Archive for November, 2009

a… b… c… d… huh?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I think that this morning Bill figured out why Kaitlyn is struggling so much to learn to read in French. It’s not because she’s “not invested” in it, like her teacher told us in a meeting. It’s because she does not even know the alphabet in French. She has been going to the same school for the past three years. This is her second year in a row with the same teacher. But apparently no one bothered to make sure she knew this most basic skill… the alphabet.

I’m so angry… angry at myself for not practicing the French alphabet with her although we were busy practicing the American English alphabet. Because she has French all day every day… except Wednesdays and two mornings a week when she has English classes. I’m very angry at the school and the teachers. How do you let a child sit in your classroom and not make sure she knows the freakin’ alphabet? If this was the United States, I’d march into the principal’s office and make a stink. Demand a different teacher. But it isn’t. And I won’t. So instead we’re entering hour three of tag-team alphabet learning. And it isn’t going well. We’re tag-teaming the effort because it is so frustrating that each adult can only take it for so long before your only options are to scream or to walk away. So we’re opting for walking away. Although screaming is creeping up the list. Quickly.

Homework for a first grader shouldn’t be this way. It shouldn’t be this hard. Or frustrating. Or endless. And it shouldn’t end with the entire family in tears. Which is exactly how I predict today is going to end. Badly. Very much so.

scariest part was the bill

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

There are a lot of things that you don’t take into consideration when you decide to become an ex-pat. Like the challenge of understanding your mail. The fear of answering your phone. The difficulties helping your child with first-grade level homework. Or the holidays. The holidays are different.

The one that is the biggest challenge turned out to be Halloween. It sounds ridiculous. When I was a kid, I really wasn’t crazy about Halloween. Because my mom wasn’t. We didn’t deck out the house; she wasn’t good at making costumes; I don’t remember her ever buying candy to give out, she’d always just grab the basket spare change went into and give out fistfuls of pennies. This isn’t to say I didn’t still enjoy Halloween. But it is definitely to say it wasn’t a big deal at our house.

When I grew up, I vowed to make it different. We have boxes of Halloween decorations. Lots of them had to be left behind in storage… like the fog machine and the black and orange light up “trees.” (Oh, how I do miss Target.) I can’t sew or be especially creative with costumes, so I fork over cash at the Disney store to keep my little princess dressed up in style. When I hand out candy, it’s a mix of my favorites carefully put into Halloween baggies, and set into my witch’s cauldron before distribution. Yes… it’s an event.

Or, it was. Here there is no real celebrating Halloween. No big bags of bite sized candy at the store. No costumes. No decorations. The toy store had one pitiful box of dirty Halloween decorations that looked like they’ve been dragged out year after year without cleaning or updating. The bakery attached to my grocery store did hang up some Happy Halloween signs and some fake spider webs; it was really something. Oh, and the grocery store did have carving pumpkins but buying one stumped the cashier. She had no idea what it was.

The last two years we’ve gone home in the fall and ended up in the US on Halloween. Kaitlyn went trick-or-treating in Granddad’s condo building. She thinks everyone follows a list and rides and elevator up and down to collect the candy. This year we stayed put over the fall break. Something had to be done.

I was looking for a place to just go with Kaitlyn for a couple of days where there would be something to keep her busy and keep me sane over the school break. What I stumbled upon was better. A resort and spa in Evian les Bains (home of the water, yes) that has a kids club.. and that kids club had an entire week of special Halloween activities culminating in a Halloween Bal. (party) Without even thinking, I told Kaitlyn about it. Then I got the quote from the hotel, and it didn’t seem as horrible as I’d expected. Then I re-read the quote and realized the price wasn’t for the weekend but per night. Oops. I’d already sent the ball rolling down the hill by telling Kaitlyn. So we went. Kaitlyn and I went Thursday so she’d get lots of time in the kids club. (And I got time in the spa.) Bill joined us Friday after work.

For Kaitlyn, it was everything she could have imagined. She signed up to eat lunch with the kids, leaving me to fend for myself. She dressed up to have dinner with me and said things like “thank you for having me to dinner, it’s quite pleasant.” She won the costume contest at the bal Saturday night. (Never mind that she was one of the only kids dressed up… the French seemed to be reluctantly stepping into the holiday spirit and dressing up wasn’t something they’d thought about. Except for the kids club employees, of course.)

For me, it was hard to stop thinking about what it was costing. I knew it would be expensive. But every time I was handed a slip to sign for a meal, I cringed inside. Glass of Champagne: 20 Euros. Club sandwich and a drink: 33 Euros. Hard boiled egg with breakfast: 4 Euros. The spa was smart enough not to have me sign anything. I’d agreed in advance and that was good enough for them to charge my room.

When we first arrived, Kaitlyn went off to the kids club and I had time to just wander around before our room was ready and before my 5pm spa appointment. I walked the grounds, trying to find all the things to do in the park that I’d seen online. Then I went to the bar for that champagne. My book and my ipod were in my luggage with the valet, so all I could do was people watch or play solitaire on my cell phone. First, I people watched. And I noticed a lot of people wandering the hotel in their bathrobes and slippers. Not just walking to-and-fro. Sitting on the bar’s terrace and eating lunch.

After finally getting to our room, I figured I’d go check out the pool before going to the spa. First, I had to call the front desk and ask how one gets to the pool. There’s no hotel map in the room. That would be too easy. And helpful. So I put on my suit, and the bathrobe over it, slipped on slippers and off I went. I figured that, sure, I’d earlier mentally mocked the robe-wearers but they were in the lobby or the restaurant. I was just going down the hallway, in an elevator, and directly to the spa where the pool is. The pool is supposed to be for adults only. And if it had been, I may have actually gone for a swim. But there were kids in there. So I just sat and relaxed and read. Which was ok.

Moments before 5, I walked over to the spa for my massage. And that is when I discovered that the resort has not only two hotels, but two spas. And I was staying in one hotel but had made both my spa appointments in the other. The receptionist kindly told me I could just take the navette (shuttle) to the other hotel; she called the concierge to have it waiting. Then it happened: I became one of those people dashing through the lobby then riding a van to another hotel in my bathrobe and slippers. It was horrifying. And when the massage ended, rather than sitting and relaxing, I had to dash back to my hotel to meet Kaitlyn who was being dropped off from the kids club. So I had to ask for the navette to make the return trip. And this time I had to stand around the lobby waiting on it. And I noticed that in this hotel, no one was walking around in a bathrobe. Except for me. I think it’s safe to say that any calming, relaxing effect the massage had on me, it was immediately erased.

Despite that, it was still an overall relaxing long weekend. Kaitlyn made Bill and I play tennis with her Saturday afternoon. And the walk into the little town includes a steep walk back to the hotel. Oh, and then there was the price. But who can put a price tag on relaxing? And who can put a price tag on trying to give your child a little piece of a holiday you otherwise won’t find here? If we’re here a year from now, we’ll probably do it again. And just chalk it up to one of the many hidden expenses of life in France. And, really, that’s ok by me.