In exactly one week we will be on our way to France for a 2 week visit. It’s the first time we’ve been back since moving in January 2016, and I have lots of thoughts that I wanted to get down before we leave.
People keep asking me if I’m excited. I guess I am, but it’s more just excitement/happiness to be on vacation! While we’re both lucky to have 3 weeks of vacation per year, my husband can’t carry any over. It’s nice to know his company encourages employees to actually use vacation time, but it means my plan of saving up vacation time and going for longer trips every few years may not really be possible. Last year we mostly took long weekends, and we both took a week when his mom and sister visited. So I’m looking forward to the first long break from work in over a year. However, I’m not excited about France, per se.
If I am honest with myself, I am not sure that I really miss France. I miss the cheap food and childcare. I miss travelling without a small child. But I don’t wish I hadn’t left, which is what “miss” really means to me.
To be fair, I don’t think that I missed the states when I was living in France. I missed familiar foods, family, and friends. But I didn’t have an adult life here to miss. If I missed anything, it was the (mostly) carefree days of college, which would have been the case no matter where I’d spent my twenties.
I reread my post talking about why I wanted to move back, and I think I’m on my way to accomplishing what I wanted from the move. Someone new started this week at work, and it took me a few days to mention my time in France. It used to be the first thing out of my mouth when talking to people. To not have “expat” be the first thing I identify with is a relief. I have said it countless times in the past year, but finding this job is what has made this move feel like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I am feeling more “myself” thanks to a job I do well and my awesome colleagues who support me and make me laugh every day.
Part of the reason to move was to “see if I could do it” on this side of the ocean. And I feel like I definitely can. Probably because of the confidence living abroad for an extended period of time gave me. I know I definitely wouldn’t be in the happy place I am today if I hadn’t lived in France, and I’m not saying I regret it in any way. But I don’t miss the life I had there, not in a regretful or painful way.
For me, it feels like the way I miss life in college. There were awesome things about it, I learned a lot, and made some great, lifelong friends. But it’s in the past, and I’ve moved on. I do feel like this is kind of harsh, like breaking up with someone after 8 years without a backward glance. To stay with the college theme, I like to think of it more like getting a PhD. Some people stay in academia, even stay at the same university. Others move into other fields and put that knowledge to other uses.
When people ask me though, I usually just answer with “yes, very excited!” since I know that’s what they are expecting. I really am excited about visiting Sweden while we’re there, where my brother-in-law is doing an internship. So perhaps my lack of excitement about France is just because it’s not something new. And when people ask if I’m excited, it’s because for them, it would be something new.
This has gone on a bit longer than I intended. The wine with dinner (French, of course!) probably has something to do with that. This seems like quite enough introspection for a Friday evening.
(I started writing this earlier in the week, and things have just been too crazy to get it finished sooner!)
Like everyone else, yesterday’s election has left me with lots of thoughts and feelings. Despite my many years of blogging, I’m not very good at expressing myself about very complicated and emotionally-charged things like this.
So I’ll use someone else’s words. It was one of the first songs I heard on the radio this morning, and for some reason it really helped. (It’s also a way to answer the question I’ve been asked countless times today: “Does this mean you’re moving back to France?”)
I Won’t Give Up – Jason Mraz
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not and who I am
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up, still looking up.
God knows I’m tough enough (I am tough, I am loved)
We’ve got a lot to learn (we’re alive, we are loved)
God knows we’re worth it (and we’re worth it)
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up
I don’t think this blog has more than a dozen or so readers, but maybe this might help you work through your own thoughts and feelings.
If you work in HR, you’ve probably taken at least one personality test at some point in your career. And by “some point” I mean at least once a month, because seriously, we love that stuff.
Everyone has their favorites, and it’s usually the one that gives you the answer you like best. I’m a big fan of the Meyers-Briggs because I think INTJ is exactly me and it sounds awesome.
The other day, an OCEAN vs MBTI discussion led to me retaking a MBTI-ish test (the “real” ones are quite costly) and it gave me ENTJ. E!! As in Extrovert! Me, who has for so long known I am introverted, fully identified as an introvert, and revealed in my introverted status.
