Getting back to normal

It’s been a week since we got back from France, and things are finally getting back to normal, Monkey’s sleep schedule being the most important, of course. While we really just bought the cheapest tickets we could find, the flight times worked out so that he was really tired in both directions, so there wasn’t an issue falling asleep when we got there, and when we got home. While we were there, he was on a 10pm-8:30am schedule, instead of his normal 7:30pm-6am schedule, which I think helped make the switch back a bit easier.

He still woke up before 5 two days this week, and before 6 all but Friday. This morning we managed our usual Saturday routine: sleeping “in” until 6:30, all three of us going to the Y, and then an “outing,” today we headed to a local farm to pick up some seedlings for our garden.

He’s been getting more TV this week than he usually does, however, simply because we are all so tired, and waking up before 5 meant by 6pm he was DONE and just screaming about everything. And my husband came back to a huge project at work, which meant I was on my own a lot more in the evenings. The less-than-stellar weather has been hard too, since he can’t go outside and play to let off some of that frustration. This week should be better, as we are all much better rested than we were last Saturday.

I’ll do a few other posts about the trip (Sweden especially), but I did want to capture a few language things about Monkey I noticed.

He didn’t seem to pick up as much vocabulary as I thought he would, but a few new key phrases are “Pourquoi?” and “Je sais pas.” He obviously got the second one from asking the first too much! We also taught him to count from one to ten in German and Japanese, which he proudly showed off to everyone in the family. He seemed resistant to Italian, however, which I found interesting. Maybe it’s too close to French and Spanish (which he hears at daycare). He seems to prefer imitating “funny” sounds – when we got back from our side trip to Sweden, he was all too eager to repeat the few words we’d picked up while there.

Another new phrase is “pas manger les possions,” (no eating the fish) which I am assuming he learned from his mamie when she took him to the aquarium. I find it particularly hilarious. I’m pretty sure it’s because he likes to be a monster and “eat” people/things/the cat, so she must have scolded him about putting his face on the glass to “eat” the fish! Overall, he seems to be making longer phrases now, which he’s been doing for awhile in English. So the trip was definitely a good boost for his French.

I have a lot of other thoughts and stories from the trip, not all of the positive, but I thought I’d save those for another day. This drizzly May weather is depressing enough without trying to remember all the stress from France!

Feelings in France

We arrived in France Saturday after a 20 hour journey, and I am feeling much happier than I thought I would. I think a lot of my pre-departure emotions were tied up in worrying about Monkey on the flight. We flew with Iceland Air, leaving at 9:30 at night, and since he’s never wanted to sleep on planes, I had nightmares of wrangling a cranky, horrible toddler on very little sleep.

He ended up sleeping about 4 hours on the first leg, albeit fitfully (it was drier than normal on the plane), and then another 2 on the Iceland-Paris leg. I got maybe 3 hours on the first leg and 1 hour on the second. My husband barely sleep at all, but we were still all in pretty good moods by the time we arrived. I was also really worried that Monkey would pull his usual “I hate people for the first half hour of seeing them, even if I know them” routine with his mamie, but he was happy right away! The weekly Skype calls definitely helped, I think.

He didn’t seem confused at all when we got to the house, possibly because of the excitement about the “new” toys here. He did spend a lot of time here during the first 18 months of his life, including living here an entire month, so even though I don’t think he “remembers” the house, I wonder if a part of his brain senses how familiar it is.

He slept for 13 hours the first night, and around 11 last night, with a long nap today, so that’s been a relief. I’ve been having a harder time, but it’s only been 2 days. I’ve had more wine in the past two days than I have had in the past two months, which probably doesn’t help my restless nights!

So far in just two days we’ve seen three different sets of cousins/uncles/etc, and another two are planned for tonight. I drove a manual car again without any problems, which was a relief, especially since it was my mother-in-law’s new car! The weather has been surprisingly nice for Lorraine, almost hot, and I spent a nice afternoon reading in the sun while Monkey napped. I’m feeling very relaxed, and seeing how happy my husband is to be with his family makes me very happy too. Though he seems a bit stressed about finding time to see everyone, which is a familiar emotion for many expats when they visit home!

