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0:00 What Do Our Kids Enjoy Most So Far?
1:02 What Are Our Kids Learning These First Three Months?
01:38 What Are We Learning From Our Kids Already?
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What Are Our Kids Learning These First 3 Months in France?
I think they’re learning a lot, and not only a new language. They’re learning a new way of living – in smaller spaces, a bigger city, with different means of transport, surrounded by new kids, friends, and schools. They’re also learning about themselves. They’ve seen they are courageous, that they can do things they didn’t expect or initially were afraid to do. On their first day of school, two of them are attending French public schools, we told them, “Today is the most courageous day of your life.” Up to that point, it was.
No parent-teacher conference. No preview of the classroom. No buddy assigned to them for their first day. No orientation for new families. A completely new language which they did not speak. A completely new school where they were the foreigners, the outsiders. A completely new system of education we had only an inkling about as parents. Full immersion from Day 1 for two of our children. We stood by the gate, waved good-bye, and watched their backs as they walked in by themselves. Closed gate until pick-up. No parents allowed on school grounds. It was the most courageous day of their lives.
They are learning about different languages & cultures, and it’s all quickly becoming second nature to them. Friends are now from Romania, Holland, Nigeria, South Africa, France, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Colombia, and a few from the United States too.
Language is coming along too, for all of us. Linda asked one of our sons a question recently, and he replied, “Wait a minute, how do I say that in English again?” Being inundated with French all day, he’s learning to switch back to English.
Our middle son has the best memory in the family, so he’s learning the vocabulary at a rapid pace. Our oldest has made the most friends of the three, and they are graciously helping him along with the new language. Yet it’s our youngest who has the best accent of the whole family. Recently, I was going over some homework with him, and he rattled off some sentences in French. I was amazed. He sounded great! A lot better than me. It’s definitely true: the younger you begin a foreign language, the sooner you can pick it up.
They are learning they can adapt to a new home, even create one. They are learning this fact early, much earlier than me, that in this life, we may have many homes. Each place of connection can be our home, perhaps one no more than the other, no matter how much time spent you spend at each.
They are seeing home is truly where the heart is, yet home is something we don’t have to put all of our identity in, and as a result, our kids can easily be at home in different places. They are learning they can create a home wherever they are, that home is not dependent on a specific place, but the people around them.
I feel like we are all in the same boat – trying to find friendships with the French because our expatriate, international friends are transient and will move, creating a routine that inserts American ingenuity into long French days of 8:30am -4:30pm school and 6pm swim practices, and excavating pockets of relaxation amidst man-made disasters – the foreign to us but accepted tradition to the French of planned train strikes – that disrupt your carefully planned day of school pickups.
One of my goals for my kids in this move is to stay alert to the curiosities and novelties around them, to never fall into auto-pilot in their daily routine.
There’s nothing like walking more in a day to get places than we ever did in a month in Mississippi, having to look up in the atlas together where our child’s friend is from because it’s not always France or the United States, remembering you never leave the house without an umbrella, but you never have to worry about tornado sirens, resisting the temptation to eat every single chocolate eclair you see because they are truly at every street corner. The abundance of difference is stark and exciting.
I love seeing my youngest child’s eyes when we stumble across an important monument for the first time – like the Arc de Triomphe – and we haven’t prepped him for the sight. Or when our middle child delights in the Parisian cafe culture to find something delectable and new and more alluring than McDonald’s, although there are plenty of long lines at McDonald’s in France too! Or seeing my oldest’s confidence grow as he delights in the attention of being the American novelty in his all French school, being known by the whole grade, and even getting notes dropped in his backpack by French girls to the dismay of his mom.
Everything catches their eyes because nothing feels familiar. As simple as old stone walls that have been around for hundreds of years or tiny windy streets that petite European cars, including our car, squeezes through, trying to avoid angering impatient Parisian drivers, our kids notice everything. They love public transportation. In the US, they had grown tired of mom carting them everywhere. A bus ride means they can observe people, see new driving routes, read a book, or easily put on AirPods to be part of the silent majority of the bus and ignore mom.
A trip to a French supermarket with unbounded aisles of yogurt and cheese and the smell of fresh seafood is an educational trip each time. “What is that Mom?” And often my answer is, “I have no idea. Let’s try to figure it out together.” We haven’t had time yet to visit the local fresh markets – another adventure ahead. My kids want to see more, to return a favorite spot to fully re-capture the moment, and, along the way, are realizing this is the new normal.
But it hasn’t been seamless.
