In My Son’s Vans

No, I’m not going to write in response to Leave Your Shoes at the Door and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Even though the book Walk Two Moons by the great Sharon Creech jumps to my mind as soon as I read the prompt.

Even though I have some suitable material: U.S.S.R. Kenya. Harlem.

Places where, back in the mid 80s, I wondered what it would be like to be a young woman living there.

No, I’m not doing it. Besides I’ve decided to go on with my new manuscript. I even blogged about it on Monday.

Then, two days later, long after my bedtime, I read a blog post.

My Life as an Engrish to English Translator moved me to tears and was still on my mind when I woke up.

In this poignant post Elizabeth Gomez remembers of specific moments in her childhood when she had to translate for her Korean-born mother, who didn’t speak English well enough to be understood. She writes of the embarrassment and shame, of feeling ostracized because of her mother’s inability to communicate in English. A distressful event in Elizabeth’s life ultimately pushed her to stand up for her mother.

Comments poured as a follow-up to this sharply perceptive post. Many were in response to Elizabeth’s heartbreaking childhood spent between a mother, lost in translation, and an absent father and cheating husband.

My own response rose from my guts.

If you follow my blog or occasionally read my posts, you know that I also write in French because I was born and brought up in France. My husband and I moved to California with our first-born child. I took English classes in school, but truth is I learned the language here, in the States. One of my immediate goals was to speak, read and write as well as possible. Along the bumpy road, my children have had their moments of shame and embarrassment, too.

Yet, my allegiance to foreign moms is part of my DNA. Feral.

I am one of them.

They are a little bit of me.

Once in a while, first-generation children write about the challenges they experienced growing up with a mother who was so much more embarrassing, so much more visible than any other.

I understand their emotions and share their frustration and embarrassment, yet instinctive loyalty toward their mothers grows from the pit of my stomach. Yes, I always feel more for the mothers than for the children.

But Elizabeth’s post hit a new chord.

The children who tell of their childhood with a foreign-born mother are almost always women.

I happen to have three daughters and one son.

I also realized that I was initially more willing to walk in perfect strangers’ shoes than in the shoes left on my doormat.

So I took my suede boots off and jumped in my son’s Vans.

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“Here’s your ride!” My friend Joel points in the direction of the pick-up line. “Isn’t it your mother?” he asks with a laugh when I’ve remained quiet.

“I don’t think so.”

“Whatever, man.” Joel shrugs one shoulder. “See you tomorrow.”

A weight lifts from my back. The reason Joel finds my mother so freaking funny is simple. She can’t say his name properly.

“Isn’t it like ‘Noel’?” she says when I correct her.

“It’s not.”

Pourquoi?”

“Because.”

“It would make more sense,” she says. “American sounds are weird. How do they expect people who don’t know to manage?”

My mother, stuck behind a car that has abruptly stopped and then made a right, honks. I imagine what she is saying: “Ah I’d like to see them in Paris, not even using their signal.” In French, of course.

Meanwhile, Joel has reached the parking lot where his Nissan is parked. All seniors drive themselves to school, but my mother said non.

C’est fou,” she says. “A car at sixteen. What’s left to buy when they get a job?”

My mother pulls in the pick-up line. She rolls down the window.

Ça va, mon lapin?”

Mom, please, I’m not a rabbit or even a bunny.

Good news, Joel is already behind the wheel.

Bad news, Alexia, is cruising over on her longboard.

My mother steps out of the car, dangling the set of keys under my nose like it’s a freaking prize or something.

Tu conduis,” she says with a big smile.

“I’m too tired to drive.” I slid into the passenger seat and slam the door.

My mother gets back inside as Alexia zooms by. I shrink in my seat.

Tu es malade?”

“I said tired not sick.”

Tu as faim,” my mother says.

“No, I’m not hungry. Drive.”

Ça va?”

“Yes, I’m okay.”

She slips her sunglasses on and soon the motor roars. Good. We’ve finally left school. I get my iPod and my earbuds; she turns the radio on. My mother is a news junkie.

“That’s good for my English,” she says.

Really? It has been a while since she moved to the US, and yet she often knocks at my door to double check the way we say this or that. I don’t have anyone to help me when I write my English essays.

I learned what a “robe” was at summer camp. Until then a robe for me was a dress. The French word for dress is robe. My mother always speaks French like we are living in a French colony or something. She also does a really embarrassing thing. She never pronounces French words used in the US with the American accent.

Café, croissant, baguette, rendezvous, corsage, boutonniere, chandelier, genre, the wine names, the cooking names, the shops that have French names… You get it.

My mother taps my knee. “Ecoute, c’est bon pour ton français.”

