie. Ummm… no, thank you. Wait, he says, smell it. Yep, that smells like a leafy A535, I get it. Merci, Bon Journee. This was going to happen, my knee killed me with every step and I lived in a fourth floor apartment, I wasn’t climbing those stairs again without a brace. I walked a few blocks away and tried again. This pharmacy had a slightly larger storefront but still nothing that was going to help me. I walked to the counter and was greeted by a lady twice my age, she had such a kind face. Do you have sleeves for knees? No. Umm, do you have a brace for a knee? No. Alright, do you have any products for the knee? She turned and disappeared behind a wall for only a few moments. Oh look, an identical bundle of the dried, leafy, smelly stuff. She looked displeased that I was wasting her time so we left. Whatever, this is exactly why I have an amazon account out here, even if I do have to wait three days and go pick up my package at the post office. 60 seconds later I had one ordered. I only had to stop 8 times on the stairs up to our apartment that day. So I get dressed in my limited wardrobe that has become even more limited by my slightly bulky, but badly needed brace. I’m sure walking around on it up and down the stars and around town for a week after I hurt it hasn’t helped anything.

I go to make coffee with my Aeropress, I love that thing. There is a coffee machine and a french press in the apartment but I haven’t used either of them yet. As I grind my beans in my hand operated mill I glance at the table and notice places with egg goop all over them, I ask the kids again to clear the table. I boil water in a pot on the stove. There is an electric kettle that is much faster and more convenient, but 80% of the time I use it, it trips the breaker and I lose power to the apartment, which means I have to go around resetting things afterwards, so I’ve long since packed it up and retired it at the very back of the highest shelf. I don’t like boiling water in a pot on the stove, but I’m not going to buy a kettle. I also hate my pots and pans, but it’s only for six months. I don’t have a single butter knife in the apartment, I’ll just have to live without. We only have three bowls, whatever, there’s only three of us and nobody eats cereal anymore. I will however, be buying a cheese grater. Turns out I can’t live without one of those. Coffee is made, complete with the gorgonzola flavoured milk that is only tolerable in my coffee, surprisingly enough. I glance at the sink and notice plates with egg goop and pieces of egg white on them, I inform the kids that this morning, they get to clean the kitchen. Kaleb doesn’t mind, for some reason the kitchen is his favourite chore, but Kaylee groans and protests.

After breakfast is cleaned up I mentally go through everything we need to get done today. If we want to make it to Monkeybrains Market we’ll have to leave soon, the merchants typically start closing up around 11. Tonight we’re having Pizza pinwheels for dinner. I got super tired of listening to the kids complain about every single meal I made, so I opened a new pepperplate account, imported some recipes and told them they could each pick a dinner a week, so long as they ate my dinners on the other days. Kaleb had picked pizza pinwheels. We bake everything in our microwave/toasteroven/convection oven combo. It’s tiny and weird, but we make do. I would need to pick up some pre-made pizza dough, cheese, sauce and maybe some meat. As the kids get dressed we talk yet again about what to do when we change. Pajamas go on the bed, I’ll change them every few days. Socks and underwear go straight into the laundry machine, and pants and shirts are looked over for marks, spots, spills and smells. Some=Laundry None=Hung on the back of the chair. I’m starting to think I should get it engraved on a plaque and hang it on the wall, though I’m not sure that would help, I do know that laundry is a giant pain my ass. My machine is tiny so I have to do loads often, and there is no dryer, so I hang everything so it can get nice and crunchy, despite going through fabric softener like a maniac.

Kids are dressed, my purse has extra bags, my wallet, phone and keys. Keys are important, my apartment door locks automatically when it’s closed, like a hotel room, and I’ve already locked myself out once. Thankfully my landlord gave me two sets and Kyla was at home with the other set when it happened. The markets only take cash, so I always have to have a bit on hand, unlike in Calgary when I almost never had cash on me. We head down our narrow, twisting staircase and I only have to stop because of knee pain like, five times. Again I wonder how the neighbours picture us, the kids have a habit of running down the stairs chuckling, I don’t know why, but they do and the staircase echoes like a canyon. By the time I’ve reached the front door the kids have checked the mail, hit each other a few times and have grown bored of waiting, they argue about who opens Theodore (get it?). I’m embarrassed to say that the first time we left the place it took us a minute to figure out how to open the door. I don’t know if we’ve seen a doorknob since we left the airport.

