Holidays in Montpellier

Wally, Andrew and I spent Christmas in Montpellier, France.  Here are a few photos from our holiday:

Enjoying the Christmas market in Comedie

Enjoying the Christmas market in Comedie

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Christmas morning at my friend Rowena's house in Lattes, France

Christmas morning at my friend Rowena’s house in Lattes, France

Wally and Andrew on the roller coaster at the Christmas market

Wally and Andrew on the roller coaster at the Christmas market

Inventive man on the streets of Montpellier using his costumed dog to collect donations from passersby

Inventive man on the streets of Montpellier using his costumed dog to collect donations from passersby

That was Funny

LATTES PIZZA MISHAP

One day I was feeling especially “French” and decided to order a pizza for my son Andrew via telephone. Speaking a foreign language face to face with a native speaker is difficult enough — but at least you have intonation and hand signals to help you out if you run into trouble. When you are speaking over the phone you remove any advantages.

I called the pizza parlor and ordered a Margherita Pizza in my best French. The person on the line seemed to be protesting, but I did not understand enough French to understand what they were saying — so I assumed they were telling me the price of the pizza and when it would be ready for pick-up. I waited about 15 minutes, then loaded Andrew into the car and headed to the pizza parlor. When I arrived I asked for my pre-ordered pizza but everyone looked puzzled.

I explained that I had called in advance and ordered it. An English speaking customer explained this to the shop owner but they insisted that they had not received a call from me. I quickly realized that I had dialed the wrong telephone number and I probably called a little old woman who’d been trying to tell me that her home wasn’t the pizza parlor.!!!

PIZZA MAN FROM PALAVAS TO THE RESCUE

About the fourth day of our trip to France, I was still having trouble with getting Andrew to eat French food. Somewhere in his mind he decided that it wasn’t good and he was refusing to try anything new. We arrived home one evening and when we got off the bus on our street, we could smell the aroma of delicious pizza baking. Andrew looked at me with a wide grin and said “that’s pizza.” About one block later we found the source. It was a small kiosk manned by a French man making one pizza at a time. He quickly realized that Andrew and I spoke English and to our delight he could speak English as well.

The pizza kiosk became one of Andrew’s favorite spots.

When Andrew came home one Friday with homework, I was dumbfounded. It was a page of french sounds and words. There was also a portion where he had to match a picture with it’s corresponding name (french name). I couldn’t help him with this work. I had an idea.

I grabbed the homework and took Andrew by the hand and off we went to ask our Pizzaman for assistance. As our pizza order baked, he patiently reviewed Andrews’s homework. Teaching both Andrew and me the french words and sounds.

REPAIR MAN RETURN

I was staying at my Friend Rowena’s house but her heat wasn’t working. Our friend Sonja arranged for a repair man to come to the house.

As is custom in France, the repair man and his assistant (neither spoke English) were taking off for the lunch break. The man tried to explain to me what time he would return. He said “quatorze heure.” I didn’t really know the word quatorze but it sounded like quatre — which means 4. I assumed he would return at 4:00pm. France recognized what we American’s consider military time. What he meant was 14:00, which is 2:00pm. Oooppps. He arrived back at the house at 2:00pm, I did not arrive to give him access to the house until 4:00pm. CAN WE ALL JUST GET ALONG AND SYNCRONIZE OUR CLOCKS!!! LOL.

HOW DO I GET OUT OF HERE??????

In my early days of driving here in France. My car would often stall. Trying to get out of a security gate was always a challenge because it would close before I could get the car through it.

I decided to go grocery shopping in a supermarket, close to the center of a busy city. When I pulled my car into the parking lot, the lever opened automatically, but I did not receive a ticket. I pulled into the lot then the gate descended behind me. I looked back at the security device and thought “how am I going to get out of here???”

I parked the car then walked back to the entrance. There was a sign, so I decided to read it. I needed to know how I was going to exit this parking lot when I finished my shopping. I walked up to the sign, then realized that it was totally in French. DARN!!!!! There was only one word I recognized. It was the world “Code.” But did code in French mean the same thing it means in English. I wasn’t sure.

I decided that my only recourse would be to finish my shopping, pack the car then wait for another shopper to exit the lot and quickly follow them out without the lever having a chance to come down and bang my the car.

