National Gun Violence Awareness Day – a uniquely US tradition

A brief interlude from my trip down memory lane….

Yes, you read the title correctly. This is a yearly awareness day we have in this country. Gun violence and the United States are synonymous. American exceptionalism. Only I don’t think this is what we envisioned with that phrase.

It was inevitable. Me, being an activist. I’m following in the great American (and French) tradition of standing up and speaking out.

I recently became a co-lead for my local Moms Demand Action group. We advocate for common sense gun laws and work to increase awareness of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. For my readers who don’t know about us: no, we aren’t trying to steal your guns. Yes, many Moms are responsible gun owners. And no, it’s not “extreme” or “unpopular” to recognize that universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods would make a difference.

We had to work hard to convince our city to allow a display recognizing victims and survivors of gun violence for this weekend, also known as Wear Orange. In the end, our city council and mayor voted to allow us to display 100 pinwheels to represent the 100 people who die daily in the U.S. of gun violence.

Yes. One hundred. Every day. A rate 25 times that of our peer countries. A number that is growing.

With some help from my family, I set up our group’s display today. Here’s what I wrote about the experience.

WO2

One Hundred Pinwheels

For National Gun Violence Awareness Weekend, our group decided on a display: one hundred pinwheels plus a sign to explain them, placed outside the Lafayette, CO library.

The sign went in easily: its sharp metal spikes digging into the lawn, as strong as the facts it displayed: 100 American lives are lost every day due to gun violence. Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens. Access to a gun increases the likelihood of death by suicide threefold.

Would people read the sign? Would it reach them? Penetrate the numbness so many of us have developed to the horrors of gun violence in this country?

I went to place the first pinwheel in the ground and it broke apart. So fragile. I stared at the fragmented remains: our display wasn’t going to work. We had one hundred pinwheels and we couldn’t secure them in place.

My dad retrieved the lug nut wrench from my car and used it to drive a hole into the ground, then we followed the shaft of the wrench to place the pinwheel into the newly-made hole. Each pinwheel placement was an effort, shoving a tool not meant for this job into the ground. I glanced at the bin stuffed full of pinwheels. This was going to take forever. I didn’t have time for this; I had a full day of things to do and I needed this to go smoothly.

Body weight on the wrench. Grab a pinwheel, put it in the soil. Repeat.

My kids, eight and seven years old, eyed the box.

“There are so many more,” my daughter said.

“I know. This is taking way longer than I thought it would,” I answered.

And then I realized. I realized what I’d been trying not to think about as I set up this display with my children and my father. Each one of those pinwheels represents a person. A human being. A hole dug into the earth. A life lost, placed into that hole. These pinwheels deserved more than a jab into the ground with a blunt tool and a quick, mindless placement by a mom wanting to get on with her day.

I grew more deliberate as I placed each pinwheel. Each time, thinking: this pinwheel represents a life that will be lost today. And a life that will be lost tomorrow. And then again the next day. Every pinwheel, a life lost, on repeat.

As we finished, rays of sunlight began to shine over the library and onto the display, bathing it in an ethereal early morning light. My kids ran off to play on the grass nearby, unaware of what the display they’d just helped set up really meant. I was happy for their innocence. One hundred lives, lost yesterday. And today. And tomorrow.

We must change. We must do better.

WO 1

First Days

I’m writing a series of posts on a trip I took to France 15 years ago. This is the second installment. See the introduction here and the first entry here.

My flight arrived in Paris the next morning, my third visit to Charles de Gaulle airport. The first two visits had brought me to tears, so excitement over my arrival was tinged with a touch of dread. I’d splurged on hiring a driver through the school for transportation to my host family’s flat. I exited the one-way doors into the waiting room where people clustered near the door, several of them holding signs. I spotted the sign with my name and the name of my school, held aloft by a large brown man wearing a dark suit and a broad smile.

I smiled back and approached him, then nerves got the best of me. My brain was muddied from lack of sleep and the sudden realization that now I had to use my French. And I couldn’t, in that moment, remember anything. Even the basics. So I pointed to the sign and then pointed to my chest, Tarzan-style minus the grunting.

He nodded and his grin broadened. He said something in French that I didn’t get, then took my two huge suitcases (packing light was a skill I had not yet developed) and led me to his car. I settled into the soft leather back seats and watched out the window, eagerly scanning for my first glimpse of Paris. Early morning grey skies hung low. The two-lane freeway heading south toward the city could be a freeway anywhere, yet was distinctly French with all the Peugots and Renaults, the squishy little vans (camions), the narrow long license plates with the large “F.” France.

Parlez-vous Français ?” The driver tilted his chin to peer at me through the rear-view mirror.

Oui. Un petit peu.”

D’où venez vous ?” He asked me. Where are you from? 

“Je viene de Californie.”

