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.

dsc05547picsou

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.

Spring and Les Villes et Villages Fleuris

Spring is here. When I lived in San Diego, the arrival of spring meant days were now 72 degrees instead of 68; time to put away the scarfs and boots and break out the flip flops. Here in Colorado, spring means green blades of grass breaking through, blossoming trees, tulips, and then this:

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That’s my backyard two days ago. We got 17 inches of snow. We went sledding, built a snowman, had a snowball fight…. Spring along the Front Range means your what-to-wear dilemmas look like this:

IMG_20160415_073739

I’m done with the snow. I stored my snowboard mid-March, got a pedicure, and started wearing sandals. Visions of flowers and beaches and hot sun toasting my bare legs are dancing through my head.

Alas. I’ll fill my thoughts, instead, with Les Villes et Villages Fleuris de France.

This was a new discovery for me last summer. As we drove into a village in Bretagne, my husband pointed to a bright yellow sign and exclaimed, “Ah, un village fleuri !” and he went from mildly cranky/exasperated Frenchman-driving-car into happy, relaxed, joie de vivre Frenchman mode.

VILLES-FLEURIES

The Concours des villes et villages fleuris is an annual contest in France where communes are evaluated for their aesthetic beauty. When the label began in 1959, it focused mainly on the beauty of the green spaces and floral displays, but now communes are judged in three categories: “la qualité de l’accueil” (the quality of the welcome and ambiance to visitors and residents), “le respect de l’environnement” (looking at the respect shown to natural resources and preservation of green spaces, as well as events that celebrate nature), and “la preservation du lien social” (how do the green spaces and gardens promote social interaction and utilization of those spaces within the commune). In all, it is an attempt to look at the overall quality of life impact on those who live in and visit the commune.

No limits exist on the number of communes that can be awarded, so it isn’t a true competition. The label earned can be anywhere from 1 to 4 flowers, or the prestigious gold flower, given annually to 9 communes. According to Wikipedia, as of 2015, approximately 12,000 French cities, towns, and villages have received the award. Four flower status has been awarded to 226 of those.

To learn more, here is the link to the French site.

http://www.villes-et-villages-fleuris.com/accueil_1.html

And here are some of my favorite flower pictures from France:

Solidarité

Like so many, I am deeply saddened by the events in Paris. I could delve into my thoughts on the politics of the situations we as a changed, evolving world face today, the ideology of how to improve things, my own pessimism regarding our ability to ever bring peace to this kind of fight, or the grief that those who have lost must feel so acutely. Thankfully, none of our loved ones were hurt. To talk of my own grief for a country I love seems self-centered at a time when so many are so personally affected.

So instead, I’ll talk about why I love France. It’s in part the obvious: the beauty – both natural and man made, that exists throughout the country. The fabulous food. But it goes much beyond this. While listening to NPR today, I heard a guest comment that we (Americans) have certain things we admire about other countries. We admire the Germans for the machines they make – their cars. The Swiss for their watches. But when it comes to the French, we love the way they live. We idealize it, bien sûr. We also poke fun at it (another strike? Geez!). Yet it is the French way of life, the joie de vivre, the bon appetit, the je ne sais quoi that we so admire and wish to emulate. For the French celebrate life. Art. Family. Food. History. French culture is a celebration the things that make being human great. The essence of humanity.

So I continue to celebrate France. France, Paris, Je t’aime pour toujours.

 

Boulder, Colorado: Where Caring About Fashion is Unfashionable (and Unfathomable)

Boulder is ruining my Frenchman’s fashion sense.

Boulder is a place where anything goes. Seriously. I saw a 20-something woman walking along a main street downtown wearing nothing from the waist up. Nothing. Boobs, swinging in the wind. Dreadlocks tossed behind shoulders. People go shoeless as a fashion/political statement, not because they can’t afford shoes. Stilettos and Keens sit next to each other in restaurants. Long flowy hippie skirts or biking shorts; yoga pants or business suits or sundresses and Uggs – it’s all fair game.