Besides the radio my mother likes to listen to little French songs. I’m supposed to listen to, in order to improve my French.

Traffic is jammed. My mother makes a left at the next light.

“Where are you going?”

“Surprise!”

I’m not in the mood for a surprise. Yet she pulls on a parking lot and I see a coffee place. Not a Starbucks where everyone is so well trained that nobody ever asks my mother to repeat her order. Once in a while the barista gets confused, and my mother ends up with a different order.

“That’s not what I asked,” she says.

“Try it, you might like it,” I say.

She makes faces. “Too sweet! Too big!”

Mom! I scan my surroundings. Why does she speak in English when she gets embarrassing?

Starbucks is still the safest place to get coffee for someone like my mother. But she prefers the other kind of cafés.

“Unique,” she says in her high-pitched French.

She parks in front of the unique coffee shop. The sign reads “La Crème de la Cake.” I know what’s coming next.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she says with a frown.

“Why did you drive over then?”

“Traffic is bad. We’ll be home late. I saw a sign for this café and you need something to eat.”

“I’ll wait for you.”

“Okay. What do you prefer?”

“I don’t want anything, I told you. You want to get me something.”

She walks in and I focus on my iPod.

Within seconds my mother is out, saying something, and waving her arms and hands in the air like there is a fire or something bad happening in the coffee shop.

I jump out of the car, heart pounding. “What’s wrong?”

“You won’t believe it!” she says. “They have some petits choux à la crème.” She lowers her tone of voice and shakes her head. “It’s not really what I had in mind, but it will do. Come in with me.”

I just don’t get my mother. She likes French stuff but she doesn’t really like it. She likes to meet French people but she doesn’t really like them.

There is a message on a T-shirt that makes my mother laugh: “J’aime rien. J’suis parisien.”

Translation: “I love nothing. I’m Parisian.”

Is it that funny?

My mother introduces me to the bakers, who are not French at all. I nod and smile.

“My son was born here,” my mother says. “When he speaks English nobody believes I’m his mother, but he has an accent when he speaks French.” The bakers and my mother laugh.

Thanks, mom.

“Why did you buy so many?” I ask my mother when we get to the car.

“It’s not polite to buy less than twelve petits choux.”

She starts the engine and backs up. A pick-up truck pulls next to her.

“He could have waited,” she says. “They are always in such a hurry.”

Someone, please, make me disappear.

My mother hands me the bag of pastries. “Mange,” she says. Then, she eats one. “So-so,” she says, licking her fingers. “Not really French.”

When we exit the parking spot the truck’s driver smiles and tips his 49Niners hat.

“Ah,” my mother says. “They’re so much more courteous than the French.”

With my mother I travel through a world of “they.” I just don’t always know who “they” are.

So it’s hard for me to know where I stand, and as hard to decide when and if I should take sides.

I put my son’s Vans away, next to my suede boots. Barefoot I walk to my room. I’m tired tonight. I didn’t walk a mile and certainly not two moons, but stepping into someone else’s shoes is not comfortable.

Especially in my son’s Vans.

Even if only  for the time of a blog post.

Antidote to Doubt

I have been experiencing a long period of doubt since I started my new YA manuscript a year ago.

Early on, my critique group offered some valid plot-related tips, but they implied significant changes. Call it discouragement or fear of failure. The result was that I dreaded the perspective of revision and change.

What is the point? Is the story even interesting? Will readers like it?

I took a break and did my very best to forget about this specific manuscript. Oh I was still writing. In fact, I completed the editing and copy-editing of my middle grade novel that will be published later in the spring, I wrote many blog posts in French and English, and I even started another project.

Although I pretended to be done with my manuscript, I wasn’t tranquil. The story and the characters were on my mind, especially the protagonist – a high school senior.

He spoke out loud when I was driving. He visited me at the most unexpected moments, especially when I was quiet, cooking or folding laundry. I did my best to push him back when his presence started to feel more and more real. One night he showed up in my dream.

I knew he wouldn’t leave me in peace.

So yesterday I dug through my Documents and clicked Open.

Let me tell you that I was far more annoyed than excited.

The anticipation of work wasn’t pleasant at all. I knew I would have to go back to the very beginning. I have typed one hundred and thirty pages and just couldn’t delete entire chapters, so I copied/pasted what I wouldn’t need in a New Blank Document. You never know.

I hated every minute of it. The realization that a manuscript needs serious work isn’t enjoyable. But I stayed in my chair – it helped a little that I got a nice one for Christmas – and forced myself to read from the first page to the last.