We head out towards the general direction of monkey brains market. The kids either don’t know or don’t mind that I can’t exactly remember the way, my guess is they have no idea. The roads here don’t run parallel and perpendicular to each other. If I had to liken them to any shape, I’d say close to a spiderweb, with a few centres instead of just one. It would be easier if I kept a mental log of which street lead where, but I’m finding that still difficult. It’s in that general direction, and finding new shops along the way has the potential to solve some problems we’re facing getting set up in our new home, so that general direction is the way we go. There are dogs everywhere we go, I’d say about 45% of them are on leash, the others just walk alongside their owners, and a few randoms just seem to do their own thing with no obvious owner around, but they wear collars and look fed so we assume they aren’t strays. About 95% of the dogs around here look on edge, they don’t look relaxed and happy to be out for a walk. Sometimes my kids will ask to “say hello” to a dog, but only if I’ve scoped it out and decides it doesn’t look totally freaked out, which isn’t that often. As a by product of all the dogs around here, there is dog crap EVERYWHERE. I don’t know why in the world people don’t pick up after their dogs, it seems so awful to me, but it’s a fact of life here, on almost every block there is dog crap somewhere on the ground. To counter that, every single morning men come by in tiny water trucks and hose down the street and sidewalks (where they exist). It seemed really weird to me at first that they would rinse the roads every morning, but as time goes by I’m starting to understand why. Beer and wine is splashed on the streets with all the public drinking, and most apartments around us just put their garbage, in bags, outside of the front door, leaking and all. So dog crap, alcohol and garbage slime is washed away down the street drains early every morning, readying the roads to be dirtied again. I understand now why I’ve heard so many visitors say Calgary is such a “clean” city. As we walk we do so in the middle of the street, if a car comes by, we do as the locals do and move out of the way at the very last moment, squeezing into the narrow space between the buildings and the road. When we first got here I had eight heart attack like events per day about my kids being so close to the traffic, and not paying attention enough to when cars are there or not, today we are a little more used to walking in the street, we understand the rhythm a little better and if we happen to misstep or don’t hear a car behind us, we understand a honking car does not equal an angry person here, it is a polite way of saying ‘excuse me’.

As we make our way through tiny streets, guessing which corner to turn at I realize I’ve gone a little too far in the wrong direction, I tell the kids I have to send a message and I pull up google maps on my phone. I don’t care if we take too long, the kids need to use their legs and it’s the difference between 5 minutes and 10-15. Ok, so go in that general direction. I’m not trying to memorize street names because my brain doesn’t function with the foreign names yet, and I’m not keeping my phone out because I’d rather look around and maybe get to know the area. Eventually I’m pretty sure at the end of this road we should turn left but when we get to the end of the road we find ourselves at the market. I wanted to come in on the other end, but that’s ok, we made it anyways.

I tell the kids that I will buy them absolutely any fruits and vegetables they would like and we make our way through. As we pass by tables people look me in the eye and say things, I hope they are offering me a good deal, I hope that my smile and silence isn’t somehow insulting but I don’t recognize any of those words, and they speak very fast, I don’t check with Kaylee anymore, she doesn’t know what they say either. Kaleb spots the clementines from six tables away, we pick out eight and not for a moment do I wonder if they’ll get eaten. Produce here doesn’t seem to last as long, actually nothing does. I’ve read in a few places that Europe has different rules about food preservatives and treatment, I don’t fully understand if/how that would affect produce, but I don’t mind. The clementines come from our neighbour to the west, Spain, and are the most delicious orange any of us have ever eaten, if I don’t ration we’d eat all eight before nightfall. I hand the bag over to the person working the table, this transaction is easy, they ask me if I want a bag and let me know how much I owe them, all those words I can easily deal with. I’ve brought two tote bags and another shopping bag, I try to make the two smaller bags light so the kids can carry them longer, but I typically end up with all three bags on my shoulders before too long. I don’t mind. Kaylee picks out lettuce and the vegetables she wants to put in the salads for the next few days. She’s decided to be the salad maker for the family. It’s awesome because despite feigning interest in cuisine, she’s never really done much around the kitchen. Kaleb on the other hand, is the ultimate kitchen helper, that kid knew his way around a chef’s blade before he could print. Yes, I am that parent. As Kaylee picks out salad fixings I try to understand the cured meats table. I love cured meats and really want to buy something, but I’ve had one or two different samples three times a week for two weeks now and it’s only my Canadian politeness that keeps me from sitting them out almost right away. I don’t get it, what am I eating? They aren’t labeled with the meat type and flavourings, that I could understand, I think. The woman working the cured meats table barely looks at me anymore. I bet she thinks I come to the market to lunch on samples, I want to give you money, I swear. I catch back up with Kaylee and she has an arm full of produce. Despite filling one of my shopping bags, we pay around 4-5 Euros for all of it. It’s all fresh, crisp and super yummy.

