Monday, May 30, 2011

Eating my words

(I swear we're not some sort of jingoistic, flag-waving, boasting patriotic zealots here, but the concept of nationality keeps coming up for us in unexpected ways lately.)

Esther is proud of herself. I am proud of Esther.

She wrote a poem for her school's annual Memorial Day poetry contest and it was chosen as the winner.

It's a good poem. And, embarrassingly, I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in it, or her.

In a strangely Tiger -Momesque moment,  I even warned her before she handed it in not to get her hopes up too high. I told her that if she really wanted to win the contest, if she had truly cared about winning it, she should have given it a bit more time and effort, and most of all, she should have told me about it sooner than 8:30 p.m. the night before it was due, so I could have encouraged her to do her best. "No worries," I said, "there will be other poetry contests at school." Better luck next time. 

I obviously know nothing about the creative process and have no eye for talent or quality. Or at least that eye goes blind when it's gazing upon my offspring.

She won. She won. And it’s a lovely poem. Heartfelt, innocent, full of naive hope, about the American flag. "Our Flag of Freedom" was the theme of the contest.

Our flag of freedom. 

I stand tall above you all
giving you freedom
giving you strength and hope
giving you a name
I am red white and blue
I have stars and stripes too
I billow in the wind
Soldiers have fought wars for what I represent
And I will always be here
blowing in the wind
strong and true
here with you 

At first I thought it was odd, a girl who just got back from living two years in France would have much to say about the American flag. It's not like she has been pledging allegiance to it every day for the past two years.

But then it occurred to me that this distancing from her country might exactly be why the things she said about her flag resonated with the judges.

She told me the opening lines, "I stand tall above you all, giving you freedom, giving you strength and hope, giving you a name," came to her as she was falling asleep. She got up and turned on the light so she could right write them down.

Living as a foreigner for two years has given her a unique perspective. In the times, they came often, when she was in distress, upset, homesick, and it was so very clear to her she was not, nor ever would she be, home, it was America that soothed her, that called to her, that gave her a name.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Talking underwater

I feel kind of like I'm on maternity leave. My new baby is, um, me. And I might possibly, thanks Emma, have a touch of post -partum depression.

Every since we returned to America I have felt somewhat newborn: exposed, awkward, wobbly-legged. I've also felt as if a long-awaited event has come to pass so quietly, so swiftly, I can't remember it happening. How long have we been home? Almost four weeks? Is that possible?

I've been cocooning, withdrawn, shielding myself from the real world here in the Honeycomb Hideout.

We are adapting. My kids, one could say, have adapted, but I am still getting used to this new, old existence. I'm in the attic of my life, looking at old pictures and going through a trunk of old clothes, picking some things up and wondering, "what the hell?"holding other things to me and saying, "Oh how I've missed this."

Not being in our real house has allowed me to ease into this adaption. This cabin in the woods is a buffer zone. It might as well be a hotel room or resort. We are here with our four bags of clothes, the dozen odd library books we checked out yesterday, a few DVD's including Tinkerbell, which I insisted just yesterday, while wincing, is to be viewed in French, and our dog. Nothing else.

I don't have an answering machine, or a cell phone, nor do many people know my phone number. There is no cell service here. My mail is still being sent to my mother's house. I haven't raised a finger to figuring out our health insurance yet. I need to contact the electric company and the gas people. Dentist and doctor appointments need to be made, but can wait. Some long-lost friends remain unseen. This too, after two years away, can wait.

I sit here day after day, listening to the scritch of mice, the pooping is never done, and the roar, swoosh and creak of the wind in the tress, the trees in the wind, and the desperate calls of spring peepers: pick me, pick me, pick me.

I watch the rain fall, the sun shine, the grass dance, and the clouds descend. I also watch the children speed barefoot past the windows, round and round, followed by their loyal dog.

And I laugh at myself for thinking we have lost something when there is so much for us here. Abundance. 

And, as I wrote to a friend back in France just yesterday, I have so much to talk about, but...
" but I haven't yet found my voice. I'm still under water, looking up at the surface and the blurry world above it, but preferring to stay down here in the cool darkness and blow bubbles every time I open my mouth. (Or then again, maybe I'm just talking out my ass....)

