Friday, January 30, 2009

What's A Kid to Do When Their Teacher is On Strike?

Can you see our little village, perched up on the hill? Can you hear the bells ringing from the church tower as Typhon howls in harmony? No? Neither could I from here. Ahhh....peaceful, blissful afternoon in the winter sun.

I heard from the news that the strike action across the country disrupted traffic and caused mayhem in the cities. For us, it just meant a chance for the boys to run and splash in puddles. The only mayhem to be had was when Mini-Husband was "herded" by our friend's Border Collie.

Most times I really don't understand why the French go on strike. It gets explained to me, but the nuances of the issues go over my head. Regardless, strike action is part of our lives here and one must learn to accept it, live with it as best as one can. If only all the strikes could be scheduled to happen on beautiful sunny days like this one...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guilt in a Whole New Form

I've got a whole new area of guilt that I'm trying to deal with now. I thought I had covered most aspects of guilt already, but boy, was I wrong.

We had a friend of Mini-Husband's with us for the last two nights, a lovely kid who actually listened to me. I think he was the only one who actually sat at the table during dinner and it was him alone that made the efforts to clean up the toys before bed. But as lovely as he was, the biased side of motherhood started to rear it's ugly head.

Yes, motherhood is biased. Horribly biased. There are no other children anywhere on this earth that are as wonderful or as amazing as yours. None smell as good, none smile as brightly, none laugh those belly laughs like your kids do. Perfection has been achieved! And it's fighting with you over having a bath!

It's this aspect of motherhood that I'm trying to control. And even as Mini-Husband sat next to his friend and they worked on their math homework, it took everything in me to swallow that bitter mix of pride and guilt as I watched them work. Oh the joy of watching Mini-Husband doing his numbers so quickly and neatly while his friend struggled with his eraser yet again! And even though I told him off, how could I not be secretly, evilly pleased that Mini-Husband had given his friend the answers to the hard problems? Not to mention how smug I felt that my beautiful incredible son didn't demand an extra night light at bedtime?

Enter maternal guilt and visions of me driving that damn bus to hell yet again!

I had no idea that motherhood would do this to me. I thought being a mother would help teach me how to be patient and kind. Help me learn how to really love someone, no matter what. I had visions of motherhood being a portal into that dream world of tolerance and acceptance. No one explained to me that the phrase, "nothing like a mother's love," really means, "my kids rock the most and yours, well, yours are ok too, I guess."

I was extremely relieved when our friend showed up for her son. She grabbed him in her arms and smothered that poor boy with loads of kisses. Real mommy kisses. My guilt eased a touch at that point because it was obvious to me that she was thinking the same thing I was. That there really isn't anything like a mother's love and "my kid rocks the most."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Becoming One of the Seven

I've applied for a new job. I had heard a rumour through the Disney hotline that Grumpy was looking to retire and that Snow White was desperate to replace him as soon as possible. Now, there is an argument that Hubster is vastly more qualified for this position that I am, but lately I've been giving him a run for his money.

Nothing like living with a huge belly, making it impossible to tie your shoes or bend over normally to chase away a happy-go-lucky attitude. It's hard to get comfortable at night and once you do, forget rolling over. That simple idea takes on a whole new meaning.

There is also a 'reverse proportional' thing here too since as the belly gets bigger, your patience with family and friends gets smaller. It should be a clear warning that if you can visibly tell a woman is pregnant, speak softly and get the heck out of her way.

Pregnancy also compels your hands to be absolutely useless. They seem to have lost control completely and you end up dropping everything (including last night's dinner) creating havoc in those fun places like the kitchen and bathroom. The only consolation is that for some unexplained reason, your fingers develop a food related super force and are capable of holding on to the tiniest bit of chocolate or a tortilla chip for dear life.

All of these things set you on the road to Grumpyhood and the path is firmly fixed when you realize you've got at least 3 more months of this to go.

I see that Abaka, Anouk and Typhon are starting to look like me too, overweight and disheveled with all their extra winter fur. Not like the sleek wanna-be racers they've impersonated in the past.

I can't carry the laundry basket up from the basement without needing to wipe off the sweat and guzzle a water bottle when I reach the first floor.

When I'm at the pool, I realize that buying a grey swimsuit wasn't the best of ideas. Looking like a whale and then seeing one walk by in the mirror as I pass, just isn't good for a pregnant woman's mental health.

And I saw Musher Boy and his dad running yesterday and I had to fight back the tears.

Yes, I know. I'm growing a life here and that's what counts. I don't blame Whoopsie. At all. It's amazing feeling that little baby moving around in there. But it's just hard to surrender your body to someone else for 9 months.

I'm trying to remind myself that come spring time, when the weather warms and the sun sticks around a lot longer, my body will just be me again. Whoopsie will be here. We'll be able to see and touch that lovely little baby and enjoy all that this marinating process helps to produce.

