International Baccalaureate: A Mother’s Final Notes From The Trenches

Sizzling drums. Drizzling tears. An unlikely alchemy.

Last week on a stage in Paris, while standing in a pocket of shadow off to the side of a big screen, I fingertipped away a couple of tears as I watched footage of my eldest son Parker, drumming. His jazz riff was hot, nothing but pure pyrotechnical spontaneous combustion. You’d have thought that was what was making my eyes burn.

drumming

The Paris audience, which erupted in applause for this filmed drummer they did not know, was made up of high school students, faculty and parents at the international school from which Parker graduated a few years ago. He graduated from there, in fact, only months after that drumming footage was taken. Invited to speak to this audience for a morning, I had brought as accompaniment that firstborn son of mine on film.  Our youngest, Luc, who looks a lot like his big brother, I brought in the flesh. Luc sat front and center, about where his brother had sat during graduation practice, June of 2007.

Luc, thumbs up

Luc, thumbs up

Dalton, our middle son, I couldn’t bring to Paris. Although he wanted to come, a single day away from full I.B. coursework this semester could be lethal, and having lost study time doing Benvolio in this school’s “Romeo and Juliet,” he was already begging for an extension on a deadline for another major I.B. project, the extended essay.  On that stage, I of course thought of Dalton and the pressure he’s under, pressure many of those students in front of me in Paris were under, too.  They are strivers, most of them, in a demanding curriculum, and some were candidates for the full I.B.

Dalton, extended essay

Dalton, extended essay

Extended ecstacy

extended ecstasy

There they sat, gorgeously alive, faces packed with promise. Concentrated, quizzical, study-weary, but leaning into my presentation as they are leaning into their future: ship mastheads tilting toward their oceanic tomorrows.

basketball champions

basketball champions

I was moved just looking at these kids. And some images I projected of Parker as co-captain of both basketball and volleyball teams made my nose sting and my throat tighten.  Because this was Parker’s school, his very stage. And I was speaking to these students in what was Parker’s life stage – late adolescence – that crescendo swell when everything is coming together, plumbing deep and blooming wide all at once, building for. . .

For what?

volleyball buddies

volleyball buddies

For most of those students in front of me, as had been the case for Parker, this high school stage –– both the literal one on which I stood as well as the metaphorical one in which they stood –– was a launching pad for the world stage. That’s how Parker treated it.  Life was ahead, huge and welcoming, his oyster, his clam bake, his personal “oceanic tomorrow.”

“So what are you all preparing for?” I asked my young, beautifully breathing audience. “Who’s preparing for this week’s exam? Midterms? Who’s preparing for SAT’s? ACT’s? That Extended Essay? Theory of Knowledge paper?”

Hands were shooting up everywhere.

“And college applications? Anyone here deep into those?”

More limp hands. A low groan from row 14.

“And what are all these numbers –– your test scores, I.B. or A.P. results, GPA –– telling the world about you? Telling you about yourself? Your aptitude? Your potential? Your worth? Your guaranteed happiness?”

Then in about row six, a girl with dark blonde hair and the huge eyes of a famished hawk, shifted, pulling her sweatshirt hood tighter around the nape of her neck. A flash of connection, and I wondered:  Is she happy?

drumming at trocadéro

drumming at Trocadéro

And for one breath, I choked as I tried to swallow that thought alongside the joy that exploded from that drumming boy, Parker. Then the rush of recollection: sitting in that school’s top administrator’s office in 2006, a couple of coaches next to me (at my request), the jazz band conductor standing in a corner.

“Listen,” I remember saying, “we have to pull Parker out of the full I.B., understand? Put him in a couple of I.B. courses, maybe, and maybe some A.P. I’ll go along with that. But what I’m saying is, his GPA is suffering, so I’m pulling him. And one more thing: no more drums. No more ball.”

for the school's cabaret

for the school’s cabaret

The athletic director hung his head and shook it, side to side. The headmaster let out a long sigh. The conductor lifted his brows. “Really? Just . . . pull him?”

“You do that, Mrs. Bradford,” the assistant basketball coach mumbled a bit, “and you’ll take away his oxygen.”

“Mrs. Bradford, I really do think he needs music,” the man in the corner spoke up. “It’s in him. He’ll be sick without it. Besides, he’ll drive his teachers nuts drumming on his desk.”

“Right. Right.” (I was impatient with their softness while I was trying to be ambitious for my son. After all, someone had to be.) “Honestly,” I continued, “they aren’t necessary, music and ball. They’re treats, rewards for hitting the grades.

The men were quiet.

“I know, I know,” I went on, “I’ll be unpopular with you folks, and okay, Parker’s good at these things. Really good. But don’t worry. I’ll be the one to break the news to him, not you. I’ll be the bad guy.”

seniors

seniors

To this day, and especially while viewing for the first time since 2007 that sizzling drumming footage, the memory of that conversation turns my insides into the hot slosh of the Ganges Delta.  Its tide climbs my torso like a whole year of “oceanic tomorrows.”  And I so want to weep.

Then I shiver with gratitude, relieved that, as it turned out, I buckled on that hardliner moment, and in spite of a sagging grade here or there, Parker was allowed – encouraged – to keep playing, both drums and ball.  He played because his well-meaning but short-sighted mom was overruled by a dad, whose philosophy was simple: the immeasurable is of more value than the measurable. As floppy and slovenly as it might sound (dad said) there is value in just doing what you really love doing. There is value, he said, and there is even achievement in just being happy.

parker, age 9, his school stage

parker, age 9, his school stage

Dad was aligned with insightful administrators, people who were more interested in the holistic picture of Parker’s educational experience – his obvious talents, his nature, his joy – than in insisting on acquiring certain statistical currency.  They were, in the end, focused on complete development, while I was caught in the pinch of the lie that tells us that hitting quantifiable markers of achievement alone – scores, rankings, admissions – equals education, which (the lie continues) will equal durable happiness.