Some days I think I might be depressed. Then other days, on yet another trip on foot down the hill to pick the kids up from school, I look out at the Green mountains, the white steeple, and I smell the warming, waking earth and feel it squishy beneath my feet, and I have to smile about all of it.

Storm's a brewin' over here at Momformation. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who sent us this book?

I found a package, delivered by my tenant, yes I still have a tenant, on the already- cluttered passenger seat of my car the other day. I did not recognize the return address; someone, somewhere, in North Carolina.

Curious, I ripped through the yellow envelope reinforced with packing tape to find a book-- this book you see above-- inside. Nothing else. No note. No explanation. No sign of who on earth sent it to me. It's mysterious. It's fun. It's intriguing. It's driving me crazy trying to figure out who my secret Santa, or is it secret Freud, is.

The book, called 1001 Reasons to Love America, is a particularly apt gift for us right now. I am assuming one of my readers, one of you, thought I could use a reminder-- as well as a way to practice our French-- of why we returned to our "homeland."

They were right. We did. We do. And we love it. Thank you.

As much as I am still in shock-- culture shock, geography shock, ecology shock, insect shock, family shock-- we are encountering reminders every day of things we know, remember, and love. Most particularly at the end of the day, when the sun starts to flirt on its way down behind the mountains in hopes we will fall asleep dreaming of butterscotch.

Last night, on our walk home from visiting friends, that flirty sun backlighted two teenage girls playing toss and catch, mitts in hand, with a softball on a vast, freshly-mown green lawn.

"I love seeing girls playing all these sports," Esther said, in a perfect impression of me.

(This from a girl who came home that afternoon with grass and dirt sticking out of her sock tops, after a raucous soccer match. Who says girls aren't aggressive?)

I saw a similar scene a few nights before, in the form of a solitary, skinny boy throwing a baseball at a hand-made cardboard box target, practicing his pitching perhaps, in his driveway. That scene, while so infused with pure Americana, made me think of all the energy we spend trying to force our kids to do things-- practice this, practice that, study this, study that-- when, as it so often turns out, if you give them time and space and quiet, they might just hear their passions calling them out to the driveway, or the mountains, or the drum set in the garage, or the library, and you don't need to say a thing.

Coincidentally, just the other night, before receiving this patriotic book, Esther discovered a little American flag here at my parents' cabin and used it as a prop to stage her own patriotic parade of silliness.

 Long story short: Whoever you are, thanks for thinking of us, whoever you are.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In which I attempt to portray life as perfect

I realize I've been leaning heavy of late on pictures to speak for me rather than words. Pictures speak half truths. They only tell one- sixteenth of the story. I can choose which pictures to share with you, and they are certainly most often the pictures that show the more beautiful, more seemingly perfect, sides of life. Life as I wish to see it: Simplified.
Pared down.

I don't photograph my kids when they are whining or yelling at me.
I don't photograph myself when I am yelling at my kids.
I have no pictures of the ticks, swollen with the blood of my child, I keep removing from Isla's head.
I can't photograph the fear and guilt I feel when removing said ticks, wondering if they carry Lyme disease.
I don't take pictures of the mouse shit on the counter each and every morning.
I don't photograph my back fat, my irritability at all my too -tight pants,  or the lines the top of my socks etch into my calves after a day of wear.
I don't take pictures of my parmesean cheese heels, in dire need of a cheese grater.
I don't take pictures of my sad, tense face on the phone with my Dad as he repeats himself and I know he's not going to tell mom I called, or why.
I can't take pictures of the knots my brain and heart goes into when I'm talking to my friend about her marriage problems.
I don't photograph the sorry state of the inside of my car.
I don't take pictures of the sorry state of the inside of my purse.
I have no pictures of the globs of toothpaste that are forever sticking to the side of the sink.
I don't take pictures of the tears in Isla's eyes when I catch her off guard with my impatience, or my anger.
I didn't photograph the pathetic tantrum Essie had tonight--the one I knew was coming since she went to a birthday party sleepover last night and stayed up past midnight-- just before she fell asleep, curled up on a chair
I won't be photographing the world's most depressing Shaw's Supermarket in Poultney.
I can't take a picture of the TMJ headache I have right now and which I am medicating with a gin and tonic.
I cannot photograph the sadness and regret I feel with each new day that goes by without our speaking a word of French.
Nor could I capture the emptyness I felt when walking the hollow streets of my childhood home town the other day.