And at that point, I'm fairly sure I'll be applying for Sleepy's job as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching the Inauguration with the Crowds at the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast

The good news for my invalid last night was that our sofa pulled out into a nice bed so Hubster was able to get tucked up with his favourite little people and watch that wonderful bit of history unfold. Nothing like having the live pictures of Obama's inauguration on the decent TV screen, then being able to mute the French translations and follow the speech live with CBS online.

The only scary part, besides having to occasionally listen to Katie Couric, was watching Bubba-Love jump around the sofa bed, trailing popcorn and juice behind him. It looked like there was a body outline where Hubster had been laying.

I did my best to sing along with the National Anthem but The Princess asked me in her most politest manner, to stop. When I didn't, I tried to explain to her that, "this is the voice God gave me, so by golly I'm gonna use it!" (Thank you Father Rafferty for giving me and my mother that line way back in about 1982-83.) She didn't buy that though and chose to hold her ears till my cacophony was finished.

I don't think I can ever explain how good it was to watch that event, huddled with my people, watching my people, witnessing and participating in a small way in our shared history. The last time I felt this sort of need to be there, to see and to know what was going on, was when all of us around the globe watched transfixed on 9/11. This time, rather than contemplating the horror, we watched and celebrated the joy.

And regardless of what becomes of his presidency, I can not thank Barack Obama enough for this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Fourth Child Was Actually Born In 1969

So Hubster has royally messed up his back and the doctor has told him to take the week off of work and not budge from the bed.

Y'all can imagine the joy and happiness this brings to me.

The highlight of his current situation is that I finally can give him my detailed opinion on things and then run from the room if he doesn't agree with me. Spiteful, I know, but I've always been a fan of "kick 'em when they're down!" You could look at that approach as good motivation for him to get better as quickly as possible, right?

I'll try and look at this as good training for when Whoopsie is born. I'll be the master of dealing with the "cry-it-out" method for sure.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Bells Are Back, Are Back, Are Back.

My peaceful mornings are over.

Cast your minds back to when we had that lovely power outage that lasted two days. The highlight of the whole experience was that for some unknown reason, the bells in the church tower got zapped and blissful silence reigned. No ringing of the bells, the bells, the bells and no singing of the Typhon at 7 am.

Imagine my angst when deep in the basement Wednesday afternoon, I heard the familiar ringing, telling me it was 2 pm.

"Oh NO! They're back! I've only got 5 hours till he starts howling!"

I stressed and grumbled and promptly at 7:05 pm, when the evening Evangelise started, I bolted out the door with my water bottle ready to squirt. Typhon looked up at me and howled under his breath. I could see the gleam in his eyes. He knew what the bells meant. It was his chance to release that inner opera star that had been tucked away for the last few weeks and as soon as my back was turned, he gave Pavarotti a run for his money.

My blissful days of lounging in bed till 7:30 am are well and truly over. The infamous 100 yard dash down the stairs to stop the opera baratone from waking my neighbours has recommenced in ernest.

Of course, the irony is that today, I was ready. Watching the clock from 7:01am, positioning myself next to the door so that at 7:05 exactly, I could stop him before he really got going. And guess what? The big lump decided to sleep in.

I am cursed by the bells, the bells, the ringing of the bells!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Know Your Son is 7 When...

* He knows how to work the coffee machine but demands that his mother still help him to get dressed.

* He can draw a plan for redesigning the local hardware store, including an enlarged parking area and restrooms, but can't find a trash can for his candy wrappers.

* He knows that when mommy is yelling at his sister and brother, now is the time to behave, be good as gold, and enjoy watching them getting punished.

* He can answer the phone but isn't sure what it means to "take a message."

* He can read what his homework is, but he can't remember where he put his backpack.

* He likes playing football with his friends at school, but is happy making a sofa out of his duvet for his teddy when it's time for bed.

* He talks about the house he's going to build for him and his girlfriend when they are big and get married. A train house that will whisk them around Europe and over to England to visit Grandma and Grand Dad, as long as said girlfriend passes her English exams at university first.

* He can climb up on his father's lap, snuggle in and ask how volcanos work. Then how engines work. Then how to count to 15 in Spanish.

* He can ride his bike around the village, but will still need a kiss and hug to wipe away the tears if he falls.

* He's tall and strong and looks older than he is, yet he still prefers a T-shirt with a tractor on it to one with Spiderman.

* He can clean his room and clear the table but can't put his clothes in the dirty laundry basket.

* He can tell you he loves you and you know that he really understands what that means.

You know your son is 7 when you realize what an incredible person your baby is becoming. There is no doubt for me, that every day with him has been, and is still, a blessing.