The kids no longer want to see the monkey brains truck (which actually contain sheep brains) and all of it’s oddities, Cow tongue, something lung, brains and other things I haven’t quite been able to translate. It’s just as well because it’s very busy today and I would hate to line up just to peek and have the kids say “ewww”. I make my way past the spice table, I have bought from here many times and the man working the tables offers me a nod, I nod back but pass right by, he’s too nice to the kids and gives them a scoop so they can smell every single blend he has, if I need spices, I’ll come back when the kids are back at school and buy them then. We make our way to the butcher, I tell the kids to look around the tables and not touch anything. I hang out and watch and listen to people buying meat. None of it is precut or labeled and I have yet to navigate the method in which one buys meat from this guy. I listen and watch for a few minutes, try to hear these foreign words in such a way I could at least repeat them, or see somebody buy a familiar cut so I could at least say I want the same thing, but no luck. Kaylee asked a week ago if we could have steaks for dinner, I said yes but since then have come to learn that going out and buying a steak isn’t as simple as I expected. One day. The kids have spotted a table selling Calissons, I explain to them that it is a locally made candy, contains candied fruit and tell them if they’d like, I can buy them some. We’ve been meaning to try them for a while, they are the pride of our city. I let the kids grab a piece from the sample plate and wait for their eyes to light up. Kaleb’s Canadian politeness is drowning under his gag reflex as he reaches for my hand. He spits the candy out, half chewed and covered in spit right into my palm. I no longer want to sample. I look at Kaylee and can tell she’s tough enough to swallow it, but won’t be sampling them again any time soon. The merchant at this table eyeballs me with utter distain. I shrug, as if to say “I guess it’s a good thing you have samples” and walk away to ditch the candy goo and wipe my hand.

We stop by the cheese truck to pick up cheese for our pizza dinner, I know from experience this guy will sell me anything, but doesn’t like my accent or the slow manner in which I order things, I don’t mind, I understand I sound funny, and can appreciate his frustration in me ordering at a snail’s pace. Maybe in five months time he’ll comment on how far I’ve come. I know what I want but don’t see if on any of the labels. I double check every piece of cheese to see if it even looks like mozza or cheddar, or something I’d want on a pizza. I have yet to find more than three cheeses with a name I recognize. It’s not like I never ate cheese in Canada, in fact I would often buy five or six different kids on a single shopping trip, but they aren’t the same here, and if they are similar, they certainly aren’t named the same. I don’t know how to buy french cheese at all. I see nothing appropriate for pizza and order a new cheese to try out at home, I buy something new from this guy every time in an attempt to familiarize myself with the cheeses, I likely butcher the name as I order and he wraps it up for me. He never says a word to me but again, I don’t mind. There’s plenty more we could shop around for but I know I’m going to need cheese on the way home, so we head out.

Which road did I come from? Which one did I mean to come from? Bah, whatever, home is thataway, and we need to check out the shops anyways. We walk by a fromagerie I haven’t been in yet. It’s isn’t bustling so it’s way less intimidating. I hate going into a busy shop, everybody (understandably) wants you to order fast and move along, and often I need time to look at the products, read labels etc. before I’m ready. I take a look at every single cheese in there, I think I recognize a few names, and I have definitely eaten a few already, but nothing I’d put on a pizza. I ask if she has any mozzarella, she says no. As I’m trying to figure out the proper tense and grammar to use to ask what cheese would be good on a pizza, others come in and quickly order. I’m intimidated so I walk out. I’m pretty sure Monoprix is right around the corner and they have a huge fridge full of cheese with no attendant where I can take my time and google things. Off we go. The kids, by this time are getting right sick of shopping. they don’t complain, they don’t whine, and they don’t ask to be finished, they just start to laugh loudly as they play pushing games with one another. I let it happen, they’ve been troopers so far. As we head into the monoprix I explain that it wouldn’t be appropriate to push or be loud inside the store, and ask them for their help looking for pizza cheese. We head to the cheese fridge and I look over everything, the kids help by pointing at every single cheese and ask “Is that it? Is that it? Is that it” I realize they need to amuse themselves, but I need to focus on cheese.  I tell them I’ll handle it and to just give me a minute. Enter loud laughter and pushing. It only goes on for a minute before we start to get looks so once again I explain that we are in an entirely different culture and we don’t yet know what’s acceptable. What if, in France, it’s ok to hit other people’s kids upside the head if they are acting inappropriately? Yes, I would get mad and ask them not to, but by that time you’d already be hit. I know it’s a large threat, but it works, and they go sit quietly on some nearby steps. I see some cheddar, but it’s sliced and long rectangular shaped (hmm, looks perfect to put on a baguette). As I’m googling cheeses and trying to figure out what the hell to do, I hear my kids again. they are wrestling on the floor. I grab some baguette cheddar, some emmental and head for my kids. This time I am a little more stern. Stop. Be quiet. Now, let’s take a look at this sign and see if we can figure out where we might find pizza sauce. Nope, but we head upstairs anyways. Of course, we take the tiny elevator because my knee is currently housing the devil of all injuries.