When I was finished I had clarified two important points:

1-    This first part of the story is too long (I plan to divide my story in three parts)

2-    The characters deserve a chance to live

However, the task ahead of me still freaked me out and doubt was still bothering me. Same old questions.

What is the point? Is the story even interesting? Will readers like it?

I took a short break and checked my Inbox.

The title of Mona’s latest post caught my eye and made my heart beat faster:

Do You Believe in Yourself?

First a small smile grew inside me, and then renewed energy flowed through my entire body when I visited the website that Mona had linked to her post.

Yes, we are alone when we write.

Yes, we doubt of our voice or of our characters’ voice.

Yes, writing is difficult.

Yes, we have to do it ourselves.

When living these moments of doubt we need a little bit of help. And nothing can be better than:

1-    A positive blog post

2-    Writers’ hands to lead us along the creative path

3-    Messages of encouragement from writers who have been there.

What do you do when you are afraid, lonely and you doubt of your words? What is your andidote?

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Soirée Ciné Restau sur Fonds d’Amérique Oubliée

Hier c’était le grand jour.

Non pas le Winter Formal de mon fils, même si pour lui c’était le Grand Jour.

Je parle des grands qui se sont offerts une soirée ciné restau.

Le cinéma avant l’Amérique c’était mon pain quotidien, ou presque. Au fond de mes poches, tickets de métro et de ciné cohabitaient dans un joyeux désordre.

La Californie, berceau d’Hollywood et de ses stars, a marqué la fin de ma longue histoire avec les salles obscures.

Pour deux raisons simples : les immigrés – les vrais, ceux qui partent avec une valise pour l’Aventure – ne pensent pas à tout – heureusement d’ailleurs parce qu’ils ne seraient jamais partis. Ils ignorent ou refusent de penser qu’à leur arrivée il y aura :

1-    Absence totale de support familial et amical (normal quand on quitte son pays natal) mais aussi professionnel.

2-    A serrer les cordons de la bourse et à ne pas faire chauffer la carte de crédit. La vie ailleurs coûte toujours plus cher quand on recommence à zéro, surtout avant l’euro. Le franc français ne permettait pas d’aller très loin.

Donc hier soir après avoir utilisé le iPhone et l’appareil photo au maximum de leur capacité et mitraillé Fils Adoré, splendide dans son nouveau costume (se référer à Winter Formal Bis), et Petite Amie tout aussi adorable dans sa petite robe sans manches et ses jambes nues dans ses chaussures à talons Tour Eiffel, papa maman ont enfilé leurs tenues d’amoureux et se sont éclipsés vers l’un de leurs restaus préférés.

Il n’était que six heures mais la séance de ciné commençait à huit heures moins le quart. Au restau il y avait pas mal de convives et déjà quelques couples qui rejoignaient leurs voitures après avoir fini de diner.

En France, c’est encore l’heure du goûter.

Les américains que je connais sautent souvent le déjeuner quand ils savent qu’ils dineront au restau ce qui explique que dès cinq heures ils ont l’estomac dans les talons.

Une autre raison est financière. Certains restaurants, surtout les chaines populaires, offrent des prix spéciaux pour les Early Birds – ceux et celles qui dinent vers quatre/cinq heures de l’après midi et ce jusqu’à cinq heures et demie/ six heures. La sélection des plats est souvent plus limitée et baptisée Early Bird Specials.

C’est un peu un stéréotype de dire que la majorité des Early Birds sont des personnes âgées mais cela reste vrai. Et je peux les comprendre. Ils se lèvent plus tôt et se couchent donc plus tôt et beaucoup vivent sur un revenu fixe qui ne leur permet pas beaucoup d’extras.

Hier soir les amoureux étaient presque des Early Birds, sauf que notre restau n’offre pas d’Early Bird Specials.

Peu après nous sont arrivés six ados, tout aussi endimanchés que Fils Adoré et Petite Amie.  Les jeunes filles, perchées dans des sandales si découpées et si hautes que mes pieds frissonnaient dans mes petites bottes et que j’en avais le vertige, se sont assises en face de leurs dates (nom donné au partenaire. La date peut aussi être le petit ami ou la petite amie mais pas nécessairement). Les garçons étaient eux aussi sur leur trente et un. Boutonniere (sans accent) à la boutonnière pour les garçons et corsages au poignet pour les filles, ils étaient un mélange d’innocence, de naïveté et de confiance en eux qui me déconcerte encore parfois.

Plus traditionnel tu meurs. J’ai du penser tout haut car mon amoureux me dit qu’au moins ils ont bon goût car ils ont choisi un restau élégant, à la cuisine délicieuse. Point taken, comme on dit ici.

Nous les quittons pour le ciné.