Now, my husband was never on the cutting edge of fashion, and I’m a physical therapist – not a profession renowned for our fashion sense. But he’s French, so that meant button up shirts, a nice pair of slacks, maybe a polo on a more casual day. I admit there were a few items in his closet that succumbed to “Operation: Lost in the Move.” (Don’t even get me started on the pea soup-colored polo with the denim collar). But I never had to tell him: “Honey, we’re going out to dinner with my parents. Perhaps the Corona tank top isn’t the best choice….”He’s always dressed up for our dates. I’m one of those girls that is crazy about a sharply dressed man. Not too sharp – if he’s more into fashion than me, I grow suspicious. But my husband, like most Frenchmen, had just the right amount of sharpness.

So, the other day, he started out the door for work wearing a beat up pair of cargo shorts, a worn grey workout shirt, white socks (on a Frenchman!) and sneakers. Before I even stopped to think what I would sound like, I blurted, “Are you wearing that to work?”

He once-overed himself and then said, “Um, yeah?” in the form of a question.

“It’s just… really?”

“Carol, you should see what some of the guys wear to the office. This is dressing up.”

There is truth to that. A Google dress code doesn’t exist. Googlers take workplace casual to a level unheard of in most other corporations. Just drive by the office around lunchtime and watch the parade of engineers heading to the cafeteria dressed down – way down – and check out the hats a few of the more brilliant engineers wear. The other day, a guy crossed the street in front of me wearing a tophat made of white fur with a pig sticking out the top.

I get it, kind of. Google is a casual place stocked with geniuses where what’s between their ears matters a whole lot more than what’s on their backs.

But, still. I’ve always loved that even after years in the U.S., my husband’s wardrobe choices remained … French.

So, I said, “But, you’re French. French dudes don’t dress like that.”

He smirked. “French dudes, huh?”

“Yeah. That’s too much dude, not enough French. Seriously. Boulder is getting to you.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

I had to think about that. Truth is, I’m one of those people that believe the impression we make on others matters, and that what we wear has something to do with that. It’s not like I never grocery shop in my workout gear, or that I’m diligently following the latest trends, but I still think… work is a place where impressions matter. Dates with my husband are worth dressing up for. Putting on a dress and heels for a night on the town is fun.

A recent article in our local newspaper labeled Colorado as a state full of fashion offenders, and Boulder as the worst of the lot. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the end, he changed his work clothes. No longer verging on slob genius, but instead coiffed genius, he left for work.

And I spent the day asking myself existential questions about the importance, or lack thereof, of fashion and what we wear, whether it should affect how others view us or how we feel about ourselves, are we or are we not expressing ourselves through our choice of clothing, and why can Google geniuses get away with anything.

How very French of me.

Photo Day: Arles and Pont du Gard

Arles and Pont du Gard (the latter you may recognize, the first perhaps not) are both in the south of France, but enough off the beaten path that we, as American tourists, don’t always have the time to see them. Understandable, with the limited vacation time we get! When people ask me for advice on where to go in France, I usually ask them what they are interested in. Seeing the sites you are “supposed” to see? Nothing wrong with that. There’s a reason places like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, St. Tropez, and Nice are so famous. When time is limited, I hate to miss those major attractions. What if you never get back to Paris, and you didn’t grab your chance that one day to see the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa? But when people want to get away from the throngs of tourists, get a more “authentic” experience, I have tons of suggestions there, too. Arles is perhaps in the middle. It’s still a tourist destination, but less crowded than many others.

Arles

Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Here’s one of Arles’ main claims to fame: It’s where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park By Night:

453 Place where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park by night

While we were in Arles, we attended a bull fight. It wasn’t the fight to the death kind, I couldn’t stomach that. In this type of fight, the bull has a thick collection of yarn laced around his horns. A team of players tries to distract the bull, while one of them uses a special tool – a rigid (and aggressive looking) extension of his hand – to tear at the yarn. If all the yarn is torn before the timer goes off, the players win. Otherwise, the bull wins. The bull always lives to be tormented another day. The players display an impressive array of acrobatic skills as they run, dodge, then leap from the bull pen to cling for their lives to the surrounding barriers.