 

Upstairs I find pasta sauces and canned tomatoes. I’ve made my own pizza sauce before, but I don’t have the right ingredients at home, flashback to the nod I gave the spice merchant as I pass by everything I would need. The kids return to their game of “Is it this one?” I grab something that looks Italian and decide if I put it on super lightly, it won’t matter. Tomato sauce is tomato sauce. Back down the tiny elevator and back towards the cheese fridge, I forgot that the pre made dough was right beside it and the kids protest having to double back. As we get into line I rearrange the goods in my bags to make room for what I’m about to buy, my kids play the pushing game again, but they aren’t being overly loud, and aren’t taking up much space, so I let it slide, I don’t want to nag and they’ve been shopping and walking for around 2 hours now. We’re about 3 or 4 people from the till when I hear, in a very harsh and angry voice some rapid french words. What I did distinguish was something along the lines of “Arret de pousser, en ce moment” I lean forward to my children, who haven’t seemed to notice that they were being scolded by a stranger and explain the situation. They freeze in fear. We move one place in line and Kaylee asks if they can wait outside the store. I’m in eye’s shot of the door and I agree. I take a look back at the older lady behind me and she’s looking like I’m the one who needs a smack upside the head. Ok, I too just want to go home now. I pay, bag my stuff and go outside. The kids are looking at me in fear, like they are about to get beat for the first time. I kneel down and explain how I didn’t exactly think anybody was right in that situation, them for playing around in line, nor the woman for scolding them, nor I for letting it slide. I also explain how I understand they are tired and sick of shopping, but that’s no reason to horse around in a place that we are obviously expected to behave. Homeward bound and I let the kids skip and play the entire way.

Hauling three big bags of food up four flights of twisty stairs is hell on my knee. The kids are already in the apartment when I take my second floor break. It hurts, so bad. When did I get old? Why does my body hate me?The kids are kind enough to back track and each grab a bag to haul up the stairs. The two bags of food are put away by the time I make it to the apartment and I can’t help but feel like my kids are the best that ever lived. Kaleb asks if I need a foot rub (Yes, I do get them, they last about 10 seconds but make me feel like a queen anyways). I decline, I’m boiling hot, I rip off my jeans in exchange for yoga capris and turn down all the radiators again. I put away the rest of the food. The kids do a couple lessons on DuoLingo in exchange for some ipad time. I don’t think Dulingo helps much, but it helps me feel good about two weeks out of school for some reason. I make another coffee with my aeropress and sit down at the kitchen table, I’m tired and sore. God, I love this coffee.

The coffee goes down fast and I chase it with a giant glass of water, when we first got here I didn’t drink enough water and suffered from it, now I try to remember to drink, I’ve always struggled with drinking enough water. I sit on the most comfortable couch ever and curl up in a blanket. In the battle between caffeine and fatigue, the coffee losses. I wake up 28 minutes later with a bladder so full it practically hurts. I’ve been JICing for years, and this is life’s revenge. Every time we flush the toilet we have to wiggle the button a little bit or the flush goes on until the end of time. Only I have gotten used to this so far. I tell the kids their time is up, I’ll start on dinner if they start on some homework.

The kids have a TON of homework. We are certainly not used to this. We always considered after school time our own time to chase hobbies, participate in sports and follow other interests. Through the course of the two week break, Kaleb sat down for about 90 minutes worth of homework and Kaylee has spent about 4 hours working on assignments. Granted, my kids are a little slower than the other kids will be because of the language barrier and a lack of understanding certain things, but to us, it is a lot. I spend about one minute in the kitchen for every fifteen minutes at the table helping with homework or explaining tasks, or doing my own google-fu to try to figure out what the hell this assignment is about. All work is done in ink, black for the most part, blue for other things, pencils are only allowed to be used on Fridays. I don’t get it either. I totally timed this right and by the time the kids are allowed to re shelf their homework, I actually start on dinner. My Pasta sauce, weird cheese, no meats pizza pinwheels.

Kaylee works on chopping veggies and Kaleb put on a french TV show while he sweeps (He doesn’t really sweep so much as he pushes the broom around and stares at the TV). I can’t stand the shows I’m familiar with being on. At first I thought watching the Simpsons or Big Bang Theory in french would be fun, maybe even useful but I absolutely can not stand the voices. It’s not like they try to match Marge Simpson at all, and I can’t focus on the words, just the weird voices.  I blast through prepping dinner, despite having to awkwardly cut up cheese because I forgot all about buying a grater,  and put it in my weird toaster oven thing. I’ve heard the convection setting on these things is supposed to be some sort of miracle but I guess the holy ghost doesn’t live here, because every time I’ve tried it things come out colder and weirder than the regular oven setting, so I use that. I do a quick tidy of the apartment and draft a postcard while I’m waiting for dinner. I help Kaylee finish up the salad and pour a glass of wine. Yuck. again. Why is there so much bad wine around here, and why do I keep buying it?!? I really ought to switch to beer, I’ve always liked beer better but I was excited about all the local wines out here. Every glass I’ve had in a restaurant has been great, every bottle I’ve bought on my own has been awful. I keep taking pictures of the restaurant wine and not finding them anywhere. I pour the wine down the kitchen sink and pull the pizza out of the toaster oven. I would try the wine again tomorrow with lunch and decide the same thing, only then I’d pour out the entire bottle and add the empty bottle to my collection beside the garbage can. So many bottles, I think only maybe two glasses drank.