The last week of Parker's life; shot taken at site of accident

The last week of Parker’s life; shot taken at site of accident

Months after the drumming riff, a month after high school graduation, ten days into a college preparation workshop, Parker lost his life. That loss changed everything. Everything. Because I know in my cells how brief the time is we get to spend with our children, how illusory those  “oceanic tomorrows” are, I have strong opinions about anything –– even a first class education –– that robs families of time together. Furthermore, I resent any outside element that imposes poisonous amounts of pressure (upwards of 40 hours of work each week outside of the classroom?) on youth, creating a toxicity that inevitably seeps into and affects the quality of that limited time these young people have remaining with their families.

fam

And so, as much as I praise the I.B. for its

1) multiethnic, multilingual, multi-philosophical approach to learning,

2) its emphasis on self-governance and time management,

3) its focus on debate and verbal defense,

4) its development of rigorous questioning, including the questioning of authority, and

5) its global grading practices …

And even if I have my third child of four enrolled in an I.B. program, I can only be grateful that my eldest son’s last two years of life were not weighted with the I.B. and the kinds of anxiety, distress, sleeplessness and self-flagellation that I have seen it engender in many youth.  Besides getting solid education, Parker had enough bandwidth in his young life for the things along with academic learning that brought him joy: his music, his sports, his friends, his family, his religion, and his hometown, Paris.

volleyball near the Eiffel tower

volleyball near the Eiffel Tower

portrait

Parisian, Peruvian, Mexican, American: Multicultural Mom Writes a Strong Review

Your nationality might be easier to pin down than is Maria’s.  Born to a spicy combination of Peruvian and Mexican parents, educated in the U.S., married to a Frenchman and raising young (trilingual) children in the swoon-worthy countryside west of Paris, Maria Olivares Babin is a real global mom. An expert on mingling cultures and nurturing a family while straddling linguistic and geographic borders, she also keeps on top of a blog that is as lively, lovely and photogenic as is her family.

The four Babin children

The four Babin children (Image: Maria Babin)

(Image: Maria Babin)

(Image: Maria Babin)

Dad Babin and youngest (Image: Maria Babin)

Papa Babin and youngest (Image: Maria Babin)

Maria with the three who can eat solids, like pizza. (Image: La Famille Babin)

Maria with the three who can eat solids.  Like pizza.

How does someone planted in Normandy, France stumble across another writer-mother-nomad living near the banks of Lake Geneva, Switzerland? You can guess it was not on a morning stroll.  The story’s a bit more involved than that.

(Part of) la Famille Babin

(Part of) la famille Babin

The story is bitter-sweet, too, and I won’t share it all here because for today, I want to focus on the kind of happiness and deliberate joy Maria radiates, as you’ll soon discover, right off the computer screen.  But I’ll reveal this: a few weeks after we lost our oldest son to a tragic drowning accident, my husband and I were invited to speak at a large conference in Versailles, France.  Maria and her family, recently installed in their French life, happened to be in attendance.

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

Montmartre, Paris Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

More Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

More Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

Years passed, and our family moved, as we tend to do – Munich, Singapore, Geneva – while Maria and her Babins dug into that legendarily mulchy soil that grows France’s best apples and produces that country’s richest dairy products.  The parents (or was it the fertile soil?) continued to expand their family.  Along these two divergent routes of two global mothers, I continued to hear stories of the Babins.  I asked always for updates, marveling at Maria’s graceful mastery at integration.

Maria and daughter in the heart of the City of Light

Maria and daughter in the heart of the City of Light

Should I admit? I was fascinated – FAscinated! – by this exotic yet grounded woman, whose rich background complemented her quiet gumption. She was the Whole Multicultural Shabang.

Emphasis on the Bang.

Still only part of la grande famille Babin. . .

Still only part of la grande famille Babin. . .(Maria to the right in red sweater)

Now you can read her voice.  

Enjoy this generous review of Global Mom, written by another global mom.

I’m sure you’ll understand why it’s such an honor for me to merit her time and reflection.  Just thanks, Maria.

Come With Global Mom To London!

Back Camera

So many things happening in June, our dense ramp-up phase leading to the July release of Global Mom: A Memoir. 

This month I’ll introduce you to Christopher, my  publisher extraordinaire, and Familius, the cutting-edge media company.

You’ll meet Maggie, my word surgeon editor.

I’ll tell you all about Crystal and Kim, my super-savvy public relations team from BookSparks PR, who’ve thrown some lighter fluid on the charcoals to make a bonfire out of this book release. We’re linking to a Facebook page just for Global Mom: A Memoir, and I’ll be (gulp) Twitter-pating my life.

At about the same time all this is happening, you’re going to meet a whole string of friends via a series of vlog visits, whose stories (global, familial, nomadic and unedited) will give you an honest portrait of what it is about this kind of life that, well, keeps us living it.

(Why not be one of the first to subscribe to my YouTube channel? Go ahead.  I’ll wait here while you pop over there and click.)

With every blog and vlog, I’ll tell you about the blessings and stressings of living globally, but right now we’ll focus specifically on the peculiarities of living Swissly. In each vlog I’ll show you around my current Swiss stomping grounds. It’s truly one big technicolor wrap-around postcard.  Really worth your visit.

And if you stick here with me, I’m thinking of taking you  – should I give this away?  Oh, alright – I might just tuck you in my glove compartment and drive with you up to Paris.

But first, come with me to another magnificent metropolis, one of the most diverse places on the planet:

Judging a Book By Its Cover: A Bit of the Backstory

Cover (3)

How does a book cover like this happen?

First, you live the story.  You move with your partner’s professional positions to several different countries, raising a family all along that bump-‘n’-swerve road, picking up languages and friends and a strange mashup of social codes on the fly, keeping a flimsy grip on your sanity some of the time, discovering depths of experience and breadth of  understanding most of the time, acquiring the kind of training that stretches and reshapes you and galvanizes your scraggly gaggle of a family, welding you to each other, to humanity, to this planet.

This life fits you. You fit it. So much so, you can’t imagine anything else, and you fling yourself again and again into the swirl, even forgetting to wash your hair the week of that sunny Sunday morning when your friend, Parson School of Design student Erin, calls up, singing, “The light’s good today, guys! Want to get some candid fam shots by Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower on our way to church?”