Comme nous n’y allons pas souvent, nous choisissons avec soin le film qui méritera notre visite.

Si vous vivez avec un homme et un ou des Fils Adoré(s) vous savez que ce n’est pas une mince affaire.

Il n’y a pas de nouveau James Bond à l’affiche, Matt Damon en a fini avec Bourne et Bruce Willis avec Die Hard.

Je vous épargne la discussion de vendredi soir où sur les conseils d’une de mes copines j’avais proposé un deal qu’elle m’avait vendu comme infaillible.

« Tu choisis le film et tu dis okay au diner steak frites. »

Le problème est que mon amoureux aime les films et les acteurs cités au-dessus mais pas vraiment les steak-houses (là où l’on mange des steaks plus grands que mes deux mains).

Ma chance a tourné quand nous avons réalisé que le seul film décent (combo spectateurs et critiques) qui passait était Nebraska.

On a perdu beaucoup de temps parce que c’était mon choix #1 depuis le début de la discussion.

L’inconditionnel fan de Bruce Springsteen que je suis avait senti son cœur battre en lisant le titre du film, à l’affiche ici depuis la mi novembre.

A travers nos nombreux voyages à travers les States nous avons traversé plusieurs fois les grandes plaines du Nebraska et le pont qui enjambe la rivière North Platte à Lincoln, la capitale de l’état.

Rouler sous un ciel plus grand que la terre est inoubliable.

La pochette en noir et blanc du 33 tours de Springsteen dépeint à la perfection l’immense désolation mais aussi la beauté abrupte de ces terres qui semblent n’aller nulle part.

Tout comme la pochette du disque, le film Nebraska est également tourné en noir et blanc.

L’histoire est en apparence très simple. Un vieil homme de Billings, Montana, persuadé d’avoir gagné un million de dollars parce qu’il a reçu une vague lettre l’en informant, décide, malgré l’opposition de sa femme et de ses fils, de rejoindre Lincoln, Nebraska, pour encaisser son prix.

En fait Nebraska est un portrait complexe, réaliste et émouvant d’un Américain oublié dans une Amérique oubliée. L’humour décapant vise avec justesse tous les défauts et aussi le meilleur de l’être humain à travers une famille et les détails savoureux et poignants de la vie en Amérique rurale.

J’ai marqué un point en persuadant mon amoureux d’acheter deux billets pour Nebraska. J’ai arrêté de les compter quand j’ai réalisé que ce film était fait pour deux amoureux des Etats Unis parce qu’il évoquait à la perfection nos rencontres avec des Américains semblables aux personnages fictifs de Nebraska, nos expériences de vie ici, nos voyages passés et à venir.

Allez voir le film quand il sortira en France. Il dépeint une Amérique peu connue, d’apparence peu séduisante et pourtant tellement humaine.

Un petit point en moins : la chanson du Boss aurait fait un beau background musical.

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TGIF

From the cavern that’s my purse, the distinct sound of a text message.

The light is red.

I glance at my screen.

My friend has just lost her brother-in-law.

And canceled our lunch.

Sorry for the short notice, she has added as a P.S.

I blink and search for a tissue.

It is strange that someone I’ve never met has the power of making me sad.

Since my father’s premature and unexpected death last June, tears come easily to my eyes when I hear about someone’s passing.

It is also strange – in a more cynical way – that someone who has left earth has the power of making a lunch date happen or not.

When my father died, my large family crafted all kinds of complicated arrangements to be there to say goodbye.

Death and life are very close companions.

Someone honks.

The light has turned green.

I catch up with the car ahead of me.

On the bumper of the white Camry, a sticker jumps at me.

TGIF.

And despite the fact that I’m sad for my friend, for her family, sad about death, and my sad thoughts, a small smile grows inside me.

When I was so new in the States that my eyes weren’t big enough to take in every foreign detail, I spent a lot of time to decipher the American custom license plates, the personalized holders, and the bumper stickers.

No French driver would have expressed opinions, made cultural and religious statements, or endorsed a political party in such a blatant way.

Many messages were so ecliptic that it took me months, sometimes more, to get their meaning.

TGIF was one of them.

Since I wasn’t working back then and didn’t go out, there was no reason for me to know that Thank God (or Goodness) It’s Friday was both an American restaurant chain and an expression.

For a reason that escapes my control, I will have a solitary Friday lunch.

Instead of the café where my friend and I were supposed to meet, I drive to the park.

On my way I swing by Starbucks.

What can I get for you, miss? Tim – I also love reading nametags – asks.

I grab a sandwich and a bottle of water in the small window.

Anything else?

That’s it for today, thanks.

Hey, it’s Friday! Have a good one.