“California! Arnold Schwartzenegger!” He laughed a deep, rich laugh.

I couldn’t help but join him. We were all still laughing about our recently elected Terminator-turned-governor. Our Governator.

Et vous? D’où venez vous ?” I asked him. His language was sing-songy – not the typical French accent.

Vous parlez bien ! Avec un accent tres jolie !”

It was fun being the one with the pretty accent, and being able to understand what he was saying to me. I could feel myself blushing, though, because in that one sentence, I’d just spoken one of the easiest phrases, one of the first every French student learns, and had now nearly depleted my arsenal of French conversation. I knew a few hundred random vocabulary words and a handful of phrases, but no one ever responds to your textbook questions with the textbook answers, leaving the typical traveler stranded before a conversation can begin.

De Martinique.”

Huh? “?”

“The Caribbean. My family move here when I have three years.”

“Oh! You have a lovely accent.”

He laughed, again that rich, warm laughter. We passed over another small rolling hill and the industrial outskirts of Paris came into view.

“How long in Paris?” he asked me.

“Three months.”

“Three months! Your French will be completely current! Completely current!”

I smiled. “Couramment” was a French word for “fluent,” I assumed that was what he was getting at. It was an endearing mistake and an easy one to make. I wasn’t laughing at him – his English beat my French by far.

“I hope so,” I said. Fluent in French. What would that be like?

We entered the outskirts of the city. He pointed out Sacre Coeur perched on a hilltop and I caught a glimpse of the tip of the Tour Eiffel before he could point it out to me, jutting out of a maze of narrow streets and tall buildings. I sat up straighter in my seat. Paris unleashes a vitality in me. And here I was.

He exited le Périphérique, the freeway that forms a circle around Paris, and we dove into the city’s streets. It was still early on Saturday morning and the streets were nearly deserted. We sped through the seventeenth arrondissement, past brownstone buildings that hugged the narrow streets and drew me into an intimate welcoming embrace. I quickly lost all sense of direction but I knew we were heading in general toward the center of the city. I scanned the street signs – placards on the corners of the buildings. We moved from the seventeenth into the eighth arrondissement: getting closer. He turned onto Boulevard Malesherbes: my street. I leaned forward to better see the place I would be calling home for the next few months. I willed the car to keep going, wanting to be closer, closer, closer to the center, the heart of the city. The further we went, the closer we would be to the Paris I knew: The Latin Quarter, the Louvre. Keep going, keep going…. The numbers continued to count down and then the driver slowed and stopped. He pointed to one of many sets of wooden double doors embedded in the walls of the buildings.

I was early. Very early. I’d told my host family to expect me between ten and eleven, anticipating trouble at Charles de Gaulle. The thought that things could go smoothly there had never occurred to me. But here I was, and it wasn’t even 8:30 a.m.

“I’m really early,” I said. “I told my host family 10:00 or 11:00.”

The driver looked at the clock in his car. “Yes. You are early. A minute or a minute and a half.”

He put my suitcases on the curb and flashed a brilliant smile. “Welcome in Paris.”

I thanked him and he left. There was no way I was going to barge in on my host family that early; not the first impression I wanted to make. So I settled onto a bench near the building’s entrance with my backpack tucked under my arm and my suitcases pulled close to me. There I sat, exhausted, but unable to keep the smile from my face, for this wonderfully strange street was to be my home. Soon it would be familiar. A woman walked by with two tiny, white, curly-haired dogs on leashes. She wore a long wool jacket and a shimmering scarf around her neck. She gave me a curt nod and eyed my suitcases.

A few minutes later a man walked by, cigarette pressed between his lips. He, too, eyed my suitcases. I began to feel self-conscious and wondered if my host family could see me from one of the windows overhead. Children with backpacks ambled by, some accompanied by adults. Many French schools – lycées – don’t hold classes on Wednesdays so the children go to school for part of the day on Saturdays. I saw a jogger, which gave me hope that I might find a place in the city to run after all. I could see that I was in a quieter arrondissement populated with locals, families, and no tourists.

It began to drizzle. The people on the streets quickened their paces or pulled out umbrellas. My umbrella was buried somewhere in one of my bags, along with my jacket. Funny how the same weather back home would make me cold and irritable. But here – I was so excited that even the drizzle seemed novel. The naked trees lining the boulevard offered no protection, but I didn’t mind. While the Parisians scowled at the rain as though it was beating them down, for me it was a baptism, a new beginning.

A man opened the wide double doors from the inside then disappeared. A moment later, he squeezed out the narrow stone corridor in a Peugeot. I looked down the street and realized that all those double doors that I’d assumed led directly into the buildings were actually driveways that sloped down to the street. He drove away, leaving the doors propped open.