After his first day of school orientation, our oldest came home and said on a scale of 1-10, his day was a negative 2. He even entertained the idea of me homeschooling him, a signal that my very social, eldest child was struggling deeply. It didn’t help he had the wrong class schedule and was placed in the wrong grade the first week of school, and this actually continued for several more weeks before it was rectified. All my hopes felt dashed because I couldn’t make things better quickly. I was as helpless dealing with the French administration as him. We could only trust God would work out the details as we rallied friends to pray with us.
When our youngest came home from school re-stating some inappropriate playground language my oldest never even heard in school in the United States until he was in 7th grade, I knew parenting was going to be a hands-on job in a new foreign context. When it became very evident that my middle child wasn’t getting the same attention as when I homeschooled him in the United States because I am helping with French homework, carting kids to strange hours for weekend French swim competitions, trying to learn French myself, all the while solving issues in a 400 year old house, I knew I had to re-cast what education will look like for my middle special needs child.
Thankfully, my oldest has found friends, even great friends that rival his friends in the US! My youngest is learning how to instruct French kids in proper English like “Oh my goodness!” and building bridges in a somewhat aggressive French playground culture. And a delightful Dutch American friend, a true angel in the field of special needs, fell into our lap with possible bilingual or English-speaking private schools close by for my middle child. All this is showing our kids that we do have a place here!
As John Hugh stated, each place of connection can be our home. I am proud that all my children are happy enough in their new home that none of them have complained of being homesick for the United States. Perhaps the long delay of arrival due to COVID prepared them mentally – at least my oldest attests to this. Perhaps they know a planned trip back to the United States next summer will help. But they treasure their American roots without feeling sadness or despair. We marvel at any American culture we find in France, the comparisons that are inevitable, but enlightening, and we miss our friends in the United States dearly.
But we have a new home, a second home, and our hearts are growing fuller every day. With more new friends than we can keep up with, we are enjoying this ride so far.
What Do Our Kids Enjoy Most So Far About France?
I know they enjoy the variety of activities. From our oldest going into Paris on his own with friends to explore and hang out, to our middle child discovering new bike trails and conquering his anxiety, to our youngest simply enjoying everything, they are making the most out of their new home.
They have certainly been in awe of the vistas and scenery of Paris. Yet not all of what you’d expect. Of course, there is the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. But for them, their eyes have been widened by the winding Seine River, the bridges that cross it, the grand boulevards, the underground tunnels, and the boulangeries right around the corner. They are taking it all in.
All of our children have definitely enjoyed the expansive outdoors, even within a city of 12 million. Parks surround the city, and we’ve been able to explore much. Biking trails are everywhere, seemingly endless, so we have biked and run together. In fact, I’ve enjoyed seeing them dabble in a variety of sports so much. Yes biking, but also continual swim competitions, ping-pong, basketball, and even some football, European style. I’ve actually found an American football league, but am still looking for the baseball diamond. We’ll find it.
They’ve enjoyed the trains, even though we’ve been able to drive a lot. The trains and train stations are a marvel, so they’ve enjoyed the regular trips we take to get into Paris. And they’ve enjoyed the different aspects of a big city – from the traffic, buildings, the Metro, and simply walking the sidewalks.
Perhaps most of all, they have all enjoyed the food. And as kids, it’s not necessarily French haute cuisine. It’s the pastries, croissants, crepes, and eclairs. Yes, those boulangeries. We do our best to limit their intake. But they are all very good, so it seems like you can never eat just one. Our oldest likes the fruit tarts more. Another child adores anything with chocolate – thankfully, you can get it on everything. Nutella beignets are his favorites!
I think it’s been more of an adventure and more fun than they anticipated. They’ve realized moving is not about giving something up, it’s more about adding something new. At a young age, they are seeing how compiling experiences can bring about learning, aptitude, and that new possibilities await. We are happy they’ve seen this move and this change can be very enjoyable for them. In fact, I know they’ve enjoyed the ride even more than their parents have!
It’s such a good question because it’s hard to know what each child has enjoyed the most. My oldest told us he loves the vibrancy of Paris. He said, “You know Mom, there is always something to do and see in Paris. I won’t get bored.” It’s definitely the city for the young because in Paris, you can easily find high profile events every weekend, exquisite cafes, beautiful vistas, people from every part of the world, and incredible art, fashion, and even video game culture we still have to explore.
For our middle child, the path into his heart is through scrumptious meal at a cafe or restaurant – this child loves to eat out. A stunning forest, wide open spaces, and interesting people-watching in a city that never sleeps fills his visual stimulated mind, and he already states how much he likes living in France.. A bonus has been our EIC church at Rueil Malmaison that knows how to use food to bond cross culturally. All our kids love the sweet treats in-between church services and the seemingly monthly potlucks with dishes from the continents of Africa, Asia, both Americas, and of course Europe.