There's nothing wrong, I suppose, with focusing on the more beautiful, pristine parts of life. It's human nature. It just feels, oh, I don't know, false some times. Like misrepresentation.

But, then again, it could be the very thing all of us need, a reminder to look under the dead leaves,  behind the disappointments, and beyond the idealized childhood memories, for the good stuff that's here right now.

Like Sissy's Kitchen

which is worthy of two photos.

Or raw organic milk from the Larson Farm

Or the joy of a screened in porch, not to mention being reunited with my old slippers.

And a new green yoga mat

on a rare slow morning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Halfway house

Thank God the mountains are still there. Always there. It's comforting to know some things are permanent.

By the look in her eye I would say she is still a bit skeptical we're staying.

Esther teaching her friends how to tickle frogs.

Remember screen doors?

How wonderful to have a pet again.

Isla is so thrilled to discover she has a dog.

It won't stay looking this serene, or clean, for long.

Isla's new favorite spot. She bumps her head each and every time she gets up.

Don't go, Ruby!

No trouble finding parking out here.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Back to abnormal

It's like we never left. Except, of course, I have changed. We all have changed. This place, this amazingly- beautiful, frozen- in- time place, has not.

I miss Ian.

We’ve been here for less than 24 hours and I’ve pulled two ticks out of loved ones--one from Ruby’s back and one from Esther’s belly button.

Already I am realizing the getting used to that not having Ian’s adept hands to remove ticks without severing heads will require. Could I ever get used to it. Will I?

And what of culture shock?

The radio this morning--noise, noise, noise coming from it. All that loud, ugly talk. The ads. Where is my beloved VPR? How could it be that I cannot remember the frequency? And don't get me started about the cereal aisle at Hannaford's. And what of all those friendly people treating us like best friends at the shoe store?

I hadn't realized just how much I tuned out in France. When you are not living in your own language you might as well be living behind glass. Everything is slightly muted, muffled. It's so easy to listen but not listen to the radio or television in French. It is impossible to tune out American radio. It punches you in the face while assaulting your ears.

And it's so easy to be invisible, even while shopping. Not in America you don't. 

We've settled in, sort of, to my parents' cabin in the woods. We'll stay here until our tenants move out at the end of the month. This is our halfway house. Our limbo. Our island.

I haven’t unpacked our bags yet. I am curious how long it will take me to do that. There is a symbolic aspect to actually taking our things out of our wheely bags and putting them in stationary bureaus that I’m not ready to reckon with just yet. I’m not here. I’m here.

My body is here. My brain, like a large ungainly turkey, is still flapping its reluctant, corpulent way across the Atlantic, trying to catch up with me. 

And my computer is still fighting with my camera. It won't recognize or acknowledge it. Won't give it the time a day.


I am lost without the ability to import my photos. I have so many good ones and they are being held captive. Has anyone experienced full- on, random, digital -camera rejection by a MacBook?

It's not like the MacBook and the camera are strangers. Suddenly, one day in England, they just decided to become incompatible. Life is unpredictable like that, I guess.

So I have decided to revisit, one last time, some of my final glimpses of France.

Louis and Marie were in residence at Versailles.

If Bilbo Baggins had been French...

Thought the Pantheon was in Rome...

 A place for the Boule players to hang their coats.

Bacchus, I think.

Even the sculptures in Paris are in love.

Or voyeurs

Jardin Luxembourg


I'm going to miss mannequins with nipples.

Our last morning in France.

Finally figured out what café gourmand was.

The last supper was somehow more delicious than anything I have eaten in France before.