We serve the pizza and salad with water. I watch as Kaleb takes the first bite and my heart sinks. Kaleb picked this dinner and I really did want to make it ok for him, I wanted to be able to make my kids requests, we have a deal, I’ll make your foods, you eat mine. Turns out I’ve made some sort of monstrosity dressed up as pizza pinwheels. At least the dough is tasty. I make the kids eat one, we chuck the rest out and feast on salad, yogurt and toast for dinner instead. I feel defeated. I take a few minutes to go through our pepperplate list and realize how many recipes there are with ingredients I haven’t seen, or don’t know where to buy. I hate winging meals with a passion. If I don’t have a plan, I don’t shop properly, I get stressed out deciding what to cook, and my kids always try to convince me to do something else. But maybe a meal plan isn’t quite the way to go yet either. We talk about the food we’ve seen, and what can be made out of it. Too bad we can’t live on those clementines and baguettes.

The kids argue about who showered first last time, and whose turn it is today. I end the argument quickly when I say while one of them is in the shower, the other is doing homework with my help. Kaylee runs into the bathroom and closes the door before Kaleb even has a chance to speak. Kaleb thinks he was told to make twenty books. We talk a bit about what he may have been told instead but the kid is sure, he has to make twenty books. Not just write them, but bind them and everything. I ask if he has any written instructions, he says no. I tell him we aren’t making twenty books and we settle on reading one of the books he brought home from school. It was about a princess who acted a fool, and wasn’t very graceful so the king kicked her out of the castle and sent her to refining school. As she’s on her way to refining school, a photocopied page falls out of the book. It’s a home reading assignment, much like the ones he has to do in Canada, just a little more book report like. Could this be what the teacher meant? No, No, She said he had to make twenty books. I’m not helping you make twenty books, why don’t we just do this book report instead.

As Kaleb showers, Kaylee cries. We’ve both tried our best at a homework assignment and couldn’t do it. It doesn’t help that Kaylee was given a photocopied page with no instructions, just “This is your homework” She doesn’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, and she’s scared of her teacher. Teachers here grab kids by the wrist and march them handcuff style into the corner and yell at them, this add to her fear. She’s worried, I have a few moments where I believe I’ve torn apart my family just to torture everybody and we put the homework away. It’s now thirty minutes past bedtime but I put on an episode of AFV anyways. We need a good laugh and there’s no school tomorrow. The kids wear the same PJs as last night and I’m still in my yoga pants. We chuckle a bit then head to bed. Kaylee reads her Kobo as I snuggle Kaleb and tell him how proud I am of him. He asks if tomorrow we can have a lazy day. No, If we don’t go but food we don’t eat. Besides, we still have one more park to scope out. Maybe this one will have green space, maybe this one will have other kids to play with. Maybe tomorrow nobody will be frustrated.

Lights out.

I collapse on the couch and wish I had some beer. Or some wine that wasn’t awful. Or a Manhattan. I put Big Bang Theory from Netflix onto my laptop and hook it up to the TV with the HDMI cord I was lucky enough to think to bring. The show is in english, the credits are in french. I zone out until I’m sleepy and I crawl into my rock hard bed with flat, crappy pillows and dream. I dream that I’m in Calgary getting ready to come to France, like I do every night. I dream about packing, about organizing toiletries and picking clothes to bring and about actually remembering my most favourite ever sports bra. At some point in the night the kids take turns coming into my room and telling me all about the creepy noises they heard. I heard them too, loud neighbours, creaking pipes, car horns. I walk them back to bed and tell them not to worry, we just aren’t used to them yet. We sleep.

I’d like to dedicate this post to Diana P. who is living vicariously through me, even on days we are doing NOTHING 😉

We climbed a mountain.