Happy 7 Years, Mini-Husband!

Monday, January 12, 2009

This Is What You Get When I'm Your Mother.

No. It is not a large doughnut.

This is, in fact, the very amazing birthday cake I've done for Mini-Husband today. Sure, it's not real frosting and it looks very much like something from Dunkin' Donuts, but in fact, it's a Dig Special.

You see, this is a cake, baked with love, and topped with peanut butter and Nutella with some left over Christmas sprinkles thrown on for colour.

Admit it. You're very, very jealous and you wish I was your mother.

More about the birthday and the birthday boy tomorrow. I'm off to blow up 25 balloons before I need to get him and The Princess from school.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Room Should be Ready by Tuesday, Just Which Particular Tuesday, I'm Not Sure

So the latest guest at the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast has come and gone. It's always with a little melancholy that I say good-bye to our friends. The time with them passes so quickly and then before you know it, it's back to the normal everyday stuff. Laundry, matching socks, picking up dog poop. It's hard not to beg people to stay just a wee bit longer so I don't have to do all that again just yet...

I wish there was a way to explain how really cool it is to see our tribe get to know our friends. How fun it is to see Bubba-Love asked to be carried by my buddy from high school or Mini-Husband demand airplane stories over and over from John. It's hard to put into words how touching it is, months or even years after someone has been with us, one of the kids will start by saying, "Hey, mom. You remember when Rosanna was here and..."

Our guests, our friends, have given an amazing tapestry to our children. A huge swath of colour, woven of their lives, laughs, and experiences. It's wonderful and beyond anything I ever imagined. And as much as I hate having to clean this place before everyone gets here so y'all think I actually can keep a tidy home, it's worth it. Every minute of both the cleaning and the visits.

The latest guest was one of my friends from high school. A guy who's witnessed and heard every horrible Dig story for the last 20 years. He's tolerated my liberal left leanings, my bad taste in beer, and a harrowing drive with a teeny tiny car and a very large keg through the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Now, he got to visit a paper making museum with an inquisitive Mini-Husband and a twirling Princess, a night discussing rugby with Hubster, and then a not so harrowing drive to Lyon in a banged up station wagon while having to throw crackers at Bubba-Love in the back.

Our lives may have changed since the late 1980s, but the essentials rest the same.

Bubba-Love fell asleep on the way home and was quite disappointed when he woke up and realized that we really had left Keith back at the train station. I like that. It means that we'll be talking about Keith again here at the B&B. Who needs a guest book when you've got kids with memories like elephants?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's Freakin' Cold Outside

France has been suffering from an intense cold wave these last couple of weeks, with temps getting down to about -15°C at night in some parts. Today, at the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast, it was a whopping -11°C when I took the kids to school.

It's so cold out there that as soon as I put the dogs' water bowl outside, it's frozen in about 2 minutes. It's so cold that my liquid laundry soap, which is sitting on top of my laundry machine in the unheated basement, is frozen.

But even though -11°C sounds so bitter, if you do the conversions, that's only 12°F! Shoot, that's balmy, really in the whole winter scope of things. 12°F is still above zero in my American mind, and hence, really not that bad. Of course, this is the woman that used to live in a place where -25°F at night was a common occurrence.

But Dorothy, you need to be fair. You ain't in Idaho anymore.

It is bloomin' cold out there by which ever scale you use. I'm going to have to remember to start buying powered laundry soap this winter and perhaps start knitting husky fur sweaters for all and sundry's Christmas presents next year. If only I knew how to knit...

At least the dogs seem happy. They've all dug very nice holes around the garden and are taking turns rotating between them, except for Abaka who has decided that laying down on top of the wood piled in the trailer is her spot. Three furry muffins, with their snow noses on proud display, enjoying the cold of the air, the meager warmth of the sun, and their dreams of an "all-the-underpants-and-cats-you-can-eat" buffet.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Round Two

Perhaps some of you remember that last January, my loved one's loved one was facing a serious round of surgery to battle a rare form of cancer, pseudomyxoma peritonei or rather, PMP. It was quiet an emotional time for her and her loved one, but we were all so happy to see him recover so well and get back to living as living should be.

Their wedding in August was a wonderful time. The love in that room made even the hardest stoic tear up and there is no doubt in my mind that this couple, my loved one and her loved one, are two of the most wonderful people I've had the chance to know.

It was a blow for them, and all of us who love them, to hear a few weeks before Christmas that the cancer had come back.

Yesterday, my loved one's loved one went through the same all day surgery to remove the offending cancer and send a "nuclear" dose of chemo through his body with the hopes of killing it off once and for good. The news from them this morning is positive, but cautious. He's got another tough recovery ahead of him and I know that this second round, coming so quickly on the heels of last year, has shocked and sobered us all.