Thanks, you too.

The sun peeks through the bare branches of the trees. In response to the lack of water in California the native oaks have switched to conservation mode and have lost their leaves.

A small death, if you will.

TGIF.

P.S. As a closure to the Weekly Writing Challenge, which I completed, a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper to flavor your lunch:

1-    As a writer who is living between two languages, a theme and guidelines keep me focused. This is why I participate occasionally to the Daily Post Challenges.

2-    Observing my surroundings and jotting down notes is something I am accustomed to do. Yet this week was unusual because I did it every day, on purpose.

3-     In an interesting and unplanned fashion I was offered a variety of situations, which allowed me to write very different posts. Life offers a large palette of emotional and sensorial experiences, and focusing on a moment of solitude to absorb them while letting my mind wander was liberating.

4-    If you missed my posts from Monday to Friday, here they are:

Monday: Lunch on Martin Luther King Day

Tuesday: Everyone Deserves a Break

Wednesday: American Breakfast

Thursday: Through the Looking-Glass

Friday: TGIF

And thank you to the bloggers who have liked my posts, commented on them, linked them to their blog, or emailed me.

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Through the Looking-Glass

Many women get their hair done during their lunch-break.

I’m no exception.

The receptionist has dyed half of her long straight hair in pink. She also wears silk and velvet like a young Marianne Faithful.

Have a seat, she tells me, while signing a receipt to the UPS guy who glances at her mile-long legs.

My hairstylist spots me and waves me in.

In her hip tunic that brushes against the hem of her short shorts she looks young enough to be my oldest daughter’s age.

I’ve known her for three years – enough to feel comfortable whether we talk or not.

Today she is in a talkative mood…

And I loose my thoughts through the wall-hung mirrors displayed above each working station.

I see my face.

I see the back of my head.

I see my left and right profiles.

Oh the passing of time.

I see the other hairstylists.

One, wearing boots that remind me of my Clash’s period, trims the thinning hair of a thirty-something year old man.

Another coils pieces of aluminum around the faded blond strands of a bank employee whose plastic ID badge dangles from her wrist.

Still another leafs through the pages of a Wedding Special issue magazine and points at various styling options to a bride to be.

In front of me, behind me, on each side of me, faces and movements are duplicated through the mirrors.

Could I, like Alice, pass through the one in front of me and step on the other side?

What would the world be like on the other side of this mirror’s reflection?

Would have time stopped?

Alice after all only found a reflected version of her own house.

How do you like it?

Pardon me?

I’m finished. My hairstylists hands me a mirror so I can check the back and side of my head.

While my mind wandered, my hair has been washed, cut, blow-dried, and styled.

My hairstylist has worked at smoothing the passing of time.

I like it. As always. Thank you.

Thanks, but I already told you, you could do it yourself.

No, I can’t. Besides if I could you wouldn’t have a job.

She laughs.

And I couldn’t dream.

I pay. I tip. I book my next appointment.

She hands me a card. Whoa, it’ll be March.

I’ll see you in March, then.

Time goes by so fast.

If she knew…

On my way out, a poster on the wall catches my eye.

Unlike Alice with Jabberwocky I don’t need to hold up the poster to a mirror to read it perfectly.

In purple glittery ink, someone has written:

All you need is love

John 3:6

And signed with a big heart.

I slip my jacket on.

Take care.

You too.

A hug. A smile.

The door swings closed behind me.

My reflection in the large expanse of glass makes me pause.

Is that me?

Life is but a dream.

At least at the hair salon during lunch-break.

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American Breakfast

Breakfast is neither a French word nor a French forte. Yet now that I live away from the land of croissants and espressos swallowed in haste at the counter of a neighboring café, I enjoy one weekly American breakfast, always in the company of my husband. After all, he is the one who got the idea to pack our French stuff for the American dream.

My husband was an American before he became officially one. In Paris with his bulky pager and stocky first Macintosh, his body was in Paris, his mind in California.

We haven’t started when he gets a phone call and must check this iPhone – business is business.

It’s perfect with me. See, more than window-shopping, that most French women adore, I love people-watching.

While I warm my hands around my American to-go cup, I glance around me.

Facing the window, five retired men, all wearing plaid shirts and also a mustache, share jokes around plates of scrambled eggs and toasts. They must be good friends because there aren’t any awkward pauses in their conversations.

In a quiet corner, a mother and a grandmother take bites of their muffins and sips of their lattes while watching with adoration over a newborn, asleep in his car seat.

A nurse in pink scrubs rushes in, buys a bag of twelve bagels, swipes her credit card, and dashes back to her Acura.