Monkey was initially less clingy, but I think seeing so many “new” people in such a short period of time is getting to him a bit. He insisted on sitting on my lap at lunch, which solicited some “advice”…Overall though, he’s been great, and has already picked up a few new words.

For now, I am luxuriating in that wonderful “beginning of vacation, we have lots of time” feeling, knowing that two weeks will be over before we know it!

 

First Christmas in the states

As expected, I have some conflicting feelings about our first Christmas in the states. I’m so happy to be figuring out the traditions our little family will create over the years, but so sad to be away from the traditions I’ve known for the past 8 years.

Even though I always loved the huge Christmas with my in-laws in France, it was nice to have a quieter celebration this year with just us and my parents. Having just 4 people (well, 5 counting Monkey when he wasn’t running around!) at the table instead of 25+ definitely sets a very different tone for the evening. Cleanup was certainly easier! And we were in bed by 10, instead of 2am, which allowed us to avoid the usual Christmas day bleariness.

Still, we tried to keep things as French as possible. Well, French/Italian. We did the big dinner Christmas eve, including foie gras and a bûche de noël. Christmas day was very chill, eating leftovers and broth with cappelletti. I spent the weekend before Christmas making them by hand, the way my husband’s mother, aunt and grandmother make them. They were a little bigger than their experienced hands manage, and I didn’t use veal, but my husband declared them to taste exactly the same, which was nice to hear.

Cappelletti
Homemade cappelletti
Christmas table
Moroccan tablecloth, great-grandparents’ china, and Ikea plates from college.
Christmas tree
Our tiny tree

A few Boston/our little family traditions seem to be emerging. My parents brought their grandparents’ china that we’d use when I was growing up. We have a little fake white tree that we’ve used the past few years, and I made sure to ship over from France. While my husband was finishing up some meal prep Christmas Eve, I took my parents and Monkey to see a nearby park all lit up, then we got donuts.

Christmas Eve lights
Lights in the park

My husband and I went to a movie for my birthday on Christmas day. We went last year to see Star Wars, so we did again this year, and it looks like we’ll be able to next year as well! The day after Christmas my parents took me to lunch in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Boston Common
Boston Common
Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill

We managed to Skype with everyone both Christmas eve and Christmas day. As important as I know it was for Monkey and my husband to see the family in France, I almost wonder if it didn’t make things harder. Seeing everyone, and how big the little cousins have gotten, I missed them and the craziness so much, so I can only imagine how hard it was for my husband. Though he did seem to appreciate a much calmer and quieter holiday. And travelling internationally at Christmas will hopefully be easier when Monkey is a bit older.

Like anyone raising a multicultural kid, we want him to grow up with a mix of American and French experiences. Our goal is to alternate France visits in spring/summer and winter, and we already have a trip in April 2017 planned, so we’ll hopefully make it to France for Christmas 2018. It seems so long to wait, but time is just flying by (it’s already been 11 months since we moved!) so we’ll be feasting with family before we know it.

New holiday traditions

Growing up, Thanksgiving meant spending the whole day with my aunt, cousins, and, when we did it as her house, her big dog. We alternated houses for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I always looked forward to the years she did Thanksgiving, since it meant we could sit around watching the parade in the morning instead of peeling potatoes. Besides that, there was nothing really amazing about the holidays that made them spectacular. But you get used to little traditions like playing the same games with your cousins, the same arguments between uncles, even the same ancient beaters mixing the whipped cream.

None of that happened this year, since we weren’t at my aunt’s house, but at my sister’s. And with two new babies in addition to an energetic toddler, to say things were a little crazy is an understatement. When we got there around 10 and saw the turkey still sitting on the counter, I wondered how we were ever going to eat at 2, as we always had growing up. But my sister had planned on eating at normal dinner time.

I wasn’t going to argue with a sleep-deprived new mother, but it got me thinking about the new holiday traditions we’re in the process of creating for our kids. Having been gone for nearly a decade means I didn’t create any new, adult traditions with my family. I am stuck a bit in my nostalgia for the holidays of my youth, and stressing about making sure my husband and son have the same memories. Which I realize is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from worrying about it! While Thanksgiving is purely American and my husband has no particular notion of what it is “supposed” to be, I know that Christmas is a much bigger deal for him and as it’s his first Christmas away from his family, I am putting extra pressure on myself to make it special.