You’re busy writing all these years, of course, because that is what you do. (Far more than you wash your hair, if you really have to know my grooming habits). You’re writing about this life and how it yanks and pumices and oils your soul.  And then you discern, as you approach a decade of this nomadic life, a distinct inner voice that says you need to get this written into a book.  So you begin capturing the first phase of your nomadic family spiel, the move from Broadway to Norway. “Now is the time to write this story,” the voice persists. “You won’t have another chance like this.  Capture your early family right now, in this unfiltered light.”

So you obey the nudge, and you sit and write that book.  On a big Norwegian table placed squat in the middle of your Paris apartment, you sit.  You write so much you feel frustrated because, zut!, Paris is out there! Why crouch with your back to it, writing? (Because doesn’t everyone in Paris do just this? Crouch somewhere writing while the tourists stride around town?)

A band of motley literati friends critiques your pages.  You change things, change them again, change again and again and realize your own written voice sometimes gets on your nerves. You need a major break from yourself. You need to pack that voice into industrial-sized envelopes and get it into someone else’s ears. You send these fat envelope babies to a bunch of fine publishers with offices in big American cities.  Seventeen of them.  Even before you lick the stamps, you’re feeling like a fool, not to mention a misfit in the face of those distant, hard-edged cities and their mysterious publishing fortresses.  They loom and intimidate, those fortresses, leaving you sleepless and self-flagellating, needing as treatment the equivalent of fity hour-long heated eucalyptus oil full body rubs of reassurance.

Not a one of the seventeen publishing fortresses opens their drawbridge.

All the rejection letters are variations on one polite theme: “We wish you only the very best in your future writing endeavors.”

Well, see? What did I tell everyone?  

So, you tuck that manuscript away, way in the bottom of one of the 400+ boxes you’ve packed to leave your several years in Paris for a new life chapter in Munich.

And the next week, three days into a vacation in the States, and one day after visiting your eldest at his first college dorm, you get a phone call.

That call sends your story – all stories  you’ve ever known or written or told – into a screeching spiral which in its blackwash vortex sucks the air out of the universe. Your story – the old one pinned on paper and crammed in the bottom of a cardboard box, or the new story that your body writes as it crawls through coldening tar – feels massively irrelevant.  There is no more story.  There are no more stories.  There is no use in telling. There is nothing. Everything you now know is unwritable. What remains?  All there is, is loss.

**

Four years later, you’re quietly aware that even though you now live in Singapore where the air is as humid as living in the drying cycle of your dishwasher, there is somehow air to breathe. The cosmos has stopped screeching, reeling and jerking, and in soundless streamlets it has begun to fill back up with meaning. Not the meaning it had before. But meaning far more dense, immutable, textured like a freight rope lassoed around the underside of reality.  Though at times inexplicable, there is a story happening, a weighty narrative materializing as if it were writing itself, drawing you onward.  You write it out, riding it out, the story, and as you do, you move with it.

Your husband, the one you feared at times wouldn’t survive the vortex or its ghostly post-ravage landscape, is regaining traction.  He can laugh and joke and walk upstairs without getting winded.  Then one day, from out of the blue, a noted scholar contacts him, asking him to be one of several subjects for her book on lives like yours; nomadic but anchored lives that circle and recircle the globe.

He agrees. He does the interview. The scholar publishes her book, Cultural Agility, and it quickly becomes a seminal work in the field.

Wise and brilliant friends are constantly encouraging you to keep going, keep writing your stuff, keep knocking on fortress doors. When one such friend suggests you might tap-tap on the door of a publishing house that is just that – a house or a cottage literally, and not a fortress – you end up sitting in the CEO’s kitchen. The man is accessible, responsive and committed to producing your work.  He doesn’t just want to publish it (although he’s eager to do that); he wants to discuss it.  He even wants (get this) to take part in editing it himself.  You Skype at all hours from your opposing sides of the planet, discussing both the literary endeavor as well as the business aspects of such a book project.

“You’ll need to do some things,” Mr. CEO publisher says in one of countless Skype sessions, “which might not be comfortable at first.  Like, you’ll need to begin a blog.

Panic sits on your shoulders like a silverback gorilla in full heat, and you say something to the effect of, “Other options, sir? Like, let’s see. . . swimming around the whole of Australia? Through shark infested waters? In a Lady Gaga suit make of raw sirloin?” You’ve fought long and hard to reenter the world. But enter the virtual world?  That kind of exposure? Can you do that and not disintegrate? You begin chanting an Homeric epic saga about all the reasons blogs (and perhaps publishing altogether) are not for you.

“Start a blog right now,” kindly CEO sir says. “No later than next week.  Right when you begin your move from Singapore. And,” he adds, “I’m sending a contract right now.  Get me your finished manuscript in six months.”

Soon you have all these blog-followers, and you are carefully thriving in that connectivity, and these follower-friends begin chiming in on the progress of the book. (They’re even bossy about designing the cover. They simply take over.)

The scholar who quoted your husband in her book? She’s now quoted on the cover of yours.  Her blurbs are enough to make you run for cover, (neither you nor your own children would ever call you a “role model for all parents”), but you’re hoping everyone will overlook the endorsements’ effusiveness and focus on that darling little ISBN tattoo.

And this time around your twelve-year-old takes your photo for the back cover. For which event, thank goodness, you decide to wash your hair.

IMG_4358

Global Mom: Madame, Vos Trésors!!