I grew groggy there on the bench, waiting for enough time to pass so that I could politely enter my new home. Activity began to pick up around me – shops were opening, more people were out on the streets. The drizzle stopped, but only for a moment, then it began again with a renewed vigor. I eyed the doors for a moment then made up my mind. I gathered my things and walked through them. Inside was a small courtyard where the clouded daylight shone in. One hundred and fifty years ago, when these buildings were constructed, this would have been where the carriages stood. Now it was filled with a half-dozen cars. I stood in the entrance, a modern glass door on either side of me. To my right the door seemed be to a small office. To my left, a wide curved staircase with maroon carpet hugged a small elevator. The old kind, open, constructed of metal bars. A panel near the door had names with buzzers. I found my family’s name, took a deep breath, checked my watch one last time, and pressed the bell.

Immediately I heard a buzz and opened the door. Above me on the landing – the first floor – a large double door opened, spilling out two young teenage boys and a woman in a bathrobe, her hair in mild disarray. The boys called something to me that I didn’t understand at all, but finally realized they were pointing at the elevator. Ascenseur. Feeling every bit the awkward American with a serious overpacking problem, I struggled to fit my two suitcases and myself into the elevator. One of the boys ran down the steps and helped me. I could feel my face turning red – I’m a redhead, so this happens with regularity – and a sheen of sweat dotted my forehead. I arrived on the first floor and the two boys each grabbed a suitcase for me, despite my protests. I was so embarrassed to have so much stuff with me, even though I was staying for months that crossed three seasons. I didn’t want anyone else to feel how heavy my bags were. The two of them – Thomas and Antoine* – crowded around me firing out questions, but when they realized I couldn’t understand them, they disappeared into the bowels of the house. I found out later that they went to school on Wednesdays, so they had their weekends free. My host mom, Juliette, greeted me with a small but kind smile and showed me to my room. I caught only a glimpse of the front rooms – a foyer the size of an oversized master bedroom back home, a dining room with a full formal table, and a living area the size of my apartment in San Diego, with couches and chairs all in Victorian style.

She led me down a long narrow hallway and into a small cozy room. It had a single bed on one side with two large cupboards overhead. I made a mental note to be careful to not whack my head on it, knowing full well that I was destined to whack my noggin with regularity. She pulled a desktop down from the wall, pointed out the wooden wardrobe, the TV on an arm high on the wall, and the phone, all the while talking in what might as well have been jibberish for all I was getting from it. She then led me further down the hall to point out the bathroom. Actually, the shower and sink room. The toilet (without a sink) was at the other end of the hall that was a good 100 feet in length. The kitchen opened just off the end of the hall, and she invited me to sit down and asked me if I’d like something to drink. That much, thankfully, I understood, and asked for some water. We talked for a bit, the easy stuff that I could easily answer: where are you from, how long have you been studying French, how long will you be staying. I could pick up words here and there, and an occasional phrase – enough to know when I was being asked a question, at least. She complimented my French, which made me feel at once proud and insecure. Proud that I’d impressed her, and insecure with the knowledge that soon the façade would crumble and she’d discover the truth: as I sat there nodding and smiling, I really didn’t understand much of anything. I gave her the gift I’d brought: A San Diego travel book, with ridiculously outdated photos: I hadn’t seen haircuts and swimsuits like those since the eighties. But it was one of the best I’d seen. She thanked me and later I found it in a stack in their living room along with similar books from all over the world. She introduced me to the student staying in one of the other bedrooms off the hall. Katyana, from what I could gather, came from Russia and was studying law at Sorbonne. She had a fresh, bright face and a tight smile, and spoke in rapid fire French to me. I faked it as best I could.

Charles, my host dad, arrived. He was large with a cherubic face and booming voice. He handed me the key – a heavy chunk of metal with real teeth – old school. He beckoned me to follow him to the front door, where he demonstrated how the key worked and spoke in the same rapid-fire French that Juliette had. I watched him and got from his demonstration (and certainly not from his words) that the door knob didn’t actually turn, and once the key rotated and clicked, the door was unlocked and I could just push it open. He handed me the key and looked at me expectantly, so I nodded and thanked him.

Non,” and he said something else while gesturing to the door. I realized then that he wanted me to try it. It seemed overkill, but I humored him and was embarrassed to find that I couldn’t get the door open. I rotated the key first one direction and tried the door, but it didn’t budge, so I went counterclockwise and still nothing. Luckily, he laughed heartily and said some French gibberish, re-demonstrated, then had me take another turn. I got the door open that time – I hadn’t turned the key far enough before.

So, I was set. I had a key, I had a room, I had a home. I settled in – unpacked my bags and washed up. Then, armed with a city map and a drawn map from Stéphane, I found my way to the metro to go visit his parents. When I got there, his mother was intent on feeding me, then his mom and dad took me to find a cell phone. Stéphane’s mom cooked me a delicious dinner and then they drove me back to my host family’s place, assuring me that I could call them if I had any problems, and if I did have a problem it wouldn’t be a problem, because they would help me. I felt immediately at ease being so welcomed by both my host family and my boyfriend’s parents.