One table away, a man hunches above the Sport section of the local paper. Once in a while he shakes his head – disappointed that his favorite team has lost a game, I suppose.

Three middle age women in sweatpants and matching sweatshirts have ordered steamy cappuccinos and muffins. We deserve them, now that we went to the gym.

In the far back, two men hold hands and say grace, a Bible closed in the center of the small table.

Mom! The girl wears a hoodie with the logo of my son’s high school – I don’t know her. She rolls her eyes while her mother joins her in the ‘Order Here’ line.

One of the line cooks steps from the kitchen, a large soda tumbler in one hand, a cinnamon roll in the other. He steps outside, flops on a chair at the terrace, and lifts his head toward the sky.

The door opens on a lanky six feet seven young man in shapeless gray sweatpants and a pair of shower sandals. Coffee, please, now!

My husband looks up: I’ll take care of this call later on. His cup is empty and he gets a refill.

On his way back, he exchanges a few words with a man – perhaps a joke – since the man smiles.

Nothing beats an American breakfast to get the pulse of our country.

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Nothing beats lunchtime, a French favorite, to scan my notes and write my Daily Post.

Everyone Deserves a Break

I won’t break my engagement and will post daily in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge.

Over time I’ve found, all over the gym, tranquil spots to catch my breath.

Underneath the tall staircase is a favorite.

A man trains for a marathon – his T-shirt says so.

Won’t the stampede of his Nikes break the stairs?

“Miss, are you done?”

With regrets, I leave the rowing machine, but the 49Niners fan is right: I’m finished.

Despite the American “Miss,” his ‘thank you’ smile is one he’d give his mother.

In the States, women above forty are old.

Give me a break!

An Alumna from UCLA – her hat says so – does stretches near the drinking fountain – another coveted quiet spot – while explaining to her friend the reasons her business can’t break even.

No, I won’t try the restroom – really, the name is misleading.

Instead I pace the gym.

Breaking news make a loop on the gigantic TV screens:

Another wave of Arctic temperatures on the East Coast.

Another merciless rainless week in California.

A ponytailed mom leads her PJ-clad child – a baby, almost – to the day care center.

The child cries. The mother’s eyes cloud.

Both break my heart.

Will anyone get a break today?

I pack my bag and step to the parking lot.

While I was inside, the sun broke through the sky.

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Lunch on Martin Luther King Day

A Weekly Writing Challenge Made for Me:

1-    Short posts are perfect since I am working on longer writing projects.

2-    The French in me likes short breaks during the day. Not just for lunch.

Morning in town on Martin Luther King Day.

No school zone speed limit slowing downtown traffic.

No car jamming the exit toward Government Center.

No line creeping toward Starbucks and Subway.

One salesman guarding the men’s suits at Macy’s.

This one is made for you, I tell my son, shopping for Winter Formal.

A quick sale begs for a quick bite.

But my son hooks my arm and says, No, it’s MLK day, let’s go home and have lunch with Dad.

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Winter Formal. Bis.

Trois jours de weekend permettent aux Américains de décompresser mais aussi, parce que c’est plus fort que soi aux States, de faire du shopping.  Ce lundi férié qui honore Martin Luther King n’échappe pas à la règle.

« J’ai pas classe, » me dit mon fils. « J’ai fini mes maths et j’ai Winter Formal samedi prochain. »
Je rembobine le film de sa vie de lycéen et celle de mon blog. Il y a un an déjà…

Winter Formal est une dance précédée d’un diner où les lycéens de toutes les classes confondues peuvent se rendre. Comme son nom l’indique c’est une dance qui a lieu en hiver.

« J’ai besoin d’un costume, » mon fils m’annonce.

C’est exact, il a dépassé mon 1,70 depuis l’été.

Faire du shopping avec les filles c’est à la fois amusant et épuisant. Trouver une petite robe, puis des chaussures, voire un petit sac, et un petit accessoire du genre boucles d’oreilles ou bracelet peut prendre des semaines de recherche. Si vous avez des filles, vous savez que « petit » veut en fait dire « cher ». La petite robe noire est plus chère que la grosse doudoune d’hiver. On sait toutes cela.

Mais pour les garçons, c’est faux. Plus c’est grand plus c’est cher.

Un costume pour un petit garçon c’est nettement plus raisonnable qu’un costume pour un ado, qui s’habille chez les hommes.

Mais mon fils est, comme la plupart des garçons et des hommes, moins exigeant dans le département mode que les filles et l’affaire costume est rondement menée, en un temps record et avec un prix défiant toute concurrence.