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “Fête de la Musique”)

**

Dear Mom and Dad,

I write from a hotel where I’m staying as of today until Monday when I fly to Munich. Packed the house all week. Sent off Kristiina and her kids Thursday morning. Hard goodbye for me. R will flee with the kids to Zaki’s in Provence while I finish up all the messy boring moving details here. Cleaned and spackled today, walked around an echoing apartment and remembered 4 years ago arriving alone to an echoing apartment, the ordeal of getting our Norwegian table through the windows, the crazy and hilarious moving team, the growth in our family, the depths of my friendships here, and I realized all the things I have learned during these critical 4 years, the gifts of wisdom I hardly deserve. Before they left, R and the children and I knelt in the middle of our empty living room, so strange, to offer a prayer of thanks for the gift of that home, of the years we were blessed to spend there. All the miracles. You know some of them. I’m giving the main sermon in church tomorrow (on seeking for wisdom and not for riches), then will do the official apartment walk-through on Monday morning. I’ll ship Parker’s big African drum to you after that, please be watching for it; he’ll want it at university if he can play it and not get in trouble for the disturbance. That thing is loud! After that, I’m thinking I’ll probably walk the streets feeling wistful, so wistful I can hardly formulate words. Then I’ll fly to Munich late afternoon because goods arrive Tuesday morning and we unpack all week . . . and so forth and so forth until I fly to meet up with all of you and the kids in Utah on July 14th. Have been overwhelmed with work for so many weeks (months?) now, that I haven’t really allowed myself to feel very much about this departure. Now I’m so completely clotted with warm fluid feelings. I think my earlobes are waterlogged.

Love you both always and see you very soon!

 

Grandma visiting, Parker, Claire, the Sorenson children, Kristiina

Grandma visiting Parker, Claire, the Sorensons, including Kristiina

And so that late Parisian June evening of the Fête de la Musique, I had been standing with my family on a bridge. A day later, I found myself alone, standing at a crossroads. It was a literal crossroads, the moment I am describing now, since I was standing in front of our building, which stands at an intersection, and the extra-large moving truck with its forty- cubic-meter container was parked there, too. We were leaving an epoch, a densely blessed whirring Camelot of a time, we all knew it, and I was balancing all that emotion with the practical necessity of overseeing the countless details of clearing out our apartment and making sure every last gram of our material lives was packed into a box that would roll out the very next morning heading for Munich, Germany.

I’d sent Randall and the children off in the car to say neighborhood goodbyes and pick up baguettes still hot and crusty from Secco, our local boulangerie. They timed it so they would show up to see off our moving crew, a spicy mix from the banlieue of Paris, headed by a great, burly fellow whose charm and salt-and-pepper eyebrows were equally luxuriant.

As that leader clamped shut the massive lock on our container parked in teeny Rue du Colonel Combes, he raised his voice and arms in a dramatic flourish, smacked the hind end of the trailer, and pronounced to the skies, “Madame, vos trésors!!” Madame, your treasures. In that very same instant, Randall rounded the corner in the Renault, kids hanging out windows wielding baguettes, waving, whooping, “Bonjour, Maman!!” like a chorus of French school children.

“Non, Monsieur,” I responded, an eye on the family van, “Voici mes trésors.” No, sir. These are my treasures.

In that serendipitously choreographed moment, I truly felt what I was saying as it caught in my throat, and I thought I knew just how completely those gangling arms and hoarse voices were my true treasures. I knew that if my forty-cubic-foot, padlocked trunk of treasures drowned in the blue black of some ocean, I’d survive it well because I knew what was most precious. And what’s more, I had it. Precious and irreplaceable. My treasure. My treasured family. I had every last one of them.

 

070

Global Mom: Fête de la Musique

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “Split Between Two Different Countries”…)

**

After being accepted and receiving a scholarship to a small liberal arts college, after dancing all night at Senior Prom, after graduation ceremonies and packing up his room and drums and sports equipment, and after having said his final goodbyes to the Greek and Lebanese and Tunisian and French restaurant owners around town who knew him well and always gave him extra large portions although he had a running tab, and after emotional goodbyes to school faculty as well as his dozens of friends also heading off to universities in many different countries, Parker was ready to leave Paris.

pianobleu

pianobleu

But not before one last night. It was the night of the Fête de la Musique. Throughout that June night, Paris vibrates with its annual city- wide festival of music, when musicians of every sort—madrigal choirs, rap artists, reggae bands, orchestras, flamenco guitarists, string chamber ensembles—are free to make their music any place they want in the streets or in concert venues and for as long as they can hold out.

fetedelamusique

fetedelamusique

facebook.com

facebook.com

 

linternaute

linternaute

 

rtl.fr

rtl.fr

As the name Fête de la Musique says, it’s a music party; but fête is pronounced just like faites, the imperative form of to do, making of the title a typically French jeu des mots or play on words: “Do music!”

mondial.infos

mondial.infos

Nothing could have suited our firstborn better. Parker, who as I’ve written was part of a circle of local percussionists, met with them on the Pont des Arts for many hours of pure drumming explosion.

linternaute

linternaute

Walking toward that bridge, you could feel the electricity thrumming in surging beats already in the ground and through the air. Crowds had already packed the bridge, so the children couldn’t see over all the heads, and Randall and I couldn’t see around all the bodies to find Parker. But we knew he was there somewhere. Maybe listening. Maybe hanging out with friends one last time.

As we moved closer, Dalton and Luc, who could see under people’s arms and between their knees, spotted their big brother. “Hey, Parker!” Luc yelled. But the drum beating was so thick, you couldn’t hear your own voice as it left your own mouth, let alone hear the voice of a waify seven-year-old.

Luc pulled me by my hand toward the crowd, then motioned to Randall to hoist him on his shoulders. “The crowd!” I yelled over the din, “there must be hundreds!” At least four or five hundred people on that one bridge alone, and they split apart just enough so we could edge our way toward the source. And there he sat, djembe between his knees, the white boy with blue-gray eyes, his hair cropped very short to his well-shaped skull, the American boy (but who would have ever known?) named “Par Coeur” by the likes of Shafik, his closest Tunisian drumming buddy, and five others all of African descent. There they all were, swaying and pulsing to the pounding of their own djembes and large tub drums, or rocking, eyes closed, as they pummeled their instruments together.

The energy could just about lift you off your feet. It made the bridge tremble and sway. And standing there in the push of all these people, I sensed I had to hold myself together, had to keep myself from throwing my arms in the air and spinning for sheer delirium. This was a Paris I understood, a place where millions of people sing their songs and beat their rhythms but do it all at once. Somehow, it’s not cacophonic but something beyond it, a grand intimacy and intimate grandiosity strung along the river and its several bridges.

