Friday, May 21, 2010

Last Day of School

The other day I wrote that I was trying not to count the (three) days we have left in Provence. I'm torn between feeling excited to go home and being woebegone we're leaving.

Well, I'm torn between those two things, and also the lurking fear that the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano will spew straight at our airplane while it is midway across the Atlantic. But that's just the new form of the same old anxiety. If it's not a blizzard, it's a volcano or a guy with explosives in his shoe. When you get right down to it, I'm just afraid of planes.

At any rate, it's another one of those transitions, and as any reader of this blog knows, we're just not great at them. We're travelers who do OK as long as we don't have to move.

These days, between school and eating and sitting in the sun that has finally shown its face, we're either being sent off or sending ourselves off. We've said goodbye to the three French teachers, to the tennis pro who taught Grace to play, to the bass teacher in Lorgues, to the guitar teacher. We've given away the sewing machine I used twice, the bass amp, the clothes the girls outgrew between then and now. If any readers happen to be nearby in the Var and want a few used hamster cages or a couple of kids' size tennis rackets, you know who to call.

Bill and I are being all melancholy and sad about it, and are mourning the silliest little things.

But the girls, particularly Abigail, couldn't possibly be happier.

Today is her last day of school. Last week in her backpack we received the Great Ceremonial Conferring of the Official Letter allowing her to move on to French 3rd grade. When I translated the letter for her, she looked at me positively stricken, as though we were about to snatch away the Promised Land of her old school in Brooklyn. I had to swear -- immediately and in no uncertain terms -- that just because France was ready to send her to French 3rd grade (CE2), that didn't mean that we were. It just meant that she had passed. She had survived. She had won. She smiled then, but still warily. Abigail has become the Missouri of children, always saying "Show me." I think she won't truly relax once the plane settles back down onto the familiar runway at JFK.

And then, a few minutes later, she'll start asking me for magret de canard. Mark my words. This is Abigail I'm talking about, the girl permanently perched on a knife's edge.

And while I'm going to have to kill you once you read this paragraph (skip down past the italicized bits if you'd prefer to live) the girls have finally been inducted into the inner sanctum of our secret traveling adventure society. Bill devised a super-hokey candlelit ceremony to mark the occasion involving all sorts of little rituals, the scent of lavender, and the taste of honey. The Elders of the Secret Society (which may or may not be yours truly) wrote up official certificates in fancy antiquey-looking fonts for each of the girls. Grace received special commendation for several of her more remarkable achievements, including

A trip to the Emergency Medical Department in a Foreign Land

Learning French from a demented professor, and

Conquering a fear of flying by facing down an Historic Blizzard,

then walking through three foot snow drifts at four in the morning.

For her part, our little uber-patriotic American Abigail was duly recognized for

Nine months of attending school in a Foreign and Often Hostile Land

Learning French in Dread Secret with an enviable Accent Proven├žal, and

Eating lapin, âne, sangliers, grenouilles, escargots

(special citation for sheer amount of Tome de Pyrennes consumed)

It was clear to me that Abigail couldn't decide whether or not to be mortified while we were doing this funny mumbo-jumbo to try to more dramatically mark the end of our adventure. Part of her wanted to be flattered as we recognized her bravery and flexibility, but mostly she was just hoping to get some bling or at least a cookie out of the event. She was happiest when I put a little necklace on her, with a heart charm that I told her was the amulet of compassion, which would protect her from all harm. I'm pretty sure that she didn't register the subliminal message in my gift, but she certainly was glad to get a present.

The poor kid. She hates weird things, and seemed to be mortified that we were doing little secret handshakes and talking about her achievements like she were becoming a Jedi Knight. If any totally normal parents out there have a weird kid and would like to trade her for Abigail for a weekend every now and then, I'm sure that she would be totally grateful. Stuck in this oddball family, she feels like a round peg surrounded by squares, and often seems to be wishing we'd just settle down in suburbia, buy all our clothes at J.C. Penney, and get respectable jobs.

Grace, however, got right in on the fun, and immediately adopted a faux-serious British accent to give a sort of Hogwartsian dignity to the proceedings. As we read her certificate, she laughed in all the right places and fairly glowed with pride.

Afterwards we tried to roast marshmallows in celebration, but as usual Bill's stack of firewood was more ambitious than it needed to be for the size of the firepit. As the flames leapt into the air towards the little plastic roof that covers part of the terrace, I got more and more nervous, and eventually ran into the house to get a bucket. By the time I was back, even Bill had gotten scared, and we threw a gallon of pool water on his raging inferno. That pretty much wrecked the fire, ruined the mood, and made Bill really sad, so we just gave in to Abigail's impulses and snuggled around the warm hearth of the Disney Channel for a bit. Another classic example of the way we roll.

So our bags are packed. Lessons are finished, and our more thrilling travel adventures are all (hopefully) in the past. I pick up Abigail from school in twenty minutes, at which point she will have spent more time immersed in the French language than any of us all.

Congratulations, Abigail. As soon as we get back home, the next trip to the American Girl store is on me. I'll turn off my usual rant about girly-girl commercialism, and let you revel in the totally familiar and totally normal. We will have tea and buy overpriced plastic things and wave wildly the American flag.

This hasn't been easy for you, our sweet-and-sour little girl, and you won't let us forget that for a minute. But watching your flinty stubbornness hone itself on the challenges of this year has made me so very proud. You've grown more than any of us will ever know.


  1. Can you hear my deep sigh, Launa??? While I am happy for you and your family - that you survived this year with its ups and downs and are heading back home (I hope the construction there has gone well. What a year!) - I am also sad that your tales of car trips and huge meals and French markets and GPS-led mishaps and all the different cheeses will come to an end... well, at least they won't be written from France anymore. I hope your writing and blogging don't end just yet...

    Your daughters are fortunate that they will always have your version of their time there in France. And to have you as their mother. What love and courage and honesty you have shown while facing gut-wrenching challenges and sometimes paralyzing fears that they know little of, and all the while attempting to tease out your own sweetness and face down your own sourness. You have given me many things to ponder and journal about and hope for in my own life with all of my struggles.

    Traveling mercies to you and your crew. May you know deep peace and gratitude on every step of your journey home.

  2. This is wonderful. What a year! I love the idea of a Hogwartsian awards ceremony to celebrate your adventure. Safe travels and bienvenue encore aux Etats-Unis. (I'm a little rusty ... Hope that translates all right!)

  3. I love the way you guys roll. What a great post. (And my daughters sound just like yours. I can't even begin to imagine what would happen to my older daughter - mentally and emotionally - if I let her roam free at the American Girl store...

  4. I adore the way you describe your Missourian daughter. The details are perfect. And I join GailNHB in hoping, very sincerely, that you will keep on blogging once you return stateside. After all, wherever you go, there you are. And I have a feeling that you will continue to serve up delicious fare, just of a slightly different flavor.