Throughout my shopping I was concerned about how I was going to exit the parking lot. I finished my shopping and was checking out and bagging my groceries, when the cashier tapped my shoulder and in broken English asked if I drove to the supermarket. I said “Qui” and she pointed to the bottom of my receipt which had the code I needed to use to exit the parking lot.

WELCOME HOME

One day while I was driving back from an excursion to a small French market, a barking dog drew my attention. I looked in the direction of the barking and saw a gate opening and a car driving through the gate. Even in the distance I could tell that it was a man driving– possibly driving home from work. As he parked and got out of his car, his trusty dog ran up to greet him. This seemed normal to me until the dog was joined by two horses. All three animals were waiting their turn to be petted by the man.
I thought that was delightful.

Andrew in France Retrospect

In my heart I truly hoped that Andrew and I would be able to stay in France for the length of a full school year.  That dream has been lovingly altered.  Andrew is back in the United States.  My baby “toughed” it out here in France with me for 3 months.  I commend him for being brave and withstanding the challenges that were thrown at him daily.  A new country, new language and new school would be overwhelming for most adults, but my little boy handled it.  Sometimes he managed well other times the obstacles overtook him.  Either way I am still so proud of him.  He has learned a few french words and terms.  He can eat a baguette with the best-of-them.  He can find a French fast food joint without the help of a GPS.

Andrew endured the long tram, bus and eventually car rides.  He withstood the play yards and more often than not, played by himself — because no other child spoke English.    He was his Mommy’s daily dinner companion.  I will miss him.  In so many ways Andrew made this trip to France possible.  It was our desire for him to gain a larger perspective of the world that inspired the trip to include him.  It was his education that was at the forefront of deciding where we would live.  It was our concern for him that encouraged me to connect with American women who live here.  That connection has transpired into at least two amazing new friendships.  It was concern for him, that inspired others to be good to us since we’ve been here in France.

During this trip Andrew and I fought, cried and rejoiced together.  There were some parenting challenges that brought me to my knees.  For him, I am sure there were some moments with his mother that he would choose to forget.

I discovered some things about him and I discovered more about myself.  I trust that these new discoveries will enhance our relationship in a positive way.

I will miss him each day I continue to stay in France in his absence.  Knowing that I of course will be reconnected with him back in New Jersey gives me some solace.  But this was a journey we started together.  We surmounted the obstacles together as a team. I will miss my pint-sized partner.

Click below to see a video memoire of his time in France

Andrew in France Retrospect.

 

A Vacation from my Vacation

I long for the days when I could peacefully have a cup of tea or take a long shower without hearing “Mommy, can you help me” or “Mommy is my breakfast ready” or “Mommy can you play with me” “Mommy I can’t find my this or that” or “Mommy I don’t want to go to bed.”  Being the solo parent is overwhelming for me because I truly am a loner. Nothing is more pleasing to me than time spent alone.  However, solo parenting is the temporary job I took on when I chose to come to France.Just 6 weeks into our France adventure (early November), I needed a vacation from my “vacation.”  While Andrew was on a school break we took a mini vacation.  I wanted someone else to be in charge of making up the beds and preparing the breakfast.

Following a recommendation, from my friend Sonja, we headed to the Provence region.  Provence is known for its growing of lavender.  We visited a city on the coast called Cassis.  Upon arrival we purchased tickets for a boat tour through the nearby coves.  It was a chilly day on the water, so Andrew and I huddled together in our seats.  There were eight passengers in total.  A couple with their two children, an oddly dressed man (he was wearing Bermuda shorts) with his toddler, Andrew and me.

We’d chosen to take the 45 minute tour.  There was a choice of having a 90-minute tour but considering how chilly it was, I’m glad we opted for the shorter cruise.

Our day out on the waters near Cassis

Our day out on the waters near Cassis

Whenever we would return to the sea from one of the outlaying coves, it would be a rocky time.  The waves would crash into the relatively small craft with fury….that’s why I was surprised with the boat’s captain motioned for Andrew to come over and steer.

I watched as my little guy bobbed and weaved along the deck, balancing himself with his arms extended from his sides, to stay upright on his way to the helm.  He confidently steered me and the other passengers through the choppy waters.  The other passengers were laughing and smiling.  I had a look of terror on my face.

Andrew and the Captain with nerves of steel

Andrew and the Captain with nerves of steel

We spent the night in an amazing port town called La Ciotat.  Many French people don’t even know of this lovely place.  I now consider it my hidden jewel. Here we found floating crafts of all kinds from fishing boats to luxury yachts.  The port is surrounded by restaurants – where patrons “People watch” and observe docking boats.  It’s laid back and unpretentious.  La Ciotat makes the list of places I will visit again.