Over those bridges, under those bridges, behind the museums, in front of the Metro stops. Children, old people, all colors, all persuasions, tourists, policemen, the homeless, the political elite. Everyone on one night crowding the skies with their music. In the center of this—really in the physical center—sat my boy, the one who’d banged into pieces my big Tupperware bowls on linoleum in New Jersey and broken to splinters my mixing spoons on the wooden kitchen floor in Norway. Who’d gotten his first drum set from a retiring musician down the street on our island and had beaten the sticks to a pulp. Who every Thursday late afternoon and in the fifteenth arrondissement of this city, had shown up for his drum lessons from a French percussionist with a long gray beard tied neatly with a red macramé bow. There was this son, shoulder to shoulder with the world, whamming and jamming with his people—all people, everyone and anyone who would stamp and clap and catch the hem of his rhythm.

064 copy

“Dad?” I heard Dalton trying to raise his voice to get Randall’s attention through the noise. “Dad?” our blonde and reticent eleven-year-old was standing, a bit self-conscious, awed, visibly, by his brother. Not as comfortable yet in his skin as this muscular drummer was, but every bit as thoughtful as your average fifty-year-old.

“Yes, Dalton?” Randall crouched down to hear better.

“Dad,” Dalton was watching the movement ripple through crowd encircling the place where the seven drummers sat, feeling the surge of the drums’ cadence. “Dad, do you think . . . heaven’s anything like this?”

Randall and I laughed a bit then smiled. But Dalton was sober, stone cold serious.

I’ve held those words as if in plaster in my mind. And I have had to wonder.

**

(Hold that image.  To be continued. . .)

Global Mom: Split Between Two Different Countries

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continuing from last post, “Ceiling Talk”…)

**

Despite the fact that Munich as a location was in many ways an ideal spot to drop us (we had roots there, as I’ve mentioned before, and were both German speakers), no one, including myself, could imagine leaving Paris. We had dug some serious grooves, as Kristiina Sorensen put it when I told her the news, and what place on earth could ever suit us as well as this place now did? So from that point in the early fall until the end of the school year, we conducted a test to see if living in one country—France— and working in another—Germany—would be not merely feasible, but preferable in terms of stability and consistency for the children. Randall lived during the weeks in a small hotel room outside of Munich, and I managed during the weeks with our four children and their four worlds of needs. We texted and called and emailed, stitched together our family with fiber optics, dangled in a world wide web.

kmmatrimony

kmmatrimony

Living in two different countries. One country for the employed person, another for the family, the occasional weekend together, if we were so lucky. More often, it turns into monthly or quarterly visits. Writing that today sounds so ludicrous it makes my fingers go rigid. But many families deliberately choose to do exactly what we were considering doing, and for the long haul. As I already knew from my circle of expatriate friends, more and more companies seemed to tacitly encourage such a thing. After all, with no family around to go home to, their employee could be counted on to work until or after midnight, could take international conference calls throughout the night, and be back at the office at 6:00 a.m., on Saturdays, on Sunday, on holidays.

Friends like the Sorensens and others from church and school and the neighborhood helped fill in some of the gaps when one has an absent father, and Parker, now an inch taller than Randall, became my right- hand man; a trusted, loving, fun and easy-going friend. Not a surrogate spouse, but my man-on-site who took care, literally, of some of the heavy lifting. He picked up brothers from their Parc Monceau school, carted heavy things up from the dusty cave, hauled the Christmas tree across town and up our building’s entry steps, and hauled it out again in January.

With the volleyball and basketball teams at school, Parker had to make his way by train or plane to sports trips all around Europe, the Mediterranean, and northern Africa, and at the same time he was pushing his way through the college application process. We saw Dad nearly every weekend for twenty-four or forty-eight hours, connected daily by every technological means known at the time, and kept extremely busy. Life was spinning as quickly as I had ever experienced it, the hum was rising, the date, June, 2007, drawing us ahead.

(Next post, we’re heading into the unknown. . .)

Global Mom: Ceiling Talk. . .Munich?

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “La Grande Gare Centrale”)

**

flickr

flickr

“And what about the smaller apartment in the 17th? Three bedrooms? Fifth floor? Not far from John and Renée? Should I make an appointment and see it? We ready for that?” That was me speaking from where I lay, covers tucked up under my arms, hands crossed thoughtfully on my abdomen, staring at the lights filtering through our drapes. This dialogue was happening nearly every night. It was Ceiling Talk as you know, and this was September 2006, and this was Randall and Melissa considering, as we had done in Norway, to just stay. To settle. To buy. To go native.

Randall was thriving at work and he could call this the end of his career and “coast on out,” as he put it. I was busy volunteering at our children’s two schools, singing in various venues, and seeing to the needs of the teenage girls and their teachers of our church in the greater Parisian area. This meant I was regularly going to Normandy, Chartres, and the small congregations throughout the city. In addition, I was writing small pieces for an international journal and compiling chapters of my own book. I had the application forms on my desk for taking courses at the Sorbonne. We were looking ahead to having Parker graduate and head off to college that June, and Claire was cruising along beautifully at ASP, too, with her locker right under her brother’s, a spatial closeness that symbolized nicely their unusually strong relationship. Dalton and Luc were gathering friends at EAB, fencing, singing in French choirs, collecting marbles, writing screen plays based on the Louvre. And Joey — may my crazy vet be praised — was finally, finally house trained.

So why move?

etsy

etsy

Unless the company, in October, approaches with a reorganization that would bump Randall from his position overseeing the French subsidiary to another post in the regional offices based in Munich from where he would oversee his function for all of Europe. Could he move immediately?

