Friday, September 30, 2011

France Travails

Grace's travels in France, and the accompanying angst is making me re-remember some of my own journeys. When I think back to those three months in France, I look at the entire experience and how it changed my life. I don't remember the daily struggles.
But first, Delana asked if I had a picture of myself in the pink fishnet anklets with the pink skirt. Indeed, I do and here it is:

So Grace is feeling frustrated about not understanding a language that she has studied and she is feeling shy about speaking French. I get that. The first two weeks I was with the French families, I hardly spoke at all. And they talked about me, right in front of me for a few weeks until I started to understand what they were saying. I promise Grace every time that we talk that it will get easier.
When I went to France, it was a last minute thing. I was 22 years old, working as a reporter at a daily newspaper in Middletown, Ohio, and dating a photographer. The photographer had a sister who was married to a Frenchman, Jose. (That J is pronounced zh instead of the Spanish way.) They had two little girls, Brigid and Claire, whie the wife was pregnant with her third child. The tickets to fly to France had already been purchased when the wife started to have complications. Someone needed to go with the girls to France and stay at their grandparents' house with them. That's where I came in.
I had only a few days to prepare so I didn't have time to panic. I filled a very, very big suitcase and went.
The father, who is a doctor, came along at the beginning for a medical conference. We flew into Paris and stayed at the grandparents' apartment in Viroflay, outside Paris in the direction of Versailles. The grandparents weren't there at the time, so when Jose left that morning for his medical conference, the girls and I were alone in France.
Maybe there's something about being responsible for other people that made me step up to the plate and take action. When the phone rang in the apartment that morning, I didn't answer it though. No way was I attempting to speak French on the phone. Brigid, 4, answered and it was her uncle Vincent, who spoke very good English.
After Jose had gone to the conference, I was responsible for getting the girls ready and meeting him at Luxembourg Gardens for lunch.
I dressed the girls in matching yellow overalls because, as a 22-year-old, I thought that was so cute. But their long sleeve shirts quickly became too warm on our outing so they ended up wearing the overalls without shirts underneath which looked a little white trash.
I have no idea how we made it onto the RER and got the train into Paris then switched to the Metro to meet Jose at Luxembourg Gardens. Somehow we did. The trips I took alone with the girls all run together, so I'm not sure if it was that day or another day that I went through the gate at the metro, with my one little ticket, pushing the girls in front of me since they were free, and they got stuck on the other side of the gate. There I was on the outside; the 3 and 4-year-olds were on the other side. The gate was closed. I panicked.
"Wait right there," I said. I imagined that I needed to run back to the window to buy another ticket to get through. Luckily, a woman behind me, who was wheeling a suitcase, took pity on me and let me go through on her ticket so I didn't have to desert too little girls in the Metro station.
When we met Jose at the Luxembourg Gardens, we had ham sandwiches with butter for lunch. I can still taste them. We fed the extra bread to the fish in the pond.
Then Jose went off to his meeting and he told me to take the girls by bus to his grandmother's apartment. Well, apparently, we got on the bus going in the wrong direction. The entire hot afternoon was spent climbing on and off buses going farther and farther away from Jose's grandmother's apartment. At one point, we got off the bus and I herded the girls to a cafe for a Coke. We all needed to raise our blood sugar a bit.
The cafe was chic and the people around us were very polite. They admired the girls and they asked about our trip. But when I asked them about taking the bus, they all shrugged. None of them were bus users.
I admonished Claire to be careful not to spill her drink then I promptly spilled my Coke and it flowed off the edge of the glass table.
Could the day get any worse?
Somehow, some way, we eventually got to Jose's grandmother's apartment, which is where I met Marguerite, who is still my friend today.
So, although I may tell Grace that my travels in France were the best times of my life, the individual days were a challenge. Maybe I didn't appreciate them until I came back, and maybe she won't either.
Until then, I'm encouraging her to find one good thing everyday to appreciate. I'll do the same here in Ohio.

4 comments:

Lucia said...

I'm sure you are happy that you did it and what a great life experience for GRACE too.

Grace said...

Thanks mom! I love you

Michelle said...

You are so amazing in so many ways!

Delana said...

I'm so behind in my blog reading that I almost missed this photo. OMG, I swear I had the same dress in turquoise. However, the little ankle socks....no honey, you win on that one. That was a really brave adventure. Really. For me it wouldn't have been going to France, but rather taking care of two little girls (in France). Way to go. Grace is going to be just fine. There's a certain amount of bliss in understanding NOTHING!

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