That evening, the sun finally peeked out of the Parisian cloud cover. The window in my room looked out over the enclosed cobblestone parking area, and just beyond the building my window faced, I could see the tips of the gothic spires from the nearby church.

The next day, I explored Paris, found my school, didn’t find the crêpe I so desperately craved – it was Sunday and not much was open. I explored the book stalls along the Seine and got caught in the rain. I realized I was talking to myself in simple French phrases all day, narrating my every move: Où est la rue ? Je traverse le pont. Je prends le métro. Je trouve l’école. I encountered a few French people: A flirtatious man who saw me studying my metro map and asked me first in French and, upon realizing I couldn’t understand, in thickly-accented English, “You are looking for me in the metro?” then pointing at my legs and telling me I’m very nice. One friendly girl in the metro saw me studying my map and stopped to show me how to get to where I wanted to go. I was consistently amazed at how well everyone spoke English. I kept trying to speak in French, but they all responded in English, even as I stubbornly continued in my broken French accented by hand gestures.

I decided, that Sunday, that each day I needed to try something new. Visit a site, wander down a street I didn’t know, eat something weird. Something, anything, as long as it was new.

I got back home early that evening, exhausted and wanting nothing more than to crash in my little bed and snuggle under the covers with a book. But when I arrived, the double wooden doors were closed and locked. Shit. Or merde. Whichever way I looked at it, it wasn’t good. A panel to the left of the door, inside the archway, was obviously for entering a code. A code I didn’t have. Added to the urgency was the fact that Paris is distinctly short on public bathrooms, and I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to wait on the street. I looked up and down, but no one was anywhere in sight. I paced back and forth in front of the door and thought briefly about calling out to the windows above the door, which belonged to my host family. I settled for pacing in a spot where they’d see me if they happened to look out the window. Lucky for me, a kid on a skateboard skidded to a stop and punched in a code. In half French, half English, and a lot of hand gestures, I tried to ask him what the code was, and if I could follow him in. His expression didn’t adjust to acknowledge me in one way or another, but he did let me follow him through the doors. My host family was gone, but Katyana was in her room studying. I grabbed my French-English dictionary and went to her. I looked up a few words and then asked her for the code. After a few tries and a lot of hand gestures, I finally asked her if she spoke English. She looked annoyed, but nodded.

“Charles didn’t give you the code?”

“No. I was locked out for a while just now.”

She raised her eyebrows, then wrote it down for me.

Merci beaucoup,” I said. I went to my room and crashed.

 

 

*Names of most people in this story have been changed.

Springtime in Paris

Fifteen years ago, this month, I quit my job and set off for Paris. On March 19, in fact.

It was everything I dreamed it would be. And more.

A lot led up to that trip. Like many who work in the health care field, I was Burnt. Out. I was angsting my way through a quarter(ish)-life crisis. I hated the idea of turning thirty and being in a situation that felt closer to hamster-on-a-wheel than to the bright future of a rewarding career and the balanced life that I’d envisioned in grad school.

In high school, I signed up for French as my second language but my mom refused to sign my electives form until I changed it. “You live in southern Arizona. You’ll never have any occasion in your life to use French. You need to learn Spanish.” So I did. And then I married a Frenchman. I like to remind her of this.

I’d long been fascinated with the French language and with France. Before I went to graduate school, I’d taken a month to backpack through Europe. France had been one of the best parts of my trip. Later, while living in San Diego, I met a bunch of French exchange students who I bonded with, and so I picked up a language CD and started trying to impress them. My French, then, was decidedly not impressive.

Mostly, I ached for adventure. Other than my month in Europe, I’d been living a nose-to-the-grindstone sort of life. My employer at the time considered a three-day weekend (where I clumped my work into four 10-hour days to get Friday off) a vacation that he had benevolently granted me, despite the hardship it entailed on his business. This was better than my first job where I was told a few weeks in that while they couldn’t authorize any vacation time as they were much too busy of a clinic, they would gladly consider allowing me to take an hour or two of my vacation time, as I earned it, if I needed to see a doctor or dentist.

It didn’t take long for me to realize something needed to change. I’d worked since my senior year of high school – all my summers and spring breaks were filled with jobs, and by the time I was a junior in college, I was working 20, sometimes as many as 30 hours a week while taking a full load of classes. Spring Break partying on the beach had never been on my calendar.

The French exchange students I met were having the time of their lives – traveling, learning a new language, experiencing a new culture, meeting friends from all over the world. Some were in college, some were older and learning English to help with their careers. I did some research and saw that I, too, could do something similar, in France. In Paris.