So with the kids on their first 2 week break from school Kyla and I got together to discuss what we wanted to get done, and of those things, what we should do together and when. It was Sunday and looking at the weather forecast we decided any outdoorsy things should be done the next day, on Monday. Something we both wanted to do with the kids was check out Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Croix de Provence so we quickly did some research, how do we get there, how do we get back, how long is the hike etc. The first decision we had to make was to go up the north or the south side. The north side was easier, but the south side was prettier. For those that don’t know me well, I love a challenge, which is stupid because I’m rarely fit to handle the challenges I take on (Yeah, screw you ski hill at mud hero), but I take them on anyways often leading to injuries, and a weird mix of regret and pride. South side it is. We figured out our route, decided to meet in the morning, grab enough food to last the few hours of our outing and head down to the bus that would take us out of town. All went well, we grabbed enough food for lunch an a few snacks, had plenty of water, a few first aid items, and were on our way. Navigating the bus felt like a great accomplishment, we made it to where we needed to be, on time with 4 kids in tow and were now leaving the city. We found our stop, found the trail head and started our day, it was around 10am and we knew it took about two hours for most people to get to the cross on the top of the mountain, but most people didn’t have 4 kids following behind. The first 45 minutes were awesome, the kids could actually run, jump and horse around, the weather was awesome and we had left the crowded city centre that was our new home. The smell of the unfamiliar foliage was amazing.

We made our way up to the first building an amazing view. We had a snack and water break, took it all in and we all felt really grateful for being there. Handed out some of the bribes (read: candy) we brought for the kids, adjusted our layers accordingly and moved on.

I don’t remember how long it was before we were faced with an option.

As mentioned before, I can’t ever bring myself to take the easy way. I always think I’m going to be filled with regret and wonder if I don’t go all in. Kyla made a good point, it had been pretty difficult (mostly very steep) so far, and we did have kids with us. I also made a point; We won’t know unless we try. Looking back on the day, this was the point that we went from a hike, to an adventure. We could have gone left, made it up to the top in two hours, had lunch and made our way back down, but we didn’t. We went right and did something else entirely. Not long after that we were looking up a rock face that was obvious we needed to climb. “we can do this” I said, and I went up first, took off my bag and stayed close to help the kids, for the most part, the kids were awesome little climbers, it took a little skill, but they pulled it off and we all went proudly on our way, feeling accomplished. Something I didn’t realize until later, was we just crossed a point of no return. It was a little difficult, but manageable getting up that rock face, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible to go down without ropes.

We followed trail markers, which were not always obvious, occasionally we had to stop and send kids 20-30 feet ahead in a few different directions to find which way to go. It was a very rocky trail and so footprints or obvious paths were not always visible. We did cross the occasional hiker still, but maybe only 3 or 4 at this point.

At some point we hit an open, sunny slope. We basked in the light and had a bit of a snack. We packed up, and set out on our way to what we thought was the path. we were wrong. We did a bit of a scramble to cross the slope, and ended up on a lovely little cliff. We realized at this point we no longer saw trail markers, but there were a few flags around. I didn’t know what they were for. Alright, we stood on the cliff and tried to figure out which pass up to the ridge made the most sense. Couldn’t be that one, too much climbing, couldn’t be that one, it goes no where.  Must be around this small ridge. Let’s go. We tried all of them.

A few hours later we stood back on that same lovely cliff and tried to figure out where we went wrong. We carefully weighed all of our options. We realized we would be unable to help the kids down that rock face we climbed up, the kids were tired, sore and hungry (at this point, we’d fed the kids the majority of the food we’d brought). As I was studying the ridge absolutely baffled, I saw two heads poke out from the other side of the slope. They seemed to be headed back down the mountain, I carefully watched their path and realized that was where we needed to be. And at this point, it was our only option.

We crossed the sunny slope, scrambling on loose rock, skinning knees and cutting palms of hands ever so slightly. I was pretty sure everybody in our group hated my decision for taking the difficult side, I did too. Once across the slope it was painfully obvious this is where we should be. Not easy, still very steep and we had to use our hands as we navigated up towards the ridge, but way easier than the cliffs, bush rock faces and the hell we just came from. Plus, look at all those lovely little trail markers. I missed you little guys.

As we made our way off the slope and up the ridge, Kyla had some truly adventurous news: She’s left her vest back across the slope from hell where we’d eaten last. While it was an expensive vest, and much needed for our time in Aix, it was at this point, disposable. Her apartment keys inside the vest, were not. The kids and I continued up the ridge towards the cross and Kyla headed back. Being on the trail again gave the kids a new level of energy and excitement I was grateful for. They weren’t complaining or fighting, and were moving as fast as when we first started on the trail head. We reached the buildings very close to the top and stopped to catch our breath. Here were some amazingly breath taking views, a bathroom, some great history, and a chance for the kids to goof around and be kids without being in danger. We decided to wait here for Kyla and finish to the top of the mountain together. The kids played games, ran around and smiled. I remembered why we were here, apartment life was starting to get to us, and we needed to be outdoors, and being with nature was even better. We didn’t need to make good time, we didn’t need to challenge ourselves, we didn’t need to be the best hikers we could be, we needed to breathe fresh air, move our bodies and get physically tired. We had reached our goal.

Eventually Kyla made it up huffing and puffing, and totally red faced. I cant imagine how much that sucked, especially since her vest wasn’t where she thought it would be, glad she did end up finding it though.