« Mais, » lui ai-je dit ce matin, me rappelant avec panique d’un détail. « De quelle couleur est la robe de ta copine ? »

La tradition veut en effet que la cravate ou le petit foulard glissé dans la poche de poitrine de la veste du garçon s’accorde avec la couleur de la robe de la fille qui l’accompagne à la dance.

« Sa robe est noire et ses chaussures sont bleues, » mon fils m’explique en avalant son bol de céréales, en pyjama, les cheveux ébouriffés.

Il n’est que 10 h du matin un samedi.

Ses sœurs trempaient déjà dans un bain moussant à cette heure là le jour du Winter Formal.

Parfois, j’aurais aimé avoir quatre garçons !

« As-tu une cravate bleue ? »

Mon fils lève mollement les yeux au-dessus de son bol. « Papa en a une. »

Exact, et Papa accepte de prêter sa cravate si nécessaire. Les filles ne me demandaient pas toujours mon avis pour piocher dans mes tiroirs et ma penderie. Remarquez, maintenant qu’elles sont loin, cela m’énerve de voir mes affaires bien rangées.

« Donc, » dis-je à mon fils. « Tu mettras une cravate bleue ? »

« Peut-être, » dit-il.

« Peut-être ? »

« Tu sais, on s’en moque un peu de la couleur, on n’est pas très formels. »

Il me rappelle qu’une autre copine de la bande a organisé le diner du soir chez sa grand-mère au lieu d’aller au restaurant – ces ados deviennent raisonnables depuis la crise de 2008– et que la mère de la même copine propose de conduire les ados à la dance. La grand-mère aussi d’ailleurs.

J’écoute mon fils et je me dis que les choses vont dans le bon sens.

Mon fils de seize ans est tout à fait d’accord d’aller diner chez la grand-mère d’une copine en compagnie de ses dix autres copains et d’être conduit à la dance par la même grand-mère et la maman de la copine qui a tout arrangé.

Le monde entre les mains des femmes tourne bien.

Mon fils avec trois sœurs ainées et une maman qui passe beaucoup de temps avec lui a un avantage sur d’autres garçons : il n’a aucun préjugé sur les filles et les femmes.

Mais j’aime à penser que le mouvement est plus large et que la majorité des ados garçons de sa génération pensent comme lui et laissent tomber les schémas classiques garçon/fille sans aucune crainte et peur du ridicule.

Je trouve cela super et suis convaincue que l’égalité entre les sexes, ils la vivent au quotidien et pour de vrai.

Même quand ils vont au Winter Formal.

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Un an plus tard presque jour pour jour :

« J’ai besoin d’un costume, » mon fils m’annonce.

C’est exact, il n’est pas loin de rattraper le 1,82 de son papa.

« De quelle couleur est la robe de ta copine ? »

« Noire et elle est ni courte ni longue. Aux genoux. Comme ça. » Il joint le geste à la parole et j’ai une idée assez précise de la robe.

« Mettras-tu une cravate noire ? »

« Sans doute pas, car si je choisis un costume sombre, ça sera un peu too much. »

Je le regarde, étonnée. Tant de détails depuis l’année dernière.

«Avant diner,» continue-t-il.  «On ira au parc prendre des photos. »

« Tous les deux ? »

« Non, on sera six. »

Et il continue à m’expliquer les plans de sa soirée.

Les deux autres couples. Les photos. Le diner. La dance. Une glace avant de rentrer.

Moi j’écoute, de plus en plus étonnée. Ce que les choses et les ados changent en un an!

Cette année mon fils et tous ses copains et copines conduisent. Plus besoin de papa maman comme l’an dernier. Plus besoin de la grand-mère d’une copine non plus.

« Et les fleurs ? » je lui demande, me souvenant soudainement des fameux corsage et boutonnière.

« C’est une copine qui s’en occupe. Elle travaille chez un fleuriste. Elle peut les avoir à un super prix. »

« Donc tout est déjà super organisé ? »

« Ouais. ” Une seconde de silence. “Dis, tu me donneras ton avis pour la veste ? »

« Of course. »

Tout n’a pas complètement changé depuis l’année dernière. Ouf!

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Ten Eating Rules French Children Know and Most Americans Don’t

My daughter posted a link on her Facebook page.

The article from Rebeca Plantier on Mind Body Green lists the Ten Eating Rules French Children Know and Most Americans Don’t.

My beautiful, intelligent, and caring college daughter linked me and wrote: “Totally true.”

Her comment and smileys made me smile.

Later as I read the article, I thought I’d like to add a few comments based on my personal experience.

Here is the beginning of the article:

How the French eat, age, dress, raise their children and live in general is a real talking point these days. So, as an American mother of three half-French kids, I figured I’d add my two cents to the conversation.