I keep reminding myself that Monkey is still too young to know one way or another what happens. He didn’t care that Thanksgiving was at 6 instead of 2. He won’t notice is we do an advent calendar this year and not next year. He certainly doesn’t care if I spend hours knitting him a Christmas stocking (though I hope he appreciates it in the future). But I’ve somehow convinced myself I need to figure it out by next year, when he might maybe start to remember things…

Holidays, family, nostalgia, youth. All sorts of emotions involved. I know the best thing to do is not to stress at all and just enjoy it, and they will too. Neither my husband nor my son will hate me if there’s not a picture of us with Santa Clause this year, or if we don’t see any Christmas trees other than our own. But their feelings about a grumpy and grinchy mother/wife will probably not be very positive and will have a much bigger impact on their memories of our holidays together.

 

More French visitors

My husband’s uncle and aunt were on vacation in New York for la Toussaint school holidays, and they took a bus up to Boston for the weekend. It was also open house weekend at the International School of Boston, and since they’re both  school inspectors (“inspecteur pédagogique”) we thought they’d enjoy checking out a French school in the states.

That’s not all we did, of course, but it was nice to have their opinion on the school, since it’s their job and they thought to ask the questions we never would have. We haven’t decided if we want bébé* to start there next year or not. He’s had so many changes in the past year, and we’ll probably be moving to a cheaper apartment in the spring, so I kind of want him to have at least one constant in his life. Everyone loves him at daycare, he has friends there, and even the teachers at the French school said that if we’re speaking French at home, starting a year later won’t really make a big difference with his language skills. So we’ll see.

Lexington
Lexington

Since vacation shouldn’t involve too much work, my husband took them out on the Freedom Trail, which is his favorite thing to do with visitors. We also went to his other favorite, Lexington, and walked further along the path than we ever had in the past. Not all the way to Concord, but enough for bébé to tire himself out running so he’d nap well. I made his Halloween costume while he napped, but he unfortunately refuses to put it on, so I can only picture how cute it’d be.

spider costume

For reasons too complicated to explain here, my husband is a Seahawks fan, which is not an easy thing to be in Boston. There’s a bar on Boylston street where all the Seahawks fans go to watch the game, and he’d been talking about going for weeks. He finally went with his uncle this weekend, though I don’t think it was the jolly, animated afternoon he thought it’d be (they lost).

We also ate, drank, talked, and all the things that are great to do with family that my husband is really starting to miss a lot. Our recent explorations as a trio have been fun (see below), but I know he really needs that big, rowdy family atmosphere from time to time. We just bought tickets to visit in the spring, so there’s something to look forward to. And while we’re waiting, hopefully Thanksgiving at my sister’s (which will include her new baby twins and her mother-in-law visiting from Central Asia) will help fill that “rowdy family” void.

Fall colors in New England
Fall colors in New England
Shelburne Farm
Shelburne Farm
Middlesex Fells Reservation
Middlesex Fells Reservation

*I think I need to start calling him something else besides bébé, since he is definitely not a baby anymore! “Monkey” would be appropriate given how much he likes to climb everything lately – furniture, people, fences, whatever!

Au revoir Mamie

We dropped off my husband’s mother and sister at the airport Saturday afternoon, after a great week spent at the beach and hanging around Boston. To have bébé spend so much time with them was really great, and it gave us a nice little break too. We even managed to get to a Red Sox game while Mamie babysat.  Seeing their bond grow was super special, and she got to see firsthand that we’re really dedicated to making sure he speaks French and can have a strong relationship with his family in France, even if we live far away.

Everything you read about raising bilingual children says that visiting the country or having visitors helps immensely. Even in this very early stage of his bilingualism, I could see it. At the end of two weeks he’s now making three word sentences in French, and has added a bunch of more casual words/phrases like “ça va?” (which he said so much one day at daycare they asked me what it meant) “à tout de suite” (which comes out most of the time like “à tweet tweet”) and “y’en a plus!” (which is part of a whole monologue he does that goes “Y’en a plus! Tout mangé! Gourmand!” – There’s no more! Ate everything! Big eater! – Yeah, we ate A LOT during this visit…)

The first week he was switching up the syllables in his aunt’s name, I think by accident the first time, but since we laughed so much, he kept doing it on purpose. He could say “Tata” (auntie) and “Maddie” (not her real name) but when you told him to say “Tata Maddie” he would say “Tata Damie”. Everyone has a story of doing something like this as a kid, and it’s just insanely cute to see it happening. Even if by the end of the second week, he said it correctly, hopefully it’ll hang around as a nickname.

