Thursday, 15 July 2010

The relativity of home

Is it ironic or symbolic that I forgot to celebrate the 13th anniversary of my arrival in France? That's almost a third of my life. That's my entire adult life.

Almost as a heads up to my point of arrival in Aix-en-Provence in 1997, this weekend I took my kids on a quasi-pilgrammage to Provence to visit a childhood friend who did a house swap for the month of July. (3 bedroom apartment in the middle of Manhattan for a villa in Provence. Seem fair to you?)

While I was looking forward to escaping the North, I was even more excited to go visit one of my oldest friends in Provence so that I could immerse my kids in American for 5 days (wait for the cheesy transition here). Just as I came of age in Provence, something seemed to click in my kids too (I warned you, didn't I?).

After the never ending train trip in which we only had two minor incidents (when I physically had to hold down Suzanne so she would take her motion sickness medicine and when Max began playing with our mean neighbor's silvery sandals and red toe nails), we got into the car where Suzanne promptly vomited 2 minutes from the train station.

When we got to the house, I realized there was no relaxing for me in the future given the house was even less childproofed than our own! There were hundreds of ways Max could maim himself, cut off an appendage or just simply knock himself unconscious. But it was as if Max felt I was open to the occassion and he almost literally took off running. My 11 month old who I have called lazy in the past, looked at the big kids and decided to try to follow them. He was scootching around all over the place - in the kitchen, in the pool, he even decided to stand so he could see onto the table.

And even better than that, he began to communicate with us. Just as I'd been hoping, the fact of being in a monolingual environment for the first time made something bilingual click inside of him. There is now no doubt in my mind that my son, although not verbally precocious like his older sister, understands everything. He began saying "no", calling for me, and has even begun to read books without eating them. We were watching the soccer match and he heard "bravo" on the TV and began to clap. And he's a very cute elephant - he raises his arm like a trunk when you ask him what an elephant says.

But it wasn't all about Max. Suzanne had a grand ole time with her 7 year old idol and her 4 year old accomplice (who she swears to me is only a friend and not an amoureux). This is the first time in memory that Suzanne has had so much play time with non-French speaking Americans (as opposed to her bilingual friends here). And it was reassuring to see that, not only were her tantrums on target, but so was her English. She seems to understand everything, no matter how quickly it's spoken, which still amazes me since her main source of English is me and They Might Be Giants.

So once again this summer, I am counting on the linguistic cavalry to appear in the form of grandma. She'll be coming to hold down the fort at the end of August. And my fingers are still crossed that we can get to the US in October.

Who'd have thought that 13 years ago when I got off the plane in Marseille to meet Cynthia who I would be house sitting for for 3 months would turn into my life... In the years I've lived here, I've never been away as long as this last stint. You can tell I'm in need of a trip to the US when I start calling it "home". My house is here, my husband is here, my kids are here, my cats are here...yet "home" becomes less like home when I stay here too long without any breaks.

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