We completed our mini vacation with a visit to Aix En Provence – which is a lively university town and a stop in Avignon – which is a magnificent place for shopping along its narrow European cobble stone streets.

Street in Cassis

Street in Cassis

Andrew at the dock in La Ciotat

Andrew at the dock in La Ciotat

Fishing boat at La Ciotat dock

Fishing boat at La Ciotat dock

sailors statue in La Ciotat

sailors statue in La Ciotat

Are Sure Her Name is Aloha????

One late afternoon after picking up our son Andrew from his school, he sat in the backseat of the car and had this announcement:  “Mommy I have a girlfriend.”

I assumed that he meant that he had finally made a friend and she happened to be a girl.  I replied “Oh that’s nice honey what’s her name?” Andrew responded “Aloha.”  It seemed like an odd name so I repeated “Did you say Aloha?’”  “Yes Mommy.”  I asked him “Is she from Hawaii?”  Andrew said “I don’t know, but she speaks French.” OK, she’s not from Hawaii !

I would later learn that this little girl began school the same time that Andrew began in early October.  She is French and lives in a village called Juvignac, just north of their school.  She has taken a liking to Andrew.  The teacher tells me that Aloha makes sure that she always sits next to Andrew and ensures that he has his share of whatever is being given out in the classroom ex. Crayons, legos, paint etc.  She is his little French advocate.

In a conference, which I had with Andrew’s teachers, they were describing some challenging behavior being displayed by Andrew.  Aloha somehow doesn’t seem to mind Andrew’s mis -behaving.  In fact, her English teacher jokingly said.  “She likes the bad boys.”  His comment was funny. It would have been much funnier if he wasn’t referring to my kid as the “bad boy.”

At about 4:20, the children are allowed to play in the school’s backyard.  Parents arrive at various times between 4:30 – 5:30 to pick up their children.  I was retrieving my little boy who – was dressed in his jeans, Old Navy long sleeve tee-shirt topped with his now infamous blue down vest.  As I walked down the side of the school building toward the backyard, I could hear the sounds of the children screeching, laughing and jovially speaking in French.  When I reached the backyard and was in my son’s full view, he came running to me with a pretty little girl close behind him.  As usual, he pounced on me and yelled “Hi Mommy, this is Aloha.” I smiled at the child and said “Hi, I mean… Bon Jour Aloha.”  She smiled shyly and said “Hi.” She sat down and patiently watched me prepare Andrew to leave.  Once I deemed him ready to go, the two children hugged each other.  It was a loving hug reminiscent of a wife sending her husband off to work in the morning.  It was so sweet.

On Monday Andrew had a disturbing cough.  I would not have sent him to school, but this was the day that his long-awaited French tutor was to begin.  So much paperwork and effort had gone into this University student coming to work specifically with Andrew that I would have been inconsiderate to cancel at the last moment.  I took Andrew to school and told the teacher that I did not want him to play outside in the afternoon.  I wanted to avoid the cold air in his lungs, as he ran and exerted himself during playtime.  His teacher agreed.  When I came to retrieve Andrew that day he was playing with magnets on a chalkboard in one of the classrooms.  He wasn’t alone.  Sweet little Aloha was by his side. When Aloha discovered that Andrew could not play outside, she must have volunteered to play indoors with him.  I watched them play for a while.  The girl’s mother arrived and then she called to her child….. “Laura.”  “Did she say Laura?????”

It appears French children have a different pronunciation for the name Laura. They call the girl something that sounds like Aloha.  We prepped our children for the cold weather and they wouldn’t leave each other until they hugged.

This little girl is the definition of a sweetheart.  She is calm, gentle and patient which is in stark contrast to my son who can be loud, over energetic and rambunctious.

Don’t get it twisted….Aloha….(I mean Laura) is no pushover.  On Thursday the children were pretending to be in a band.  Each was playing a musical instrument.  Aloha (Laura) had a child-sized accordion.  She was joyfully playing it when Andrew ran up to her and decided he wanted to play with it.  She held that accordion tightly under her arm.  She didn’t let it go.  I concealed my laughter and thought to myself “You go girl.” Andrew conceded and found a harmonica to play (no wonder he had a cough — with that many kids sharing a “germy” harmonica)  In a few moments they’d both forgotten the accordion incident and when it was time for the children to part, they gave each other their traditional hug.