We made our way up the steep incline and all the way to the cross. It was beautiful. We drank our tiny wine bottles, ate the rest of our food and were happy. After a while we headed back down the path, of course this time, we would take the easy route.

Or would we?

After descending down for about 30 minutes Kyla spun me around and asked me to look at the path we were on. We were NOT leaving the same way we came for sure, but we were also headed down the OTHER SIDE of the mountain. Well, we decided the trail has to lead somewhere, and wherever that was, we were sure to find a bus to bring us back to town.

We had gone up the mountain on the south side, and we were descending down the north side.  No longer a single file path, this path was wide enough to fit two cars (More than I can say for most of the streets in town), wouldn’t this be an easy way up the mountain? The kids ran, fell and hurt themselves, and I somehow managed to hurt my knee on the steep decline, I don’t know how, but it hurt like hell. I took some codeine and pressed on. I may have secretly shed a few tears from the pain, and I needed to slow down at some points, but we pressed on. After what seemed like another 3 hours we made our way back to humans. Farmland, anyways. We hit a few forks in the road and made our way, eventually using the help of some locals back towards the parking lot that had the trail head. We used our phones to try and figure out where we were and how the hell to get back to the city. Once we did that, we realized the bus was coming, RIGHT NOW or in an hour and a half. We rushed the kids up another hill, along a highway and towards the bus stop. Unsure if we had made it in time or missed the bus, we waiting at the bus stop full of hope (and a little despair).

Our hearts, our moods and our hope dropped into nothingness as we saw our bus speed by on the other side of the highway. We were on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t even think of that. Aix is thataway. Kyla and I were taking a moment trying to gather ourselves before we decided what to do, the next bus wasn’t for 90 minutes, we had to find the stop, the kids were tired, hungry (no more food left at this point), we could call a cab, but we were in the middle of nowhere, we’d have to figure out which of these properties had a house, and hope that somebody there would be willing to help us. Kyla said “The people in that car are looking at us like we’re crazy” I thought some very not nice things about them. After staring at us for a while, they turned around and parked in front of us. It was my Landlord and his wife. The only other people I knew in the entire country, and they happened to live at the foot of the mountain.

They rolled down the window and informed me I was on the wrong side of the road, and that the bus didn’t come for a long time. Thanks. He told us to hop in the back of the car, he was headed into town and could take us close to our apartment. What. A. Life. Saver. I’m not one to use the word fate, but I can tell you that was one of the most appreciated coincidences I’d ever experienced in my life.

We made it to the top of the mountain, and back home in well, I don’t even know how many hours. We left before breakfast and returned around dinner time, or shortly there after. We had a day full of fresh air and our muscles were properly used, all day long.

We grabbed some food from the patisserie (Guess who didn’t care about eating vegetables for dinner?) and headed home for the greatest sleep of our lives.

You know, maybe our next adventure we should go into the city.

 

 

It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows.

Wouldn’t it be great if the story ended at my last post? Stocked kitchen, great first day of school, happily ever after. Ah, but this is real life, so here’s a real update; Sometimes, this trip sucks.

Firstly, school. This is the real heart breaker here. The kids had a great first day, yes, but then reality set in. Teachers here are not the caring, empathetic teachers we are used to back home. The attitude conveyed is “I’m not here to teach you, I’m here to make you do it.” in fact, that comes very close to a quote from an actual teacher who said to one of my children “Don’t ask me for help, thats what your friends are for” Excuse us, but we’ve always believed that’s actually what teachers are for. Different cultures, fair enough, we are perfectly happy to assimilate, thats why we’re here, but it’s very difficult for my daughter to sit there and watch kids multiply (by memory) in the triple digits. That we can work on at home, no biggie, but calculating volumes when she’s never been introduced to the connects being used, a little harder. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m not saying we wont try our best, what I AM saying is it’s a very difficult thing to be the only one to feel totally lost in class, and when you try to understand, your teacher tells you to just work on your cursive writing instead, because you are so slow and awful at it. Not the kind, goal setting, encouraging teaching my kids have grown to thrive in. So, we try. Kaylee tries her best in school, has moments where she has to excuse herself to cry in the bathroom, and tries again. She comes home with regular homework, extra french homework (For students who use french as a second language), and then on top of that we work on math. I had fully intended to supplement Canadian Social Studies according to our Alberta curriculum, but honestly, that might end up being our summer homeschooling, as it is right now, schoolwork is taking up all hours of the weekdays and doesn’t leave much time for exploring, shopping and experiencing culture.