So it got me thinking. I took the test in France, where I was, no doubt about it, quite introverted. Has moving back to the states changed me so much that I’ve become an extrovert? Or was I always one and France was just not letting it come out? (As a hilarious side note, this chart has INTJ as Ayn Rand and ENTJ as Napoleon. So in America I’m more like Napoleon, ha)
Bilingual/binational/expats/etc often talk about the effect of language and culture on your personality. Felling like “yourself” in another language is a huge step. I know for my husband, being able to tell jokes in English is a big deal, since he loves making jokes in French.
I was never the funny one in France, and yet here, I am constantly cracking up (and with) my colleagues. I did kind of luck out with a boss that so totally gets me, we’re borderline telepathic. And the atmosphere of a non profit is very different than an audit and tax firm. But I know it wasn’t my French skills that were holding me back, since I spend lots of time laughing with my francophone colleague here.
One thing to note is that the MBTI personality types are not really accurate so I shouldn’t be that surprised that it changed (though anytime I took it while living in France, it was always INTJ or INFJ). And not only are the terms extrovert and introvert generally misunderstood and misapplied, almost everyone falls somewhere towards the middle of the extroversion-introversion spectrum. Very few people are extreme/pure introverts or extroverts.
So really, it’s about balance, and that’s something we’re achieving here. In both work/life and personality, I’m a lot more balanced here. While it was my initial reaction to do so, I don’t want to think of this as a France vs. USA thing, because so much depends on where you are in the countries, and what your work/personal situation is. However, at the same time, I can’t pretend the cultures are the same and that the way I act/feel isn’t influenced by where I’m living. It’s going to be very interesting to see how bébé’s personality develops, and to see if there’s a shift depending on what language/country he’s in.
Anyway, just wondering if this makes sense to anyone else. Or if you’ve taken a personality test and had it change over the course of your life, and had it totally freak you out the way it did to me!
It’s been a year since my monthly letters to bébé ended, and now that bébé is two, I thought I’d start doing yearly letters to make sure I keep some sort of record of all the cool (and not so cool!) stuff he gets up to.
You are two! And you can even say “two” and “deux” though never when someone actually asks how old you are. You do say it when you see the number. You also recognize the number eight, and can (mostly) count to ten in both French and English. You skip three in French, but make up for it by saying “onze” (11) and “douze” (12) once we get to ten.
Starting to count has impressed the people at daycare. You’re good with names too, say “bye-bye” to everyone, and blow them kisses when you leave. Everyone says what a bright, smiling, friendly guy you are, and you are fully aware that you’re everyone’s favorite. Unfortunately, you are going through another bout of separation anxiety, so at least one day a week you cry when momma drops you off.
But it could also just be that you are turning into a huge momma’s boy! Dinner is complicated with you on momma’s lap, but it’s not so bad since you’re not too heavy yet. You’ll go to the doctor’s this week for a checkup, but you still seem to still be in that 50th percentile for height and 10th for weight. Though maybe weight will be lower than expected, since all you seem to eat is peanut butter and crackers.
However, we’re not too concerned about you being a “picky” eater, since you do usually try most things, or at least stick out your tongue and pretend to. A surprising thing you love is fried calamari. So hopefully that spirit of discovery and adventure continues! (And you eat fine at daycare, so we know you’re just testing our parental limits when you won’t eat at home.)
Sleep has gotten much more predictable in the past few months. You nap very well at home, usually 2 hours, though less at daycare, where there are more distractions. At night, you fall asleep between 7:30 and 8, and are up around 6:15 (pushing back bedtime by 15 minutes has drastically reduced the 5:30am wake ups). Your bedtime routine starts at 7 and is a half hour of books and about 5 ounces of milk (almond or cow, depending on what we have in the fridge). Sometimes you play games first, since recently you’ve gotten better at entertaining yourself, making towers and trains with duplos or playing with the colored peg game your mamie sent you. But you always come back to books; you love them so much! Your favorite books change weekly, but lately it’s been “Poisson un, poisson deux” by Doctor Seuss, and a pop-up book about Lola who goes swimming and meets lots of sea creatures. It’s pretty cute to hear you say “poulpe” (octopus) and “tartoo” (“tortue” – turtle).
Your vocabulary in both languages definitely focuses on animals. You can say all the farmyard animals like cow, pig, horse, sheep, and duck, and their noises. When you say “Oll Do” we know it means you want us to sing Old MacDonald. Other songs you request are “whee bus” (wheels on the bus) and “bababacsheep” (baa baa black sheep). These are all songs you learned at daycare, so sometimes you ask for something we can’t decipher, and you get frustrated.