To get there, I threw myself into work: I spent more than a year working two jobs (plunging myself into even higher levels of burn out, exacerbating the very problem I was trying to escape), diligently saving, eating cheap, wearing worn-out clothes, and doing whatever I could to maximize my savings. I was determined to be doing something amazing for my upcoming thirtieth birthday.

The whole idea defied the puritan nature I’d been raised to have: work hard, and play, maybe, if you have time. When I told my parents my plan, they were… unimpressed. My Dad’s first comment: “I don’t understand why you’re doing this. How is this going to help your career?”  I answered, “It won’t. That’s not what this is about.” They were concerned, I get that. After all, I’d gone to grad school and had a good job that payed well and offered a promising career. I’d arrived. Right? My parents worried I was throwing that all away. As a physical therapist, I knew I wouldn’t struggle to find a job when I returned (I didn’t). I knew I’d be okay. I also knew that I wouldn’t be okay if I continued on as I was. I was exhausted. I needed more than the day to day grind. I needed an adventure. I needed to find some joie de vivre.

To complicate things, the dollar sank rapidly in value against the Euro during the first year after France adopted it, so my plan for a six month trip had to be pared down. I also had a new boyfriend – a French guy who by our third date I was pretty sure I was going to marry (he’s now my husband). Still, giving up this chance of a lifetime, this dream, wasn’t a consideration for me.

I quit my job. I sold most of my furniture and moved the rest of my stuff into storage (i.e. my sweet new boyfriend’s apartment). I left my car in the care of my parents. I consolidated my student loan bills and left a series of checks and payment stubs with my boyfriend who had kindly agreed to mail the checks I’d pre-written to pay all my bills while I was away. This was before online payments, Facebook, smartphones, and all sorts of other technology that makes this sort of stuff a breeze now. I didn’t even have a digital camera – I was still using film. And a dial-up modem. And a flip phone that had no chance of working in Europe.

Then; I did it. I went to Paris. I studied French. I traveled. And I had the time of my life.

I also kept a journal and wrote long emails home.

So, in honor of this 15th anniversary of that amazing time in Paris and beyond, I am doing a series on my trip, using excerpts from my journals and emails, as well as some photos – presuming the scans come out.

I’m looking forward to reliving this trip, and to sharing it with you!

 

 

 

Et alors… quoi de neuf?

My long hiatus has been unintentional.

Sort of.

Truth: What is going on in the U.S. has thrown me for a serious loop. When I began my blog years ago, I wanted to write about the often funny, always interesting, and sometimes exasperating differences between French and American culture, and to share anecdotes from my own life on what it’s like to be in a bicultural, bilingual marriage with kids. I enjoyed comparing our two cultures and poking fun at each of them.

November 2016: suddenly, those differences don’t seem so funny or cute anymore. Many of them seem pathetic and even dangerous. Even the smallest topics I consider writing about feel hypercharged. I, like so many others, feel like a stranger in a strange land in my own country. I often find myself defending the US to my foreign friends, and I’m weary of trying to defend what I don’t identify with nor agree with.

I always intended this to be a personal blog where I shared my story, my family, my experiences. While I’ve touched on politics, it was never intended to be a political blog. But isn’t the personal also political? Can any of us afford to ignore the political these days? To pretend it isn’t a part of us, a part of our culture? And of course, deeply important to the course our country and the world takes? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to pretend otherwise?

I struggle, too, to find balance between actively doing my part to make the world a better place and still finding time to enjoy life – those little moments with my kids, the joy I find in traveling, the laughs I share with friends. I consider posting a few photos from a recent trip and I pause, feeling guilty that here I am, lucky enough to travel around the world with my kids, while others in my home country are suffering unimaginably.

So, I’ve spent much time wondering over this last year and a half how to continue this blog.

But I’ve decided to try. Rick Steves writes about Travel as a Political Act. My experiences traveling, meeting and talking with people, even the times I’ve been confronted with angry, vocal locals once they find out where I’m from, have made me a better person, of that I have no doubt. My mind has opened, my world view expanded. My ability to empathize and to see a perspective other than my own improves each time.

So, I will continue on. Some posts may be fluffy travel posts full of pictures of gorgeous locales. There will still be funny anecdotes about the culture clashes of being in a French-American family. Some posts may be political. I may lose followers. And that’s okay. C’est la vie. C’est comme ça.

My Husband is an Immigrant

My husband is an immigrant.

He went to one of the best high schools in Paris, and then one of the best preparatory schools. He graduated from the top university in France (Ecole Polytechnique) for math, science, and engineering. He came to the US first as a visiting scholar, and then was invited to return for graduate school. Soon, Hewlett Packard snatched him up. That great brain of his helped create some of the first all-in-one printers and some of the first digital cameras. Now, he works for Google.

He came to the US because of the unique opportunities our country offered. Like many immigrants, he stayed because he felt welcomed, challenged, and knew he could have a career here that would surpass what was available to him in France at the time. So here he stayed, collaborating with other immigrants, working alongside American-born engineers.