458 Look out!

461 Run!

Just on time!

Just on time!

467 going for the yarn

469 Mad bull

477 Yikes!

Awards Ceremony

Awards Ceremony

Here are some photos of Pont du Gard, a well preserved aqueduct from ancient Roman times:

498 Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

502 Pont du Gard

Inside the Aqueduct - we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Inside the aqueduct – we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Passport to Paris: A touch of France in Denver, Colorado

Denver Art Museum

Denver Art Museum

Last weekend we visited the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibit, advertised as “More Monet in Denver than ever before.” I love the French Impressionists, so there was no doubt we were going to go, even if it meant dragging a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old through an art museum. Between pushing buttons on the audio tours for the kids to keep them entertained (“Mommy! She stopped talking again!”) and pulling my daughter’s curious fingers away from priceless works of art (“NOOOOOOOOOO! Off limits! Eyes only!” Cue hyperventilating  Mom all too aware of angry glares from other patrons) we managed to see most of the works displayed in the show’s trio of rooms.

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The rooms: Court to Cafe, Nature as Muse, and Drawing Room, focus on French art from the late 1600s to the early 1900s and include a fascinating look at how art and society mirrored each other through these dynamically evolving centuries. The show incorporates 50 masterpieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, 36 landscapes from the impressionist artists from the private collection of Frederic C. Hamilton – on public display for the first time, as well as drawings on paper from master artists of the period. Here are a couple of my favorites (no photography was allowed, so I had to scan them from postcards I bought):

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Beach at Trouville, 1870 by Claude Monet

The Beach at Trouville, 1870 by Claude Monet

If you are in the Denver area and interested, the show is here through February 9, 2014, and tickets can be purchased online or at the museum. Click here for more details.

Finding Home

I’ve often wondered whether one can ever recover the sense of “home” that one has as a child. The unquestioned sense of belonging in that one place. The intimate knowledge.

I have itchy feet. No, this is not a medical condition, it’s an expression my Dad uses to describe me; it means I long to explore the world, see what exists beyond my own doors. I used to think I’d like to move every few years, immerse myself in new places, meet new people. It didn’t exactly happen that way; practicality took over, but I did retain my love for exploring. I’ve satisfied that urge through traveling, sometimes for extended periods of time.

These days, however, I long to find home. The place I belong. The place I can sink my roots in, raise my kids, and connect with intimately. I just don’t know where it is. When I visit my family in the Arizona town I grew up in, I catch myself saying, “I’m going home.” I currently call San Diego “home.” A part of me feels at home in Paris, as the streets have become familiar and I have my favorite haunts. But none of these places feel deeply, solidly home.

For my husband, the question is even more complicated. He left France, his home, in his early 20s, and has lived in southern California ever since then. He feels pulled between two identities – French and American, and experiences an undercurrent of displacement everywhere he goes. He’s too French to be truly American, yet he’s become too American to be truly French. Plus, his accent is fading and his French gets rusty; sometimes he forgets words, or in certain subjects, like his work, where he’s never used the French terminology, he can feel lost. He’s not quite Tom Hanks in The Terminal, but he does sometimes feel like a man without a country.

For me, Arizona is filled with memories and family, but my current life is not there. I love San Diego yet have always sensed that one day I would leave, as it never has felt like home. Neither of us sees settling in France as part of our future – my husband has built a solid career here and isn’t interested in the “Metro-boulot-dodo” grind of Paris (where most jobs in his field are located). Translation: ride the metro, work, and sleep. The life of many Parisians. While we may joke that the French work short hours and get tons of vacation, the truth is that yes, public workers have cushy jobs, but your typical French businessman puts in a lot of hours. Out the door before the kids are up, back home after they are in bed, it’s not unheard of. Not exactly the reputed “joie de vivre.”

So we are searching. Hoping. I want to find that place where my kids can grow up and feel the same solid sense of belonging that I felt in my childhood. Where we develop our own family traditions and build solid connections. Where our rooms fill up with memories of good times shared with loved ones. Where I can put to rest this search for home, because I will no longer need to search.