I lived in France before becoming a parent, but eventually it was my kids who taught me everything I need to know about eating like a French person: Eating, and staying slim and healthy, isn’t just about what you eat, but also how, when and why. Yes, French people enjoy junk food occasionally, and sometimes they eat between meals, but people don’t just let loose every day. There’s a code of conduct for food, for big people and little ones alike. Here, in 10 quick life lessons, is what my kids taught me about food.

Although I am a French native, unlike Rebeca I have never lived in France with my children.

My oldest daughter was born in Paris, but we moved to the States when she was eleven months old.

Rebeca says that her children taught her about food.

I had to teach mine about food.

DID I MANAGE TO STICK TO THE TEN EATING RULES?

Fact # 1: Children love doing what other children do, including what they eat.

I was challenged on the playground.

Most parents arrived with bags loaded with food and drinks as if they were prepared for a disaster or a trip in the desert.

My children ogled the cookies and chips that were offered at any time and for no specific reason and begged me to buy the same.

Until then I baked from scratch and brought fresh fruit to the playground, but I figured that we lived in the US and not in a French colony, so I said yes to a few changes and got them occasional store-bought cookies.

Things became more complicated with school. My children made friends who didn’t have Ten Eating Rules at home.

Fact #2: Anything that is not familiar is exotic. Including junk food.

My oldest one, the family pioneer, was the first one who complained about her lunch bag.

Her friends either bought the school lunch from the cafeteria or brought chips, sodas, cookies, and often a store-bought packed lunch that came sometimes with a small toy or a piece of candy, from home.

In the late 90’s and even early 2000’s, a bag of Cheetos was more common than an apple or grapes in a brown bag. Schools were still offering soft drinks in the vending machines and PTA moms sold cookies and candies after sport games.

So my sliced kiwis, my avocados and cheese sandwiches – made with real cheese – had little success in comparison to the exotic Doritos and Lunchables.

We made a pact: my kids would eat the school lunch on Fridays as long as I prepared their bags from Monday to Thursday.

Fact #3: Anything that is not familiar is exotic. Including good habits.

When their friends came over for lunch, which was often because I worked from home unlike most of the other moms, they were initially surprised and sometimes angry when I asked them to sit down for lunch. When they asked to eat in front of the TV – something most did at home – I said no. On the other side they liked the napkins and regular glasses instead of paper napkins and plastic cups because they felt special and made them feel special.

Then a funny and unexpected thing happened.

Fact #4: Anything that is not familiar is exotic. Including good food.

The kids who had refused to eat my quiche or green salad and cheese at home told they mothers about the kind of food we ate. One day I met one of them at the supermarket and she asked me where I found the Vache Qui Rit I packed in my children’s lunches because her daughter liked this cheese very much.

The first time I had met the same little girl she had told me that she only liked orange cheese, red apples, and white bread.

I understood then that my kids’ lunch bags were successful at school, and that the food I offered at home was in fact appreciated. Even though my kids’ friends made faces and said, ‘no, thank you’ to my French cuisine, they ended up trying.

French Memories

My daughter’s comment on Facebook made me smile and feel a little proud, too.

As any parents my husband and I do what we think is best for our children. In the food department we have an edge.  We both grew up in a country that takes food seriously and our parents fed us well and taught us decent table manners.

IS IT STILL THE SAME NOWADAYS IN FRANCE?

Yes and no.

Yes, the French way of eating is tied to a way of life, which gives an important part to good quality food and to the conviviality of food.

No, it is not exactly the same for everyone. Many French people, especially among the poorest and the young, eat poorly, too.

Fact #5: In our two countries a segment of population is eating well and following the Ten Eating Rules while a much larger segment doesn’t, for economic and social reasons.

In the States the people who eat well are the wealthiest and often the most educated. The same is true in France.

Although French supermarkets offer a large variety of good products that we would only find in more select shops in the States, they also carry packaged food, which is similar to the one we have here – including American junk food brands. Kids and teens are naturally attracted by the inexpensive and popular American snacks and soft drinks.

In addition, more fast food restaurants have opened, and the French can also order food to go, something that wasn’t possible when I lived there. Lack of time to prepare healthy meals, high unemployement, and an expensive cost of life have a toll on the traditional French eating style.

For the first time French magazines write about health issues due to excessive weight and poor diets.

Thanks to my heritage, I have been able to teach my American-born children about the importance of food and the rites that surround meals.

Through my daughter’s comment – and smileys – I think I succeeded.

It is only too bad that it cannot be the same for everyone, everywhere.

What do you think about the Ten Eating Rules?  Do you come from a country with Eating Rules?

Tell me.

French Memories

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