Would he have followed the same path today? Would our technology industry, strong as it is, be attractive enough to great minds like my husband’s despite the current administrations’ policies and attitudes toward immigrants?

A dear friend who is also married to a French man said to me recently, “Carol, we’re one Freedom Fries incident away from our husbands being the next ‘bad hombres.’” (Mauvais mecs, if you want the French version.)

Remember Freedom Fries? After 9/11? Because I do. I remember the subtle and not so subtle comments and jabs I received about being married to one of “those French guys.” The traitors who didn’t support Bush’s Iraq invasion. The ones who should be thanking us for eternity because they aren’t speaking German right now. The ones who should be rubber-stamping all US policy, not daring to stand against us citing something like principles.

While I don’t purport to sit here in my privileged life and compare rude insults made to my husband and me during those years to the instability and terror immigrants and refugees face now, to the families being threatened and torn apart by the travel ban and ICE knocking on their doors, I will say that I got a glimpse of being the vilified “other”, and while I recognize that for us it was mild, it was still, well, awful. And it was hard not to be scared.

My husband’s father was born in Tunisia, where the overwhelming majority of the population identifies as Muslim. We wondered, during the Freedom Fries years, if we were one terrorist attack away from my husband’s nationality and his father’s birthplace marking him as a threat to the USA. We wonder, now, how many of our enemies are emboldened by #45’s recklessness. How many more of our allies he will offend. How that will play out for us, here, foreign and domestically born.

How far will this vilification of otherness go? What level of inhumane, undignified treatment will we accept as a country? How long will so many dehumanize those who are deemed not “one of us,” not deserving of “belonging”?

Like it or not, immigrants are the reason our tech industry has led the world. Many of our engineers, many of our greatest minds, came from countries now banned. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple; his parents fled Syria. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, is a Russian refugee. Immigrants founded a disproportionately high number of companies in this country.

My life with my immigrant husband and our two children is filled with more love, joy, and adventure than I ever imagined I would experience. That, and French fries. He isn’t the “other.” A nameless, faceless, maligned immigrant who shouldn’t be here. He’s a human being, a husband, a father, a hard worker, a brilliant mind, and a now a US citizen who still holds hope for the country he grew to love when he first came here more than 20 years ago. Despite it all. I hope this country doesn’t let us down.

My husband was featured in an article in our local paper. You can read that here:

http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-business/ci_30823391/boulder-countys-foreign-born-tech-workers-cast-wary

 

Are you still teaching your kids French?

I suppose the fact that I get asked this question is telling. The short answer is yes, we are. The longer answer is that, well, we’re trying, it’s a lot harder than we thought, but here’s an update:

A lot of the teaching falls on my husband, which is a heavy load to carry. He’s the fluent, native speaker of the house. He continues to speak to them mostly in French. But sometimes he slips. It’s hard for him, and as much as I jump on him when he resorts to English, I get it. He speaks English all day, he lives in English, so making the transition to French with them isn’t easy. The kids tend to answer him in English, and he’s not consistent about rephrasing what they’ve said in French for them to practice, which is a strategy we’ve found to be pretty effective. I get it – it stops the flow of the conversation, it feels like a battle. I’m on the sidelines either jumping in and doing the rephrasing for him which feels helicopter-y, or just letting the kids avoid French, which doesn’t feel good either.

When the kids were home with me more, I tended to do certain things in French: grocery shopping was a French activity. We tried to do some meals in French. I would often read French books or play games with them in French. But it’s gotten more complicated now that our daughter is in first grade – she’s gone 7 and 1/2 hours a day. That’s a long day for a 6-year-old. So when she comes home, she’s not exactly enthused by my, “Let’s play a game in French!” suggestions. Or, if I simply speak to her in French, she gives me a look that I know well – it’s my very own “are you kidding me right now?” look.

My son, the four-year-old, is even more resistant. My attempts with him are met with a wailing: “Awww, not in French!”

In homes where the stay-at-home parent, or the parent who spends more time with the children, speaks the minority language (the language not spoken in the community) the kids make better progress. I know this. But it’s a leap I haven’t made, and don’t necessarily want to. I’ve written before about how I feel like I am a different person in French, not 100% me, and with my kids being authentically and comfortably me is more important than perfection in French. Being a parent presents enough challenges without saddling myself with more. That said, I do still incorporate French when I can, and I still think it’s an important part of what I want to give to our kids.

What we are seeing is passive French speakers; they understand most everything, but their spoken French lags far behind.

However, all is not lost. When we traveled this summer to France, our kids had to speak in French. If they wanted to communicate with their cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandparents, they had to do it. And they did. Especially my 6-year-old, who had a year at a French preschool to help her knowledge and confidence. They came away having improved their French, and since then they’ve resisted less. They seem to be approaching an age where they get it – they see that French has a purpose rather than being one more thing Mommy and Papa make them do.