“No,” Randall said into the receiver. “We can’t move right now. The school year has just begun, our oldest child is a senior in high school; he has to finish out in this program. But,” he eyed me for the go-ahead nod from across our bedroom where he was receiving the phone call from headquarters, “I can move. I’ll move. Melissa and the kids will finish out the school year and follow to Munich in the summer. That is, if the family follows at all.”

parisgo

parisgo

(Come back tomorrow for our last months in Paris…)

Global Mom: La Grande Gare Centrale

flickr

flickr

First, a note to my readers.  As we advance toward the official release date set now for mid-July, I am pacing my posts in order to give you regular excerpts from the manuscript itself, updates on the publication process of Global Mom (the book), and vlogs featuring Global Mom (the Mom). The latter is to share with you what it’s like to navigate the many constant and weighty demands of this lifestyle we’ve chosen, which in this phase includes parenting the two youngest of our four (now high schoolers), integrating and trying to make a valuable contribution in yet another geography/culture/school system/place-we-call-home.

These are crowded but invigorating weeks ahead as we ready for the book to take off.  So I’m strapped in, tray table in upright position, stuff stowed in the overhead. Very glad you’re my seat partner, by the way, and not some snoring stranger.

Alright. Back to the book:

**

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Continued from two posts ago, “Toot-a-loo!”, where our family is now sinking deep into our years living in the heart of Paris.

**

 

mylearningtrains

mylearning

Out of 365 days on our family’s kitchen calendar, 281 were marked with visitors who stayed in our apartment. That’s not bragging. That’s fessing up. Our place turned into la Grande Gare Centrale, with its constant stream of bodies, roll-on suit-cases, extra mattresses, and fat stacks of Paris maps. Despite what that kind of traffic meant for predictable bed times and bathroom rights, the children learned to share their space, we made delightful connections with people from all over the world, and others got to experience Paris.

As is typical in many Parisian apartment buildings, ours was outfitted with rooftop garrets, or, in French, chambres de bonnes, or maids’ quarters. Our apartment was allocated two such rooms, hardly bigger than a walk-in closet each, but enough room for one set of bunk beds, a chair and a sink. In them we kept our frequent houseguests or visiting missionaries from our church. We grew especially close with some of these missionaries, who missed their families and homes and often ate around our long Norwegian table, hung out with and became like siblings to our teenagers, spent holidays with us, even went Christmas caroling with us to the homeless sleeping in tents along the Seine.

When missionaries were using the garrets, then other visitors were necessarily crammed into a back room with pink walls, a red futon, and access to a bathroom the size of a Parisian elevator, which sort of elevator is suited only for solo trips, not some convention of two.

If someone was abruptly left homeless, as happened to a newly arrived family of five from Boston, we took them in. The Sorensens had been jerked around, as is often the case, by Parisian real estate capriciousness. Translated, that means they’d found one apartment, signed a contract, and were geared to move in, then the owner changed his mind. So they found another apartment, signed a contract, were geared to move in, then this owner changed his mind. A cosmic joke? To the Sorensens it felt like one. But when I told the story to my drycleaner down Rue Malar, he hardly blinked. “I know,” he shrugged, “slippery as eels, these apartments,” and went on to ka-ching-ka-ching up my bill.

 

wikipedia

wikipedia

So the Sorensens (Greg, Kristiina, Rachel, Caroline, and Sam) were understandably less than charmed by Paris, and were repacking their bags to head back to Stockholm where they’d previously tried living Scandinavianly in a peaceful yellow country house on a quiet lake with a green row boat and a family of ducks. They rowed to the other shore to pick up fresh eggs, fresh milk, fresh gooseberries. They opened up their shutters to the sight of field flowers and climbing roses. They sun bathed on their quiet balcony.

This Parisian apartment yanking thing felt, well, yanky, if not uncongenial. But we convinced them to stick it out a bit longer—“Paris isn’t really hostile; she’s just playing hard to get. It’s a tactic.” And to help them stick it out, we took them in for a few weeks. This was a legitimate tactic, actually, to get them to move into our neighborhood, across our itsy bitsy street. When that actually happened, it was as improbable as it was magical. Our children conveniently matched in ages, and Kristiina and I discovered that we were suited to be more than friends; we were more like long lost sisters.

From [our] … tight corner of Paris and for what would be over four full years we lived there, we ventured broadly across and deeply into the town. The children found their favorite places to buy crêpes and gallettes (in Montmartre at the foot of the hill of Sacre Coeur and at the same crêperie every single time), where to grab the best ice cream cone, where to buy toys and CDs and shoes. I knew where to get great art supplies, kitchen ware, second-hand French books, fresh-cut hortensias, a decent hair trim, and where I could meet a friend for rose petal tea. I knew, above all, where to let myself get lost looking, for instance, for Gertrude Stein’s, Hemingway’s, Cole Porter’s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, or Rudolf Nureyev’s apartments.

Randall found the ideal tennis partner, who rode a Vespa, too. They met at a court early Saturday mornings. When the season came, Randall enjoyed taking the children to the French Open at Roland Garros, the court-side tickets gifts from a generous friend. The boys knew every corner of the Jardin d’Acclimitation, Palais de Tokyo, the Esplanade des Invalides where they roller bladed and walked Joey. The man who ran the peddled racecar track tucked in corner of the Champs de Mars knew the boys by sight. We’d found the best comic book store in the Latin Quarter, the best art movies theaters the Reflet des Medicis or the Balzac, and knew what new releases in their VO or version originale were showing at the big Gaumont houses on the Champs Élysées. We knew how many steps it was to walk past Harry Winston’s windows to Fendi, or from Dior and Chanel, all on our walks to school up the Avenue Montaigne. That we did when weather was just the right shade of warm and Paris at her most ebullient.

At the bottom of that Avenue Montaigne, right next to what had been Marlene Dietrich’s apartment, was the clean white facade of le Theâtre du Champs Élysées, where Randall and I went every so often with or without the children to concerts. René Fleming. Cecilia Bartoli. Kurt Masur conducting. Sylvie Guillaume dancing. Or we went to the Salles Gaveau or Pleyel to hear Jessie Norman, J. J. Milteau and his jazz harmonica, the King Singers, or African percussion.