You still use a pacifier for naps and at night, but almost never during the day. Once you see the dentist for the first time later this month, it may need to go away forever, to keep all your teeth in line. You have pretty much all of them, and you absolutely love to brush them! But you hate if momma brushes them, so we’re not sure how clean they’re actually getting.
Some funny things you do:
- take off your socks so we can put them on your hands, then you try to eat and play with them like that
- at the splash park, you do this little “fountain dance” where you move your fists up and down, imitating the way the water shoots up
- you like to imitate a video of yourself at 13 months making lion noises
- holding a phone (or any rectangular object) to your ear and have a very lengthly conversation on it, mostly saying “aloo?” a lot, but also some babbling
You don’t just babble though. In addition to animals and body party, you say “daddy,” “papa,” and “boubou” (momma’s name for daddy) but only “mama.” You say “peeese” (please), “si pait” (s’il te plait), “merci” and “tank oo” when prompted, and you’ve started using “terminé” instead of “all done” when you’re at home.
We speak only French at home and when we’re out just the three of us, but we’ll read you books in English if that’s what you pick out. Your favorite videos are in English, but we managed to switch the one app you play into French. It’s Crayola Colorful Creatures, and you love to color and play with all the different animals. It’s hard to say how much screen time you get, because sometimes you go four or five days without anything, then other times it seems like you manage to charm us into a few minutes in the morning as well as the evening.
And you are definitely charming! Just insanely cute, with a mischievous grin that pops up whenever you know you’re doing something bad (which is more and more often). You know what you want and say “no” to almost everything, but almost never to kisses and cuddles. Which is lucky, because if how you spent your birthday is any indication of how this year will go, it won’t be just fun at the pool and running around parks. There’s also going to be lots of tears and tantrums. So kisses and cuddles will help to balance all of that out.
It’s getting both harder and more fun for momma and daddy, and we can’t wait to see what new things we’ll all learn this year.
Bisous & kisses
… and I can almost spell it without looking it up! (Seriously, how are you supposed to know how to spell it without having grown up here??)
The move up to MA from MD went well. A wonderful and amazing friend drove up with us to help out the first few days. I’m not sure how we’d have done it otherwise, without either actually killing each other or filing for divorce. Moving states is apparently more stressful than moving countries for this family. So hopefully we’ll stick around in Massachusetts for awhile (yay! Didn’t look it up that time!)
We had a week to get settled before I started work, and my husband had an interview that week as well. And he got the job! In terms of timeline for his job hunt, it was a little quicker than mine, but still everything happened once we were physically in the States. So really, we could have spent those last few weeks in France drinking way more wine and sending a lot less applications…
I kept up my weekly DIY last week and made bread for the first time in 8 years (because who bothers to make homemade bread in France?). I made overnight oatmeal during the week, which I’m going to count because this weekend was absolutely gorgeous so I was out exploring rather than spending much time in the kitchen.
Since I can walk to work, my husband will be able to take the bus into Boston for work, and bébé with be at a daycare we can both get to on a bus to/from work, we don’t have a car (we only rented one for the week of the move). So we’ve mostly been exploring our new town on foot, which is just a few miles west of Boston. There’s a trail along the river that goes straight into Boston that I walk along to get to work, and we had a nice family stroll there this weekend. We also checked out a church in a very pretty 20th century building, the library, and a local park. We’ve been meeting lots of friendly people all over the place, so I’m feeling fairly pleased with our choice of town. I did just sign up for Zipcar though, since I know we’re going to want to explore further out in the coming weeks, especially if the weather stays so nice.
Getting used to a new state after being abroad for so long is hard because I can’t use the same references and landmarks. I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, what’s dangerous, what’s acceptable, etc. But a big reason I took the job I was offered was how insanely nice everyone seemed, and how open and adaptable they were about work/life fit. Support is important when you’re abroad, but I think it’s even more important when you come back. And the support and understanding I’ve gotten after only a week at my new job has made such a huge difference in feeling more settled. Having never worked in the States (besides waitressing and the university computer lab), I can’t say if it’s like that everywhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not like that at most places. So I feel super lucky that this is the kind of job I was able to find!
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.
Here it is, my recap/resolutions post! Moving across the ocean pretty much guarantees a crazy year ahead with lots of changes and new experiences, so I won’t go into too many details, but it’ll be nice to have a snapshot of how I’m feeling before it all happens…
When I paused to consider if there were things I’d like to commit to doing or stop doing this year, I actually couldn’t think of any. I made little changes throughout the past year that added up to a place where I’m happy most days.