We were also able to enroll our daughter in a one week French summer camp here in Boulder, and it was fabulous. She LOVED her teacher and came home every day excited about speaking French, about what she had learned and even wanting to teach her brother:

 

I still teach French at my son’s preschool, and he’s finally getting into it. Up until this year, he chose to play outside rather than come to one of Mom’s French classes. But now he, along with a dozen or so regulars, come faithfully each week. These kids love it – it is so fun to see their enthusiasm! Every day when I pick up my son, a few little faces turn up to me, small hands grab my own, and they eagerly ask, “Are you doing French today?” Most of them can now say a few words in French, and some of them can sing entire songs.

While in France this last summer, my daughter found some of her cousin’s old comic books and fell in love. Her favorite: Picsou (Scrooge McDuck). While she can’t yet read them herself, we kept catching her “reading” to her little brother. So we brought one home, and her Mimi and Papy bought her a subscription for her birthday. She has gone from never wanting to read in French to wanting to read Picsou with Papa most nights.

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My son is enjoying teaching his classmates how to count and say “Bonjour” with the right accent. And just this weekend, we were with a group of kids that were asked if they spoke any languages other than English. My kids proudly shot up their hands and said they spoke French.

So while our progress isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t resemble my imagined utopian bilingual home where fluency is achieved in all areas of both languages and our kids are happy and compliant with it all (how delusional was I pre-kiddos!), we are still making progress. Objectives have changed. I now want them to enjoy French, to have enough of a base that they can continue to pursue it with a leg up from where they would have been if we were a monolingual household, and I want them to learn about and embrace their bicultural heritage. I’m going to call us successful thus far, and still working at it.

Wednesday Morning

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Wednesday morning, my four-year-old son drew me this picture and said, “Mama, in this picture, Hillary Clinton became president. So you don’t feel sad.”

Like many, I hardly slept after the election results came in. I was numb, disoriented. Living a nightmare. When my children woke up the next morning, I tried to put on a brave face.

“Everything will be ok. We will be ok.” I felt like I was lying. Nothing about this is okay.

The room where we watched the results come in feels tainted. As though a sinister fog lurks within, reminding me of the horror I felt Tuesday night, sucking my happiness away when I go near it. We’ve seen more than a few Harry Potter references this election. Here’s mine: Dementors are in my living room.

As I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, tears rolled down my face. She was so graceful, so dignified, and despite the deep pain she was feeling and she knew we were all feeling, she still spoke words of unification and optimism. I cried. Because she is the president I so desperately wanted. The president that, in fact, the majority of Americans wanted. For those who don’t know about the U.S. electoral college, it is an antiquated system whereby the popular vote is tallied by state, and then the winner takes all the electoral votes (the number of votes per state based on population) in that state. This college handed us Bush when Gore won the popular vote in 2000. It has now handed us Trump.

I took my son to Noodles for lunch. The African-American woman behind the counter gave me the usual welcome greeting. Our eyes met. We both began to cry.

An uneasiness lodged into my gut about a year ago and stayed put. At first, like many, I dismissed Trump as a joke. He tried to do this in 2000 and it went nowhere. No one wants to listen to this buffoon, I thought. But then… he started winning primaries. I saw the rising tide of immigrants vs. locals clashing in Europe. The rising fear of terrorism while attacks happened in Paris, Nice, Brussels. Trump kept winning. He kept up his vitriolic speech inciting fear, racism, and violence. My husband kept saying there was no way Trump could win. Black Lives Matter emerged and was immediately invalidated by so many white people. Then Brexit happened. Trump smugly predicted his own campaign would be a Brexit, and while I hated him for it, I feared he might be right. I began Tuesday morning feeling optimistic, donning my pantsuit, smiling broadly. My husband again assured me that everything was going to go the way it should. But that uneasiness was still there.

Trump appeals to the worst in America. The fear. The anger. He ran an incredibly divisive campaign, marginalizing and vilifying huge segments of the American population. People claim to like Trump because he “tells it like it is.” As far as I can see, that’s code for America has become too brown, too gay, too feminist, and not Christian enough. These voters are tired of being talked down to, tired of their homes being called “flyover states,” tired of feeling like the ruling elite are making all the decisions. They want their grandfather’s world where they can have the same job for a lifetime and retire in middle class comfort. But that America doesn’t exist any more. The world has become smaller with globalization, technology, the internet. The world has become more diverse. Going back is impossible.

I too see a broken system. A system where a group of Republicans decided that their platform would be obstructionism when a black Democrat became president. A system that crashed the housing market and led to the loss of our home. But I was not about to be bamboozled by the Great Orange Con Man, a man who has never cared about anyone but himself.