Not only were we delving into the city, but we were crisscrossing the country. With visiting relatives and sometimes friends, we made our way to the castles and beaches of Normandy. Then we discovered Brittany, with its seaside fishing villages and ramparts. With my parents as enthused travel partners trailing us in a rented green Punto, we penetrated the Charentes, Perigord, Dordogne, Bordeaux, the Pyrenées, and the Loire. We lodged, as you can in France, in troglodyte hotels, working farms, renovated monasteries, erstwhile castles, and some bring-your- own-toilet-paper youth hostels. There was almost no region of France we didn’t visit, and yet we always felt we’d scarcely scratched the surface.

All of this was an investment in our children who, at eighteen, sixteen, eleven and seven, could appreciate the things they were seeing and experiencing. They loved, of all the places we traveled, the late springs and early summers of Provence. That was a relaxed existence, slow and warm like the landscape and the light, unlike Paris where our teenagers had to learn to be alert and capable of managing the complexities of the big city on their own. Parker was especially fearless when it came to physically navigating the buses and rail systems in the city. He and Claire stuck together mostly if they went out on a Friday or Saturday evening, but if the occasion ever presented itself when Claire was somewhere in town alone, the two had a habit of texting each other non-stop.

bigfooty

bigfooty

Like my teenagers, I was also navigating a convoluted and intoxicating city. I’d long since conquered parallel parking in a spot which by all physical measures was too small for my vehicle, and I knew exactly which underground parking lots in town would accommodate my Renault van. I also knew which ones would leave me wedged inextricably in a corner, nine other motorists stacked up behind me, unable to turn in any direction at all, so I finally had to exit my car and walk from driver’s window to driver’s window, asking if, one-by-one, they could reverse into the street so I finally could, too.

redbubble

redbubble

I relished, at this point, swirling several times around the Étoile, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe that is an enormous vehicular vortex of twelve converging roads like spokes on a wheel, or rays from a star. It was my favorite place to drive in all the city. Why? Because it embodied the French concept, the “Système D,” “D” being short for débrouiller, which means to manage – or better, to slug one’s way through. I was debrouillling well, so to speak, and was so grateful to see my family was, too. Given the learning curve we’d ascended, this was plain gratifying.

**

(Stay tuned for more Paris. . .)

Global Mom: Toot-a-Loo!

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “Monsieur B., Part II”)

etsy.com

etsy.com

It was late April. The whole world descends on Paris in April. Throngs walk the wrong way up the wrong roads on the banks of the Seine, missing the Musée d’Orsay entirely. They walk with maps flapping out of their back pockets or unfolded and held so high they miss steps and fall over poles or into potholes and get injured. They maneuver through the Louvre’s Grand Gallery, dodging other visitors who, on tippy toe and with upstretched arms, point their camera periscopes over the shuffling masses. They get pushed in the crowd past the Winged Victory and practically into the Mona Lisa and always seem to lean a few inches too close to the Delacroix or the Ingres or the Corot so the guards, hot and bothered with swollen ankles, have to lunge from their seats and bark a reprimand.

And who can blame a single soul for wanting to be a tourist? Paris, from April through September, is magnificent beyond what you’d ever imagine. It is because it is magnificent, and because everyone (including myself) is telling you it is, that everyone comes to Paris right then. And all of this can make this magnificent town miserable.

You can count on Paris being like this except in August, (again, a forewarning) when the residents of Paris go on vacation. Restaurants are closed, the cousin from Basel has stepped in to man the carousel in the Luxembourg gardens, the only good meal is at a tired fast food chain with lethargic-eyed, part-time fill-ins and napkins made of recycled mothballs. Streets are almost quiet compared to their September crush, which is called la rentrée—the school re-entry—and that school restart means the business restart which means the traffic restart when means the stress restart.

The sogginess of early April has evaporated, leaving the trees in front of the Église Americaine fluffy and bright, with splotches of sunlight dancing on the cobblestones upon which I am strolling. I’m strolling in head-to-toe seafoam green—heels and a linen suit—as an exception to my normal wardrobe, (jeans and ballet flats or black Converses) because I’ve just come home from an important appointment. It is barely chilly enough to wear a silk scarf. I’m in this linen outfit with its matching shoes and matching scarf, and I am strolling. Strolling our doggy Josephine, strolling la-dee-dah-dee-dahing je ne sais quoi-ing in full sun-speckled springtime ease along the Parisian sidewalks of my neighborhood.

condenaststore

condenaststore

This is one of those harmonious moments when I ache to grab those few people who hate Paris (or hate the French or French politics or what those folks claim is “snooty” politeness or “snotty” elegance or “pungent” crudeness) and, with my arms stretched wide above my head, say, “See? This is what we mean! Enraptured. Don’t tell me you’re not.”

Next thing, I hear voices. Loud voices. Voices speaking English. Fog-horning English.

The voices belong to two grown women. I see them approaching me. As I hear them and watch them, I keep walking my pooch and prancing delicately in my green heels, if you remember. And oh, did I forget to mention the large black sunglasses? While I promenade keeping a low sunglassed profile, I hear the amplified ladies coming closer. My breathing quickens. I zoom in on a particular cobblestone and whisper to Joey, “C’mon girl, do your business and let’s split.” Joey, though, has leisurely bowels. I turn my back to them as their voices approach. And when I do, I feel an essential part of me start to shift. But before things shift completely, I listen.

“Chill out! You never did get to reading maps right. Now look right here. Look! You listening? Look: this right here says Ei. Fel. Tow. Er. Eiffel Tower. Now I’m telling you, it’s somewhere close. Real close.” This woman yanks the map from the other woman, muttering just loudly enough for me to hear, “Should have never let you hold this thing in the first place.”

I focus on Joey, my canine distraction, twirling her leash around one hand, and put my cell phone to my ear pretending to be engrossed in the most important call of my life. They come closer. I’m lipping a fake conversation, trying to avoid that uncomfortable moment of being witness to fraternal street violence. I’m just not dressed for breaking up an assault.

“What you mean should have never let me hold this thing? I swear you’re the one got us all lost up in those streets by Noter Damn. Think I’m going leave it up to you this time getting us to the Eiffel Tower? No way, girl. No. Way.