Sure I don’t eat perfectly every day (and living chez la belle-mère has not been helping…) but I pay attention and tend to choose the healthy things. I work out almost every day, and lately have been doing tons of yoga to keep stress levels low. I’m glad I did one last race in Europe this year, but I don’t know if I want to do another in 2016. However, I might just being saying that because I dislike Winter running, so I’ll probably change my mind in the Spring!
I would like to get more focused and intense in my workouts, to gain more muscle, but I don’t want to add any extra pressure during the move to keep up a certain schedule. This goal can wait awhile before starting. My husband bought me a Jawbone UP3 for my birthday, so I’ve been working towards that 10,000 steps per day goal. It’s a little shocking how little I move most days, even with chasing after bébé, since there’s no big centre-ville here to go wandering around whenever we get bored. Good for money health, bad for body health.
Compared to this time last year, we’ve gotten used to life with bébé, which means we’ve gotten used to life constantly changing! We’ve been pretty consistent in having “couple time” as often as possible, though admittedly not as much as we probably needed during the move chez belle-mère in December. Her Christmas present to us was a gift certificate to the local thermal baths, and a restaurant gift card, so we’ll definitely be using those before we leave!
Work goals for the year are obviously pretty simple (“Find a job I like that doesn’t pay peanuts”) but beyond sending resumés and making contacts, I can’t do much else so there’s no point in worrying too much. Ask me again in three months however, and I definitely won’t say the same thing!
Since life will be completely different in a few months, I think I’ll end up doing a list of “New Country Resolutions” once we’re settled in and have an idea about what direction we’re going. I have a few ideas that will apply to wherever we are (exploring the city as a family once a week, not going crazy with eating out at all the places I missed) but so much depends on if we end up in big city (more cultural activities) or small town (more outdoors). Starting a new year without a definite plan is very unlike me, but part of the reason I wanted to move was to get to know a new me. So far, so good!
Here it is, the big 3-0, and I’ve apparently done everything one is “supposed to” do by this age: college, travel, marriage, baby, job I mostly enjoy. So why upend everything to move across the ocean? Why fix something that isn’t broken?
It’s the question we’ve been asked a hundred times in the past few months: why are we moving to the States? As you can probably guess, there is no simple answer. The short response I give to most is what you’d expect: wanting to see family and friends more, hoping for better career opportunities, exposing bébé to American culture and education, it makes taxes so much simpler . . . But the “real” answer is more complex, because there are a million other questions involved I’m still working through.
Am I just freaking out about turning thirty and feeling like I need a change? Yes and no. I think all expats thrive on new adventures, or you’d give up after about a week. But is the goal of expatriation assimilation and adaptation? Or just discovery? When you come over as a young adult, a big part of your identity is defined by life in a country you did not grow up in. There’s a certain amount of pride from making it through more than a few years living in another language, another culture. The simmering spirit of competition amongst expats can make a return “home” feel like giving up. But to me it almost feels like the opposite. To stay would be too simple.
I know pretty much what life will look like in France if we stay. It’s not exactly what I imagined my life to be, but it really is a great life. By most people’s definitions, I’ve succeeded, I’ve assimilated, I’ve thrived. But part of me wonders if the reason I’m staying is that I’m afraid I can’t do the same in the States. Expats are often outsiders in their home countries, and find comfort in knowing their oddness is forgiven by their status as a foreigner in their new country. (Canedolia had a similar post recently that I really enjoyed though neglected to comment on, because life). I won’t have this safety net of “well I’m not from here” to get me through awkward situations and struggles with employment or social norms.
A big part of my identity and personality is related to my “special” status in France that I’ll lose when we move. Once back in the States, I’ll be just another American like any other. But I also need a break from being special. Constantly on show for the past eight years, singled out at parties or other situations to be asked the same “What do you think of France? Why are Americans so fat?” questions for the hundredth time . . . For me, turning thirty means starting to grow out of my middle child need of wanting to feel special all the time. Even my Christmas birthday bothered me less this year, when every other year I made a huge fuss about it (though I suspect motherhood may be influencing this as well).
My twenties were defined by my expat label. I want to spend my thirties figuring out who I am without it. (Hmm, maybe the “real” answer is simpler than I thought!)