In the end, none of the things that should have mattered, mattered. Never mind that Hillary Clinton was the most highly qualified and prepared candidate we’ve ever seen. That she spoke of inclusiveness with her “stronger together.” That she is a brilliant, level-headed woman who has spent her life working for this country, who is well-respected globally and is known for being a unifier, for working across the aisle. She saw America as I see it: a pretty great place that we can make better still. She acknowledged that America is a place where racism is still a problem that needs to be addressed. A place where women deserve respect. Where diversity is celebrated. Where the vulnerable are helped. While I made phone calls, knocked on doors, and threw my heart into the campaign to elect her, I realize not everyone sees in her the hero I do. The decades long HRC smear campaign began when as first lady of Arkansas she had the audacity to keep her maiden name. Trump made sure to regurgitate the lies and vitriol, to continue the right-wing’s “media is biased” conspiracy crap, and while many saw through it, for too many others, she represented the status quo, the establishment. Facts didn’t matter in our post-factual era. America decided a thin-skinned, lying bully was a better choice. After all, he could shout louder.

And while I’m angry and disheartened, I also recognize that dismissing entire groups with phrases beginning with “Republicans think…” “Conservatives are…” “Christians believe…” is not only wrong, it is a divisive starting point. Not all of America is racist, or misogynistic, or angry, or hateful. Nor are all of Trump’s voters. The single-issue voters were there, too. The ones who Trump pandered to when he claimed to be anti-abortion and vowed to appoint conservative judges. There are many others who are just sick of business as usual. It’s important to remember that there is much more to all of us than who we cast our vote for. I have friends and family who are lovely people, who voted for Trump. Still, it remains that a large segment of the population was willing to accept his racism, his ignorance, his hateful rhetoric, his absolute disregard for women and all the evidence that points to him being a serial sexual assaulter, and his propensity for saying things that normally would be associated with a fascist dictator. That is really freaking horrifying.

One of the most poignant photos I saw was of an older woman, dressed as a suffragette, holding a sign that read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” The fabric of America has been ripped open to expose our ugly innards, where racism, sexism, and xenophobia are alive and well. We are a nation deeply, perhaps irreparably, divided. While I will admit that fear of what is different is a natural reaction, the path we should be on is one where we try to understand each other, learn from each other. That is not the path that half of America chose. We are facing dark times right now. I’m scared. Many of us are. I haven’t even touched on foreign policy, the environment, or the economy.

 In both Clinton and Obama’s speeches Wednesday, they urged the American people to unify and support this next president, to ensure that we preserve our sacred tradition of peaceful transitions. I get it. Trump won the contest. I accept that he is our president. That is a reality I will have to learn to live with. I’ll get to a place where I can hope for the best. But I refuse to accept that Trump’s vision of America will be what defines our future. I refuse to accept the mainstreaming of misogyny, racism, ignorance, and violence. We’ve come too far as a country, and there is too much work yet to be done. We cannot, we will not, go backwards. I’m not sure how to unify with people who spout the same hateful rhetoric that has been given the green light by Trump. Honestly, I don’t want to. That shit needs to go away.

Many of us have joked about moving to Canada following this election. My husband and I had a couple serious conversations about our future and wanting what’s best for our children. Montreal and Sydney are looking pretty good. But here’s the thing. No reckless demagogue gets to take my country away from me.

I remember traveling during the Bush administration. How in Egypt, I was confronted by angry locals decrying Bush’s policies, American imperialism and racism. How in Europe, they sometimes wanted to argue with me about my country, even hurl insults and find in me someone to blame. Dear world: please don’t hate us. Because the majority of us voted for Clinton. I’ll say it again: THE MAJORITY OF US VOTED FOR CLINTON. Millions of others voted for third party candidates, not Trump. If only 18-25 year olds had voted, Clinton would have won by a landslide: 504 of 538 electoral college votes. So if you see one of us, cut us some slack. Ask questions if you want to. But don’t assume we are a reflection of Donald Trump. Because the America I know, the America I love is so much better than that. The America I know is diverse, welcoming, inclusive. The Americans I know are a compassionate and optimistic lot. So don’t hate us all. Please. Help us to overcome this. Because we need all the help we can get. We are hurting over here.

People are holding vigils. Protesting. Resisting. Hate crimes are rising. This is going to be ugly. But here’s where my hope lies. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Perhaps being laid raw by this horrible turn of events is what we needed in order to have the strength and fire to end it. I see it now, from my white-woman-living-in-a-blue-state-bubble, I see how bad it really is. The youth of America won’t stand for this. People of color, women, the LGBTQ community, won’t stand for this. And the majority of America is with us. Resistance has always played a role in progress in this country. The loudest voices won this battle. Now it is our turn to scream.

Wednesday, I grieved. Today I go back to work. I will do my part. Clinton’s Methodist roots give us this: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” This is my rallying cry.