That being said, please, hold my loved one and her loved one in your thoughts and prayers. I hope that he will recover completely and this cancer will be gone from his body so that the two of them can get on living without this shadow behind them.

As my cousin has said, "he's strong and courageous" and those are two traits that will help him through this. Throw in the love of a very good woman as well and you can't be anything but optimistic.

For more information on this type of cancer, here's a link to the awareness group. There are some other incredible people who have been affected by this disease as well. Their stories are touching, harrowing, humbling, and brave. Take a minute to read through a few. And then please, pray for them as well.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Reason for Hamsters

I think I must give thanks where thanks are due and that would be to the various and sundry hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs I had as pets over the years.

I had no idea that the smell that I would come to associate with a cage overdue a cleaning would reassert itself so strongly nor so often in my adult life.

Seems I have a nose trained perfectly for finding old wet nappies that have been stashed in bizarre places near an overflowing garbage can.

Ah, thank you, Ernie. Thank you, Cuddles. Thank you, Winnie-the-Pig. It's because of you I'm able not to vomit on trash days.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

And Then They Were Gone

It's sounds fun to be an expat, especially one living in France. People imagine the food, the language and Paris as a backdrop to an exotic lifestyle when in reality life carries on here as it does elsewhere, only without the ease of buying Peter Pan and not an Eiffel Tower in sight.

Truth be told, there are times when being an expat really isn't all it's cracked up to be. You're living in a foreign country, at a loss in a new language, unsure of yourself and those around you. It's in the beginning days that the experiences and reassuring words of those other expats who been here become so valuable. They've been here, they've done it, they know what you are going through. They keep you sane. They remind you that it's all going to be ok.

Over the years, I've gone from being the scared newbie to the almost hardened resident, defending the French for their ability to be so different from us non-French. I've met several families who have come and gone during our almost 6 years here and most of them go through the same routine: the fear and excitement in the beginning, the desire to master the language, the thrill of France. They then slowly return to "normal" and live their lives as they can, trying to understand the absurdity of certain French ways, coming to a unsettled peace until they know their time here is dwindling. As BVJC once said, "when they know they only have 6 months left till they go home, they are already across the ocean."

It's hard watching these people who's lives you've witnessed in deepest intimacy start to pack up and get excited about leaving. You continue to worry about what to make for dinner next week while they are scanning house announcements in neighbourhoods you've never seen or visited. Most of the time, I listen and try to help as best I can, but they are already heading to a world I know nothing about and I'm still living here.

Since at least the beginning of last summer, I knew that Miss Tennessee 1975 and her family would be heading back to the US. We chatted about it lightly over coffee, laughed about it with two other families who were also starting their moving back plans, and basically just let it sit like a great big elephant in the corner of the room.

The Tennessees were the first expat family to live so close to us. They had decided in the beginning that they wanted to live outside of the city and try to experience a different kind of expat life that that would offer. It was our luck that they chose the town just down the hill from us.

I can not tell you how many times I stopped at theirs just to say,"Hi." How many times we ended up having pizza with them because we could. How the people in the village knew her as my "blonde American." How nice it was that Hubster and Mr Tennessee had the same job and got along so well. How glad I was to be able to call her when my water broke with Bubba-Love. How glad I was to return the favour when she went into labour with her second child.

Through them, I got to know people from the town that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet. Through them, I read books I haven't read for years, talked about subjects I thought I knew so much about, and experienced a family that truly lived a Christian life. An eye opening experience for this recovering Catholic-pagan wanna-be and my stoic Agnostic Hubster.

We watched their oldest daughter grow from a beautiful baby laying on a play mat to a fierce and independent 3 year old who headed to her French school each morning completely excited because her school had a bell tower. We laughed over the idiosyncrasies of the French and the language we fought so hard to understand. (Why is a table feminine, someone tell us please?!?)

We got used to them being here.

And yesterday, they left.

With 8 huge suitcases, their two daughters, and more tears than I care to admit, they headed off for the little plane that would take them to Paris and then to the big plane that would whisk them thousands of miles away. We stood in the airport with The Princess, distraught and angry, Mini-Husband, waving as long as he could, and Bubba-Love, who just kept asking where Miss Tennessee was going.

It was a hard drive home.

Yes, the life of an expat is exotic and amazing, just heartbreaking when it's time for those you've come to know and love to leave. I've sworn to Hubster that I'm not making friends with anymore of the short-term families that are coming over. It's too painful. He doesn't believe me though because he knows as well as I do, deep down inside, that this pain isn't because we are expats, it's because we were friends. Very good friends.

The Tennessees are flying miles away from us, over the ocean as I type, and I am going to miss them terribly. I am so glad to have had the chance to be a part of their experiences here and I hope they know that they will always have a place in our hearts and rooms at the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast.