Saturday, December 06, 2008

Greetings from the snowy French Alps.
I haven't blogged all week because JP has been in Marseille for a conference. Maybe you don't see the connection. I know that JP found it mystifying when I tried to explain it to him...

My days, you see, go something like this when JP is away:
At 6am I sit bolt upright, eyes suddenly wide open and panicked. Why the panic? Well, you'd panic too if you were roused from a sound sleep by angry mutant insects making loud, threatening noises right beside your head. I feel like I've woken up in the middle of one of those 1970's eco-horror films, where all of nature ( the scary unfluffy members mostly- though there were exceptions) rises up against the ecological damage mankind has done and unites to wipe out all the offending humans.

As you may have guessed, I don't actually wake up to thousands of killer locusts and crickets climbing into my bed to end my planet-destroying days . It's an alarm clock set on "forest sounds".
I'd always longed for one of those cool alarm clocks- the kind that wake you up to your choice of soothing forest sounds, calming ocean waves, or gently pattering raindrops. So, when we got to France and I needed to buy an alarm clock, that's what I bought. But, being me, I bought the least expensive one I could find. I am both a cheapskate and an idiot who has made her bed and is now waking up in it to the most unpleasant sounds you can imagine. The "gentle rain " sounds more like the static on the radio between stations. And the "calming ocean" sounds almost the same, but with a tinge of "fingernails on chalkboard" thrown in.

Luckily, I usually don't have to choose between any of these less than pleasant choices. This is because JP always wakes up at about 4:30 am. No alarm clock except for his very accurate internal one. He then goes to his computer and gets to work. No blogging, no aimless internet surfing: the man works. Then, at about 6am, he goes downstairs and turns on the lights in the rooms of our two eldest kids, who need to get up.
I hear him going down the stairs, which is enough to get me up and hobbling across the room.

But when JP is gone, I have to resort to the dreaded alarm clock. And since I dislike insects so much, I figure that the creepy "forest sounds" setting will get me out of bed faster than anything. Those bugs sound scary. Srsly. They are loud, they are angry and they are coming for me, which enough to get anyone out of bed fast.
Sadly, if there were actually justice-seeking insects after me, I would have little chance of escaping. Back in September, I hurt my left foot in an excercise-related incident . (And they say excercise is good for you. Bah.) I haven't written about it until now because I found it deeply embarrassing. Stuff that seems ok to mention when you're twenty often seems like an unbearable admisssion after you hit 40. You hate to bring it up because it makes you sound like a pathetic old person who is slowly (or perhaps rapidly) falling apart, complaining constantly about her health problems as she does so.

But I finally decided that it's ok to be an old person. It's inevitable. There are so many signs now that I can't ignore them: I refuse to wear uncomfortable clothes. I don't even own a pair of uncomfortable, fashionable shoes. I wear hats when I'm cold, with no thought for my "hairstyle". I think people in films curse too much and should keep their clothes on. And now my feet hurt and I'm letting everyone know it.
All of which, my teenagers assure me, means that I am just a (tottering) step away from "easy listening" music and long evenings down at the Elks Hall for Bingo Nite.

So when JP is not home the alarm goes off and I hobble over to my bathroom followed by Cleo the Cat Who Thinks She's a Dog. I try to shut the door behind me, but it never closes completely because the door is broken. (One of the thousands of things destroyed, damaged and generally messed up by the lovely people that rented our house for two years.) Cleo always manages to bat the door open with her paw and comes in to spend some "quality time " with me. I think, in her eyes, she's providing a service. You never know when someone might, right in the middle of taking a shower, have an urgent need to pet a cat. So, she sits there, staring at me the whole time I'm getting ready. It's a bit disconcerting.

After that, I hop down the stairs and turn on the lights for the older kids. Then I hop down another flight of stairs and go to the kitchen to get the fire going. As the house is big and fuel oil expensive, we try to keep the woodstove going during the day. It's a bit of a pain, but I like it. It makes me feel very "Little Maison on the Prairie". (I loved the books. The TV show gave me conflicted feelings and will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post)

I get out the breakfast things, prepare Alexa's meds for the day and generally potter around in the kitchen until the kids come down. Then we chat and go over homework.
Lately Severin has been learning the part of Sganarelle in Moliere's "Le Médecin malgré lui ", so I read Martine's part as we sit in front of the fire and he eats his cereal. I'm pretty good at it because Valentine also had to learn a part in this exact same play two years ago. In fact, this play is so ubiquitous that even the twins are studying the thing this year and they're only in 5th grade! You'd think it was the only play ever written in the French language. And what a strange choice, as it's filled with sex one part, Sganarelle (a fake doctor) tries to give a woman he fancies an enema (?!) in order to get her naked. How is the teacher explaining that to a bunch of 10 year olds? If they were only reading the play, she could skip the worst bits, but they are going to see the play performed this month...

The older kids go off at 6:50. I get the little ones up at 7 and they leave for school at 8. Then I (finally!) get to drink a cup of coffee in front of the TV: CNN, BBC, CNBC, Skynews. I can't resist. I haven't had a TV station in English in my home for 20 years.

After that I start attacking the day's long list of things to get done: laundry, houscleaning, and unpacking endless boxes. And, of course, hauling in the firewood, going grocery shopping, doctors appointments, assorted errands, going to the post office, taking the cats to the vet , etc
The twins come back at 11:30 for a quick lunch. Then they're back out the door at 1:00 and I realise that I've not even finished half of the things on my list of the day's chores. I spend the afternoon just like the morning, but when the twins get back home at 4:30, I spend time with them and oversee homework. By the time that's done, it's time to make dinner.