Kaleb had great feedback the first 4 days, I would ask how his day was, he would say good, or great, or fun, or awesome. I would ask about lunch, he would tell me about everything that he ate, and everything that he’d try, but not finish, who he sat with, what they joked about. I would ask about recess and he would tell me all the games he played, all the running, jumping etc. that he loved. Three recesses that are actually a decent amount of time has to be one of his favourite parts of school. His teacher let him have a few days to get to know the kids, and them let him pick who to sit with, of course he picked the other two english speaking kids in his class, he feels safe and happy with them, and the fact that the are fluent in both english and french is helpful. I thought maybe they placed him more appropriately according to his needs and abilities. Then, after a conversation with Kaylee one day I asked him the question I’d apparently missed all along: “Have you ever cried at school?”  “Everyday. Probably two, maybe three times a day” Enter chest pain and suddenly moist eyeballs. Well, he always has been an overly sensitive, hot headed kid, I never did get an estimate of how often he cried in his Canadian school, but I was under the impression it was not 2 or 3 times daily. He cries because he doesn’t understand things, he cries because he feels like he tries so hard (“harder than ever before”) and it isn’t anywhere near good enough. He cries because he fails to properly understand instructions and feels like he’s constantly messing up.

It’s interesting the wildly different feedback I get from my two kids who are experiencing the same things. We will continue to try and adapt and change with out new environment, school has never been a back burner priority for us, an dI imagine it will continue to be difficult. One thing is for sure, I can’t continue to allow Kaylee to push herself so hard. I don’t want to normalize the kind of pressure she’s currently putting on herself. It’s one thing to put in some extra effort and study hours to get “Caught up” It’s another thing completely to spend every waking hour consumed with “Not failing” at school. We’ll need to find some balance somewhere in that mess.

Another thing that sucks? Not having my husband as backup. I knew I’d miss him, that part is obvious, but the part that sucks is now it’s often 2 vs 1. I don’t have him there to say “No, this chicken soup full of vegetables is awesome, and it’s some of the best broth you’ve ever made!” instead I hear “Do I have to? I don’t like it” and so far, everything I have made for dinner, while I find delicious , the kids have whined and complained about. It sucks, I work hard in this place with weird shopping, crappy pots and pans and no oven, I need somebody to appreciate me, I never realized how far my husbands “MMmm”s at the dinner table truly went.

Want to know what else sucks? Apartment living. A few years ago Jason and I moved into our first house from a townhouse style condo. While Jason still loves it very much (ok, I still love it too), I realized pretty quickly we don’t need it. It was a lot of money, for a lot of space, for a lot of maintenance. I always said to Jason, I was perfectly happy to go old together in our house, and I loved our new community so, so, so much, but if he ever wanted to, I would move back into a townhouse no problem, as long as it had a yard and a garage.  I stand by that. Our little two bedroom apartment is all we need, ok maybe three (eventually my kids will be teenagers and I imagine the last night giggle fests will end) but it is missing one crucial thing, a YARD. Or even a nearby park, one that allows you to be on the grass! Wearing the kids out when it’s not a school day has proven an incredibly difficult task. We walk EVERYWHERE, we don’t bus (yet), but living in such a central area, the farthest we’ve had to go yet has been a 15 minute walk, so 30 there and back. Not enough, even three times a day. We do a bit of body weight exercises and stretching in our apartment on our yoga mat, but the kids hate it and to be honest, so do I. There are not a lot of green spaces nearby, the closest “Parc” is a few blocks away on a historical property, it would be an amazing space, if it weren’t for the fact that the grass (Read 90% of it) was off limits. So when the kids run there, they are confined to a tiny, single file dirt path that goes around the yard. Fun. Off the side of this property is a playground. The playground consists of 3 small rocking toys, two benches and a concrete area that is mostly used for soccer. Fun. The first time we went there, I couldn’t believe the confidence my son had. He walked right up to adult men with soccer balls and asked “Est-ce que Je peux jouer aussi?” And he did, he ran around with them, kicked, passed, showed off some moves and wore himself out, it was awesome and I was so proud of him. I decided to by him a ball and it took three day, yes THREE days of looking in every sports store, every toy store I could find on google before I found a small soccer ball. Uninflated. Where they didn’t sell pumps. And didn’t know where I could find one. Fun. I did find a bouncy style kicking ball, and bought it for him. This ball has brought out some interesting coping mechanisms in my son. He’s named the ball, he talks to the ball, he reads to it, tucks it in and doesn’t let anybody else touch his ball. It’s a cheap ball, eventually it’s going to pop and Kaleb’s soul will be completely crushed, but for now it’s his thing, and since I moved him to a new continent and threw him straight into an entirely different culture, I’ll let this one go. How do I wear my kids out when the weather sucks, there’s nowhere to play and we are still unfamiliar with the area? We find the local pool. After hours of searching I found ONE pool in the city. Open only during school hours, closed after school, weekends and school holidays, Fun. I asked one of the smoking moms at school (did i mention all the moms smoke, all the time? like, with their children? so weird) how she keeps her kids active, she told me they leave the city. Fun.

 

You know what? F it, we’re going to climb a mountain.

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