They are acting like sisters. Or at least they’re dressed as such: both in tennis shorts in a pale color, and both in T-shirts with capped sleeves. Neon colored fanny packs. White, terry-cloth lined visors. The last three items listed, all with American flags that glittered. One of the sisters, the one who has spoken first, has nails I can see from this distance. A huge part of me wants to swoop in and strut with them arm-in-arm right down the street and to the Champs de Mars. But their anger at Paris seems beyond repair. Anything I might say will be rebuffed, useless.

I’d like to write that I considered a few approaches; “Hiya. You two look lost. Can I help?” or, “Hey, ladies, if you’re looking for the Eiffel Tower, I’d be happy—”

Those don’t enter my mind.

I straighten my shoulders, adjust my scarf, loosen my clench on Joey’s leash, drop my fake phone call into my handbag.

“’Ello?” I make my voice small and perfumy. The two stop bickering into their map and look up. “I am zo zorree,” I sing, “but I am zeeing you are een. . . trubbéll? I may ’elp you, non?”

“You. . .you from here? You French?” one woman asks, quieted.

“But oui!”, answers la Parisienne, who, smiling, extends her hand, stepping lightly in heels and pulling her Cockér with her. “Juste ovair zair! Zees ees my, ’ow you say?, neighbor-’ood? I zink? We are veree, veree luckee, are we not? We find each uzair?”

I smile. One of them smiles. Joey tilts her head. Seriously?

You see, I had this French thing down pat. I’d practiced this accent every time I’d found myself at a dinner table where language acquisition came up in the conversation (which happened in every single multicultural gathering), and friends occasionally gave their light jabs at the typical, broad, American accent with its cardboard corners and vowels as vast as the prairie. I just loved it when, at about the moment things got sufficiently mockful with people mimicking the wrooowerly broahwerly American accent, I could slip into the conversation in an English with the thickest Inspector Clouseau accent. Hardly comprehensible for all its curlicues deep in the throat, the impossible “th” sound, zee veree, veree, veree tight, uh, ’ow you say? wowel sounds, non? And I would then explain that I had yet to come across a full-blooded Frenchman, even among my friends who are ridiculously gifted linguists, who spoke English absolutely sans trace—without a trace—of a French accent.

So I am perfectly rehearsed for this street performer moment. In less time than it takes to spread a crêpe, I’ve made the fatal shift, consciously positioning myself to do one thing and one thing only: make these two fellow Americans fall desperately in love with this city, this country, with all things French. Even, if necessary, with moi.

“And-uh,” la Parisienne asks, escorting them to a bench, “Where-uh eez eet zat you bose leev? Amaireeca, I ’ope?”

We sit down together. I ’elp zem fold zeir map. Joey whimpers. “We’re from Detroit. Michigan. Know it? Here just a couple of days, you know, doing all of Europe in three—”

“Meecheegan? Detwah? But zees eez a veree, veree wondairful place. But, zut!, I do not know eet. I ’ave only been to, oh, ’ow you call eet? Zee Floreed? To Miameeee.” I slap both hands on my lap hoping they love Florida.

They nod, looking me a bit up and down. “We go to Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, mostly.”

“Ah, yes, zee Floreed. I love your countree, love zee peepel. Zo wondairful, zo friendlee”

The woman closest to me has fingernails, I can now see, with miniature frescoes painted on them, each an emblem of the U.S.A.: the Statute of Liberty; the Liberty Bell; the Flag; The first line of the constitution, “We the People. . .”

“Hiya, poochie,” she says, “you only speak French huh, sweets?” and she reaches down to Joey, petting her head, which makes my heart trill a bit. The other woman is retying her Reeboks.

“Oh, yes, yes, oui, oui, I weel show you zee Tour Eefell. Eet eez veree close,” and I walk them to the corner, right under the windows of our apartment, down to the intersection of Rue de l’Universtié, then point. Joey drags her hind legs.

“You go-uh, ’ow you say een Eengleesh? straight on an zen, at zee end of zees road, you turn zee right. Voilà! You weel zee your Tour Eefell.”

By now both women are cooing at Joey while barraging me with questions about what the French think of America, Do they all hate us, they ask, is French food really so good, have I tasted snails, where can one get a good milkshake? Which questioning is just as well with me, since I am trying to keep my side of the conversation really low, knowing that at any moment a neighbor, Monsieur B. for instance, might walk out on the street for his afternoon promenade and bump right into me, la Poseur Parisienne.

Sweating under my scarf, I’m feeling duplicitous and conniving on one level, but patriotic and conniving on another. I know, as I walk these two endearing women to the corner, that I am doing my two countries, the U.S. of A. and la France, a magnanimous service.

“Ladeez, wen you come to zee end of zee road, I weel teach you zum zeeng I learned in Miamee. You know zees zeeng you zay een Engleesh, ‘toot-a-loo’?”

They nod, “Toot-a-loo, yeah.”

“Eet eez from zee Frensh! Een Frensh wee zay, ‘À tout à l’heure,’ weech eez to zay, ‘Zee you een zee ’our.’”

“No kidding! Ha! Toot-a-loo comes from France?”

“Now. Leesen: Wen you are to turn zee right-uh, you weel zay to me, “‘A tout a l’heure’.  An zen I weel zay to you, ‘toot-a-loo.’ Good?”

I watch, nauseated and nervous with glee-guilt, as the two women saunter down Jean Nicot. There they go: fanny packs, Reeboks, visors, right past our boulangerie, past Luc’s best friend’s apartment across the street, all the way down to Rue St. Dominique.

All anyone can hear as they walk down the street bumping each other and laughing is the two of them hollering, “À tout à l’heure! À tout à l’heure!”

When they turn the corner, I am still standing there as I promised, my Joséphine on the leash, my scarf draped just so, my heels nipped neatly together, my arm waving and waving. “Toot-a-loo!” I sing to the women of Detroit. “Toooooot-a-looooooo!”

letthedogsseetherabbit

letthedogsseetherabbit