One very cool thing he started doing this week with a little prompting was saying things like “In English, cow, en français, vache.” I’ve been telling him for a few months now during the ride to/from daycare if he says something in one language that “in English we say X, en français on dit X.” Or when he asks for a song in English that we also sing in French, I ask him what language he wants it in (“Do you want itsy bitsy spider or la petite araignée?”). And apparently it’s starting to make sense to him! He won’t understand what a language “is” for another year or two, but it’s just more reinforcement that he is making all the connections he should be. We joked to Mamie that for her next visit, he could be her little walking dictionary!

She actually did really well in English whenever she was on her own. I think having me and her son around made her more nervous about using the little English she has, so it was good for her to do a few things solo to build a bit of confidence. My mom (a math teacher) is taking French classes as her continuing education requirement, so it’s nice that bébé has been a motivator for these women who wouldn’t have otherwise made an effort to learn another language at their age.

Overall, it was a great visit, and now we can’t wait to plan our visit to see the whole family in France next year!

The French family is visiting!

My husband’s mother and sister arrived last Friday for a two weeks visit. Bébé is super happy to have Mamie and Tata here, and I am more than happy to let someone else cook and play with bébé. I have managed to work out every single day since they got here, which has also been amazing.

I was very nervous about this visit because she has said in the past she never really wanted to visit the states. We all have places that just don’t hold any interest for us. Mine is Spain (which I know 90% of people find weird!). And while she would have preferred we didn’t leave France with her only grandchild, she also lived abroad for many years while her kids were young, so she couldn’t exactly tell us not to go. Still, I wanted her to be happy about our choice, and her liking the country/city we live in is very important to me.

And she definitely likes it so far! She finds all the brick in Boston quite charming, thinks our brand new apartment lovely, enjoys walking along the river, and is not totally disgusted by American food. We took her to Lexington, Walden Pond, Castle Island, the MFA, and some of our favorite restaurants. Next week we’re headed to Maine for a few days on the ocean eating lobster. We’ve never been to Maine, and I hadn’t been to the MFA properly, so it’s great to be able to explore new things during their visit.

I hope the second week goes as well as this first week has!

July wrap up

Well that month went by fast! I’ll see if I can remember everything that happened…

My first conference

We were in DC the weekend after bébé’s birthday to visit family, eat more birthday related pastries, and so that I could attend my first professional conference! We all flew down Saturday morning and I stayed on through Thursday while the boys went back Monday morning. Of course bébé slept the whole plane ride home, making me very jealous until it turned out it was because he had an ear infection. He tried daycare but ended up staying home with daddy the next day. And then the daycare called to say hand, foot, mouth disease was making its rounds, which he definitely got in addition to the ear infection. So while I had a great week learning and networking and feeling like a super successful professional lady, it was not a super fun week for my boys. But my husband did an amazing job! I’m not in a role where I need to travel a lot (or even that often – this was pretty much the one time per year), but knowing things at home, including the hard stuff, can be handled just fine without me is reassuring. Though hopefully next time bébé will not be suffering from multiple maladies and it will be a bit easier for them both!

Sun, sand, and water

The weather has been great all month, so bébé has been to the pool every weekend, sometimes just with daddy, sometimes with both of us. We also went to the Revere Beach Sand Sculpting festival, and were pleased to discover the beach is equally agreeable to bébé as the pool is. More so, perhaps, since he has much more room to run around.

I will probably repeat this several times over the next few months, but I really really love that we’re less than 30 minutes from the ocean. For someone growing up a good three hours away from the beach, this seems quite luxurious. My husband asked if we could go to the beach every weekend. I said we could go every night after work if he really wanted. It’s probably less of a novelty for him, since he spent elementary school on the island of Mayotte where his mother taught, but we’re still both excited about how much beach time bébé will get in the coming years. Though we are not set on Revere beach as “our” beach, since we still have many more beaches to explore in the area.