Our youngest child is the one taking in everything with a certain studied air. He is curious about different world currencies, why certain monuments were constructed and what century that would be in, why certain French words are idiomatic and don’t translate easily into English (there are lots of those!), how French children’s fashion is different from American trends, and how even French school supplies are strange and unfamiliar.
With him, I know we will need to keep a certain amount of American culture at the forefront because he is the most likely to absorb more French culture without a filter of comparison. As a youngest, he is absorbing everything as normal and acceptable. And he loves traversing his scooter to school, down a hill narrowly parallel to huge buses, speedily across train tracks, all the while being bellowed by his dad to slow down and be more careful. There is a free, fun spirit about about our youngest.
For all our children, we see glimpses of the pure sweetness of absorbing newness without fear or shame. It emboldens them and strengthens them to keep trying new things, to stepping outside comfort for discovery. It’s a gift I can’t measure as a parent because it is so valuable.
What Are We Learning From Our Kids Already?
This is the interesting part, what I learn from my kids. I’m learning to be more interested in different things; to not be set in my ways and routines; to try new things; to stretch myself. I’m learning to move forward regardless of new challenges. I’ve seen from my kids how they have to do that – with school, new activities, and new places.
My kids don’t have a choice to face their fears. They literally have to “walk in.” As adults, we get settled and have a choice – whether to move into new challenges or stay safe with the things we know. Often, from routine or because of ease or even because of fear, we do the latter.
Thus, from my kids, I’m learning to conquer fears. Fear is a real thing and not just for kids. I know few adults who would openly admit this. We all like to portray courage. Yet courage is not just being tough – it is tough. It doesn’t always come naturally, but my kids are showing me how it can be developed.
For them, this whole process is growing their courage. Obviously we are proud of them, but we are learning from them too.
I asked my kids this week what they were most proud of. My youngest said he is proud that he has become best friends with someone who doesn’t speak English, by chance the person he sat next to on the first day of school. My oldest said he is proud that he can survive in an all French environment every day in school and is making at a minimum 1 new friend every single week. His social schedule is so full that we aren’t sure how to squeeze in all his hang-out time.
My middle child hasn’t given me an answer yet, but I am proud of him. We still don’t have a predictable routine here in France, and that is usually the unwavering pillar for a child on the autism spectrum. Unpredictability started the first week in France with us getting lost every other day while driving or taking public transportation – and still happens at least once a week. You could hear our middle child’s anxiety creep into his voice when he asked us repetitively and in nervous succession, “Are we going to so-so place?” because his mom and dad were buried in the iPhones trying to sort through Google maps and re-route yet another toll road we accidentally took with endless tunnels that GPS doesn’t work well with or figure out how to exit the metro stop because we didn’t realize we had crossed zones and our tickets don’t let us exit (yes, you can get stuck exiting the metro/train).
Our middle child’s his willingness to join our crazy adventure when he has no choice has changed him in 3 short months. We have used deep breathing instead of medication to manage and distill emotions provoked by sudden changes that creep in every, single day – no matter how much foresight we tried to put in a well-planned day. So when we have to get a flu shot administered in our home, because they don’t administer flu shots to children in pharmacies (something different!), he is the first to jump up and delight the private nurse with his enthusiasm. A far cry from the child who used to scream and be held down by 3 nurses for his check ups, and I would have to suffer the humiliation as a parent in stride.
What have I learned from our children? That hope is always bright because we can’t judge our days just on today. Our children are seeking joy and fun in a foreign culture. As I watch them, I marvel at their willingness to change course easily, to pivot quickly, and to eagerly discard unfulfilled expectations for new adventures. As a parent, I am caught up in my expectations – which make me more rigid – and I am missing the fun.
As I watch them grow, I am seeing my to-do list is not as the map for the day, but simply possibilities. If something changes, it’s only an opportunity to grow, not complain, and embrace the excitement of today! After 40+ years, I can reflect on all the joy stolen by anxiety and overwork. So I make sure I get my sleep – and suddenly after a short Sabbath – my spirit and optimism is renewed. If I find the joy of the moment, even the hard joys, my endurance seems endless. I can embrace the challenge of today and tomorrow and the next day. And my children are leading the way.
Stay tuned for our next YouTube video: “First 3 Months: How Is Your Marriage Going?”
Thanks for reading!
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