The older kids get home at about 6:30pm and we eat at about 7. Afterwards, the kids clear the table, wash the dishes, dry them and put them away. All these tasks are governed by The Schedule posted in the kitchen. To preserve my sanity and teach them about how responsible people live, I drew up this list of chores back in July. It divides up and rotates some of the basic household work between all family members. (I have to say that I highly recommend this for all families! There's no arguements and no complaints about chores. Everything is fairly shared and written down for all to see. And it's then not the parents' job to make anyone do anything. It is simply each person's responsibility to check the schedule and do their part. Sheer brilliance.)

After the dinner things are cleaned up and put away, it's 8:20pm- time for the kids' favorite soap opera. (I would just like to say that it is NOT my fault that my kids love "Plus Belle la Vie". It's all my MIL's doing.) When JP is home, it is at this point that I slip upstairs and blog for an hour or so. It's my prime writing time: the kids are happily watching their program with their dad by their side. He sort of shares his attention between the program and whatever book he's reading at the moment. Knowing that everyone is happy and in good company, I'm content to do my own thing up here in the office.
But here's the strange part, the thing JP thinks is freaky: I don't like to have the kids downstairs watching thier show all alone without a parent. I can't say why. I just feel not good being up here in the office writing while they are down two floors watching TV. I don't really like the show, so all I do when I'm there is sit in the living room and read my book of the moment. But I like to be there. And that's why I haven't been blogging.

Of course, I could write later on in the night. But after the TV show, I always read to the kids (which even my eldest (age 15) still loves) and that takes a while.
Then I get them all to bed with hugs, etc and follow this with a quick tour of the house, tidying, making sure the shutters are closed and locking up. By the time I'm done, I find I have just about enough energy to check my emails and have a quick look at the day's news on the internet.

And that, friends, is my excuse. Sorry it is such a long one. It's a week's worth of pent-up blog energy...


babzee said...

Are Tya and Sev commuting for hours to school, or is their school day really close to 12 hours? I am exhausted by reading your schedule, and glad that such intensity is behind me.

La Framéricaine said...

I think that it is very touching that, at this time in their lives, you prefer not to leave your 4 children alone, two floors down, without a parent nearby--even if said parent is just reading a book.

It is obviously of the utmost importance to you to have you or their father in close proximity to them after dinner, as the day and evening are winding down toward bedtime. It seems to me that such strong feelings of love and maternal concern would be absorbed over one's entire childhood and give one a sturdy sense of having been cared for and cherished as a child.

My mother has now been deceased for almost two decades but my nicest memories of her involve quiet, unscheduled time spent in close proximity without necessarily being directly engaged in "doing" anything special.

Your children are very fortunate to have both your love and your skill at orchestrating the chores so that everyone feels like a member of a coordinated team effort!

Good for you, Beth! And welcome back after your "home alone" time away from your blog. I missed you!

Oh, re: the annoying alarm clock. It sounds awful. Perhaps you could give some thought to letting it join the camel sofa at the consignment shop and you could get some nature sounds that are a bit less frightening.

Starting your day with a mutant insect fear-induced adrenaline surge might actually result in reduced longevity. I'm just sayin'...:>)

oreneta said...

I cannot believe how early those kids have ot go off to school. Positively inhuman...ugh.

Beth said...

It takes about one hour for the bus to get from our village to their school, which sits right on the Swiss/French border. The actual school hours are 8am to noon and then 1:30pm to 5pm for Valentine. Sev gets done at 4, but goes to a study hall to do his homework until the bus comes at about 5:30. They eat lunch at the cafeteria, which is quite a good one, even by French standards.

But it's true that their days are incredibly long. That's why we have decided NOT to send the twins there next year, even though it's a much better school than the one that's much closer to home. We discussed it at length and the days just seemed so long for a couple of 11 year olds. And in the end we found that Alexa's health issues were the deciding factor. It's much better to have her two miles from home, rather than 20 miles. And the paramedic center is right next door to the school!

As for how the older ones are holding up- they are doing really well. Of course, they're not very motivated to complain. The very frequent solution to the school problem here (for kids at the 10th grade/2ieme and above) is to send them to boarding school. Yup. LOTS of kids from here go to boarding school in Annecy and just take the train home for the weekend.
As my lot do NOT want to go to boarding school, we hear absolutely no complaints about their school. Not like I'd send them, but they want to be sure there's no misunderstanding.

Beth said...

Orenata- Well, I guess it makes them tough and ready for "real life"?

Pam- Thanks for your comments. you always give out such positive energy, even on the written page. You must be a good person to know IRL. I hope that you WILL come see us one day soon!

I hope that you are right about my positive impact on my kids, because I know they get negative stuff from me, too. I can be such a stressed-out perfectionist that I drive everyone nuts. JP can't figure out why I can't let stuff slide. I try not to bug the kids too much, but I know I need to be more laid back...

I loved your own most recent post about your family. I didn't comment at length on it, as it was nearly midnight when I read it! But it was really well-done and thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

Hey, the only play *I* remember reading in French was le Medecin malgre lui! It was on the AP exam in 1983.

It is a silent thread, linking the generations... who knew?

Love the post - and am grateful for this glimpse of "a day in the life..."