Andrew and Laura

Andrew and Laura

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is exclusively an American holiday.  The unique celebration is observed in the United States regardless of your race or faith.  It’s our honoring and remembrance of what the pilgrims and Native Americans shared in the New World.

It is not the same in France. Here Thanksgiving is a regular Thursday in France.  Business continues and people move about as they normally would.

The holiday is a big deal for the Choice family.  My husband and the members of Million Man Montclair – which was formed in 1996 after the Million Man march on Washington – have been serving Thanksgiving annually to senior citizens of our surrounding community.  It’s a hectic time as donations and food are collected.  Cooking begins days in advance in preparation of the 100s of people that will be fed.  Volunteers gather on Thanksgiving morning to form lines, as plastic take out containers are passed from one person to the next – assembly line style-  stuffing, sweet potatoes, mac & cheese, greens, gravy and of course turkey are spooned into the containers.

Once the containers are filled, there are other volunteers waiting to deliver them to the homes of waiting seniors, and home-bound citizens.  It’s a morning filled with a buzz of activity as the volunteers scatter around the facility to make sure everything is just right.  On that day I hear the name “Wally” 100 times.  Volunteers call out my husband’s name to ask him questions.  Where are the napkins?  Is there another pan of sweet potatoes?  How many dinners do we need to fill this order?

The volunteers are loyal, each returning year after year to man their station.  I haven’t cooked Thanksgiving for years.  The Choice Family eats the leftovers from the senior’s meal.  We are so dogged tired at the end of the day – the thought of firing up the stove and baking anything is unappealing.  One of the volunteers usually tops off our personal family meal with a homemade cake or pie.

Surprisingly, now that I am in France, I missed that Thanksgiving Day hustle and bustle.  I missed the look of the senior’s faces when they receive a warm meal delivered to their door.   I missed the appreciation that they inevitably show.

Here comes the cavalry.  Again the America Woman’s Group of Montpellier, France comes to my rescue.  On the Sunday before Thanksgiving they hosted a pre-thanksgiving potluck luncheon – with members bringing their favorite dish.  I brought my sweet potato casserole, which was no easy task considering it’s tough to find sweet potatoes or yams in France.

We had a second Thanksgiving celebration the following day, when my friend Rowena returned to France.  Our friend Sonja and I surprised Rowena with a homemadeThanksgiving luncheon,  including roasted chicken, mac & cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes, sautéed zucchini and of course a selection of wine.  No meal in France is complete without the wine.

Below are pictures of both celebrations:

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Hair Cuttin’ Up

Andrew has not had his hair cut since we’ve arrived here.  It was long overdue, because he hates for me to comb or brush his hair.  He wiggles and complains for each stroke.

I had no idea how to begin searching for a barber.  I noticed another boy in his class with textured hair, so I asked his mother for a suggestion.  She spoke only French and so through an interpreter we agreed that we would take our boys together for a haircut, during their two week school break.  That never happened.  Later I hand wrote the same mother a letter in French – but she never responded.  Dead end.

Riding on the tram last week I noticed a female African hair salon.  I noted the address and thought I would return to it and ask for a recommendation.  To my surprise as I continued to observe the passing buildings on the same street, I saw an African man sitting in a barber’s chair having a haircut.  Yeah, now I have a place to take Andrew.

With Andrew in tow, I walked back to the Salon to make an appointment. There were three mean in the salon at the time, a customer and two barbers.  My French is awful, but one of the barbers spoke some Spanish.  I can communicate in Spanish, so we were able to converse.  He was willing to cut Andrew’s hair on the spot, no appointment needed….which is surprising because everything in France requires an appointment.

There was a problem.  I had been on the hunt for a barber, but Andrew was unaware of that fact.  He was taken by surprise that I wanted his hair to be cut.  He was unprepared and insisted that these strange men were not going to cut his hair.  He told me that he could wait until he went back to the United States where his usual barber, Mr. Mahir could cut his hair.

I explained, cajoled, and practically begged Andrew to let one of the barbers cut his hair.  Andrew was having no part of this plan.  When the barber approached him with the shears, Andrew cried LOUDLY.  He squirmed, kicked and fussed.  As a southerner would say “He was cuttin’ up.” Andrew was convinced that this hair cut would hurt.  It took what felt like a lifetime (20 minutes) to calm him down enough to have the haircut.

The main barber, a 20 something year old man who told me that he was born in Algeria and that his father was from Spain, patiently waited for Andrew to relax.

Andrew wanted his regular barber who he’d come to trust to be the sole person to cut his hair.  Mr. Mahir knows how to cut it.  He knows how to make Andrew comfortable. Plus Mr. Mahir has a lollipop waiting for Andrew when he behaves well.  Andrew did not know this new barber and he certainly did not know if there would be a candy treat following the hair cutting procedure.

We were the first Americas to visit the little salon.  They were thrilled to hear me and Andrew speaking in American English — even if it was an exasperated mother talking to an out of control 5 year old boy. The barbers had heard American English (as opposed to British English) spoken in movies and television.  They did not understand the words but loved the tone and intonation.  They tried to imitate what we were saying using sounds and grunts.  It was so funny to me.

Andrew did finally agree to have his hair cut and enjoyed the process.  His barbers also enjoyed the little American boy who put up a good yet tearful fight.

The exterior of Andrew's new barbershop

The exterior of Andrew’s new barbershop

 

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Candy Factory

On a recent day trip Andrew and I stopped by Haribo, one of the largest candy manufacturers in France.  The factory offers a tour of its facilities — so I thought it would be something a 5 year old might enjoy.  It was during a French school holiday and I should have been prepared to stand in line.  When we arrived there was a line of at least 200 people.  There isn’t enough candy-making in the world to make me stand in a line that long.  We skipped the tour and went straight to the factory outlet store!!! We bought a few postcards and souvenirs.  Next door was a parking lot with those inflatable balloon kid fun stations.  That’s where we decided to spend our time, but we did take some photos before we left the factory.

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Halloween

I took Andrew to two Halloween costume parties. One held at the home of a member of the American Women’s Group and the other at the French American Institute in Montpellier. He insisted on wearing the same costume to both events.  He is in love with the Power Rangers.

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Special Delivery

In traveling to France, I came with only a carry-on bag filled with clothing for both me and my son.  I was flying stand by and did not want to get separated from my luggage.  I did not want my checked luggage to be potentially headed to France while I sat in the airport unable to board the plane because the flight was overbooked. I also wanted to be very mindful of my little boy who can be curious.  I did not want him to walk away from me and get lost as I fussed with too many suitcases.

I decided the best way to handle the situation was to have a box of my needed “stuff” delivered from my New Jersey home to my new address in France, once I arrived.

I asked my husband to purchase a coat for our son, and to add it to the box before he shipped it.  Via Skype, he showed me an insulated vest that he bought for Andrew to wear – confirming that the size was right for our growing little boy.  It was a simple dark blue vest designed to be layered atop a sweater or sweat shirt.  I gave my Mommy approval for the item and Wally packed it on top of everything else that was in the box.

The shipment was held up in French customs for more than a week.  I had to ask my friend Sonja —who has lived in France for 19 years and who speaks fluent French – to help me get my box released.  After several calls and e-mails, the big heavy brown cardboard box was delivered to me.

When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was the vest for Andrew.  A flood of tears sprang from my eyes.  I could not control my emotions.  Why was I so tearful?  What was causing these crocodile tears?  It did not feel like sadness OR tears of joy.  It was some strange overwhelming emotion, I am sure I had never experienced before.  All I know was that I could not stop crying.

A few days later that same emotion swept over me again.  This time I could identify this feeling.  I was having an experience with overwhelming gratefulness.  I am a truly grateful person by nature, but this was different.  The sensation overcame my body and I lost control.

I am so grateful to be in France at this time.  I am so thankful for the unbelievable friends I have made since I have been here.  They have been so generous with their belongings, time and friendship, especially Rowena.

I am amazed and grateful that the Internet provides me with a way (via Skype and e-mail) to stay in touch with my American friends and family “live.”  There is no time delay.  I can talk to and see them instantly.

We’ve never had this type of ingenious communications before.

I am so thankful that I was willing to take this time in my life to answer my inspiration and to follow my dreams.  I am thankful that God has answered my faith with his promises.

That box held so much for me (including some hair products – I had gone 5 weeks without visiting a salon – so you can imagine that I looked a “hot mess”)  It also held sweet reminders of home for Andrew, including his plastic character dishes and stuffed animals.

…..and now that box periodically holds Andrew.