Art fail

It seems like bébé decided “hey, I’m two, time to get learnin’!” and his growth in all areas has exploded exponentially this month. To encourage this period of ever increasing curiosity, I thought I’d take him to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Always trying to keep things cheap if possible, we went on one of their Saturday Play Dates, when it’s free for up to 2 adults accompanying children (who are always free). I even found street parking that was only 2 dollars instead of the 15 dollar lot. So while we only spent about 20 minutes in the museum, it wasn’t too expensive of an outing.

Besides the art we (very briefly) saw, the location on the water is really pretty and the building is cool. Bébé liked the area out back with steps to climb up and down, and the walkways along the water. I think he’s still a few years from appreciating art (and not trying to destroy it) but I think I’ll keep taking him to museums when I can (=when it’s free). Getting used to the space, the atmosphere, and having special time with me will hopefully make it something we keep doing as years go by. And there are tons of museums in Boston to discover together!

 

August will hopefully be a little calmer, but still with weekend adventures. And I’ll try to write it down as it happens, rather than attempting to remember it all during the last few hours on the 31st…

Job hunting while abroad

First things first: I got a job! In Boston! Now, to explain in a very roundabout way how I got it . . .

We moved without jobs lined up, so we were hoping to find something before we left, or at least have a few good leads. I was honestly quite doubtful that we’d get on the plane with an offer to start as soon as we arrived, but I was very confident it wouldn’t take that long once we got here. Job hunting while abroad was still very stressful at times, mostly because we started a little too early and got discouraged by rejections, despite knowing perfectly well how ridiculous it was to apply in September when we knew we wouldn’t be there until January or February. We did get into contact with the HR people of our companies in the States, to let them know we’d be moving and we were open to different cities. We both had some good conversations, but in the end, nothing was opening up that fit our profiles, and they can’t create jobs just for us.

One positive thing about leaving without jobs was that we had the advantage of picking the city that we wanted to live in. We made a list of all the places that interested us and that would offer the best opportunities for both of us. While I can pretty much work anywhere in human resources, my husband is in a very specific branch of banking, so we had to stick to big cities. For the most part, we focused our job hunt on these areas, though my husband did have a tendency to apply for jobs at tiny banks in the middle of Wyoming, just because he liked the name (of the town, the bank, or both), saying he wanted to try a new field. And maybe we could have a ranch and he could ride a horse to the bank. (Hey, this is our “American dream” after all . . .)

Wyoming reveries aside, we mainly stuck to the East Coast, since my parents live in the DC suburbs and one of the big reasons for moving was to be closer to them. I went to college in New Jersey and have friends in all the major cities, so I knew wherever we ended up, we wouldn’t be totally alone. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be getting the most replies from places around DC, simply because we’d have a local address once we arrived. And while I wasn’t against staying in the area (having a baby changes your view on things like school systems and parks), I was worried it wouldn’t feel like much of an adventure if we just slipped back into the same life I’d had in high school, just with a kid and nicer clothes. I wanted something new for me too, so my husband wouldn’t be alone in his adaptation to a new life.

This was a chance for us to change directions a little bit if we wanted to, so I looked for things a little beyond what I currently do, in the direction I want to go. However, I also applied to a few entry level HR roles, thinking I’d maybe need a little time to learn the new laws and payroll systems. I looked for things that mentioned French, since I knew that’s one thing that could really set me apart from other candidates. Also, if friends mentioned their company was hiring, I would send them my resume if there was something I was interested in.

Once we bought our plane tickets and put an arrival date on our resumes, I thought things would pick up a little bit. But actually, all the calls/emails I got were from applications I made in the three or four weeks before we left. So it seems really silly now to think of how stressed out we were in October about not having found anything. I kept saying it was too early, but it’s so hard to not be actively doing something to look for a job. However, sending out so many applications probably helped get our cover letters into good shape, and after awhile, we started to get fed up with all the complicated online forms, so we only applied to things we really wanted or were sure we were qualified for. So in the end, it was maybe a good thing to start so early, in a way?

I had a few different interviews in the two weeks before we left, via Skype, email, and video, for jobs around DC, and one in Boston. It sounded like a great opportunity to keep doing what I know and enjoy but lots of new things as well (basically, exactly what you want when you’re looking for a new job). And there’d be opportunities to keep speaking French from time to time. I got an email the week we arrived, asking me to come up to Boston for an interview, which went extremely well and just confirmed what a good fit this was for me, since a week later, I got the offer! A pretty sweet offer too. Along with three other calls for interviews from companies I had applied to within the past few weeks, all in the DC area! When it rains, it pours, right? Added to that was the interview and offer my husband got last week as well, in Baltimore. A very busy week for us!

The choice was difficult but not really. Baltimore was not exactly on our “list of cities,” being so close to where I grew up and and not a financial center. Boston was at the top our our list. My husband actually had a call with a company there the week we arrived, so we know he’ll have lots of options there. And the job he was offered is moving to the Delaware office in a few years, which, no offense to “The First State,” did not sound even a little bit fun. So while part of me feels guilty for him having to turn down his offer and follow me yet again into the unknown, a bigger part of me knows this is the right choice. This is a big reason why we moved to the States, to have better career options, and I really think Boston is a place where we can both do that. Staying around DC would be okay for us, but not great.

And while I know one day is not like living there, I felt very comfortable driving around Boston, even downtown. It all seemed different in a good, familiar way, if that makes sense. Well, I did used to go there during college to see a boyfriend, but that was 10 years ago, and in one tiny area of the city, so it’ll all still be very new to me. We’re going up soon to look at apartments, and I’m hoping the trip will make my husband a little happier about our choice. I mean, he’s happy I got a job I’m sure I’ll love, but it was scary for him to say no to an offer, not knowing when another will come up. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, I really think he’ll find something quickly. But not too quickly, because finding daycare is my next challenge and is proving to be slightly impossible . . .

This was a bit long, so if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Here’s my summary of job hunting while abroad: pick good cities with lots of jobs, start very early, get depressed about all the rejections, start applying to only cool things, then apply to only things near your parents, move,  have everything good happen within the space of about two weeks, make a huge decision that will impact your child, your marriage, and your happiness, then cross your fingers it will all be fine.

Phase two of the move

I am writing this post from my mother-in-laws’s kitchen. Phase two of the move was moving out of our apartment and into her house. In theory, this was to save money, but considering how much we spent on gas going back and forth almost every day for two weeks, I’m not sure it’s really that beneficial . . . However, seeing how much work it was, I’m glad we did it now and not during the holidays, because it would have been zero fun to have used our days off to move, rather than spend as much time as possible with family for our last Christmas/New Year’s in France.

The biggest practical challenge has been going from 100 square meters to the 19 of my husband’s boyhood bedroom (which, thankfully, has its own bathroom). We sold/gave/threw away a lot already, but there’s still a ton of stuff sitting in the basement that we need to go through. Today, after spending all weekend loading up the car and cleaning, we gave back the keys to our finally empty and clean apartment, and our address is officially “chez” the MIL.

We’ve actually been here a little over a week, but since we moved bit by bit, it hasn’t really been a normal week. So I can’t really say how things are going yet (though I’ll obviously try). MIL has watched bébé a lot more than during a normal week, so that we could make over a dozen trips back and forth to finish things up. Bébé has been insanely clingy, whether due to the move or just because he’s a 17-month-old and at the peak age for separation anxiety, I can’t tell. Probably both.

We’re here for another 6 weeks, and with the holidays and final preparations for the move, it’s sure to be a pretty crazy month and a half. I’m just hoping we all manage to settle into a rhythm soon, because honestly I’m pretty stressed right now. Think about how you’re on your best behavior when staying with the in-laws. Being extra neat and extra polite and extra helpful. Now picture doing that every day for over a month! Less than two weeks and I’m already exhausted. For my husband, it’s not really that different from a normal visit to see his mom, other than having to deal with his wife ranting about stupid stuff like shampoo and eggs.

Overall though, I’m feeling fairly positive about the situation (probably because there’s no other alternative at this point!) and pretty confident this was a good idea. Seeing family as much as possible will outweigh all the little gripes we all have about our in-laws. And since we’ll be living with my parents at first in the States, I’ll try to hold my tongue as much as possible in exchange for my husband doing the same once we’re over there!