Tuesday, January 19, 2010

6 Simple Steps?

People ask me how I'm doing. I respond, "I'm adjusting."
I make small-talk about the weather differences of France versus California, and how I just can't get acclimated to the cold and snow. But really, there's a whole lot I can't get acclimated to here. Inside, I'm thinking, if only that were the half of the truth. I'm just going to say what the independent, 25 year-old, who craved a challenge and an opportunity to prove her strength, isn't supposed to say: I’m kinda-sorta-absolutely miserable here.
My dad flew out of Sacramento the same day I left LAX to accompany me during this journey and aide in the transition (Though, I’m sure the prospect of traveling was probably appealing, as well). It was like he was holding my hand and walking me up to the door on the first day of school (I may still be a daddy's girl). During the first couple of weeks here, there were a lot of interesting situations (for lack of a better word) with the family, the kids, the train stations, and the French, but having him just a bus-ride away, in downtown Lyon, made it all seem manageable. He took my side, shared my frustrations, and cracked jokes to lessen the tension. Last Friday, he left for Dublin, en route back home to California. The real adjustment has now begun.
Saturday, reality hit, and it hit hard. This place just isn't me. Granted, that's probably the objective of trying on an experience in a foreign country and foreign culture, but this one isn't my size. Given that I studied abroad in Paris and fell in love with it on prior vacations, I came to France with certain expectations of what it would be like. It's nothing like that. I wanted to get out of the suburbs of Orange County. I moved to the suburbs of Lyon. I was under the impression that I was only ten minutes from the center of Lyon. I am, but by car, which apparently is not for my use on the weekends. The car comes with the kids as some sort of packaged deal (maybe to make them somewhat appealing?). In actuality, downtown takes about 40 minutes to get to. Walk to the bus stop, take the bus to the connecting bus to the metro to downtown. It's quite the to-do, making my desire to explore downtown, non-existent. I went from being socially isolated in a law-firm to being socially isolated in a stranger's home, except here I'm unable to get my "people fix" at Starbucks.
Since I’m on a role, I’ll continue…
The family, in my opinion, doesn't feel accommodating. Instead, they seem critical and, well, French. I'm 25 going on 15. Granted, I have my own room and bathroom, which I do appreciate, but in both of those, I have no shelf, cabinet or closet space for any of my belongings, as they are occupied with all of their stuff. And if you were wondering (which you should be), living in a bedroom, circa 1981, with its royal blue carpet, mismatched furniture and faded floral curtains, isn't as fantastical as one would assume. I was not expecting a Pottery-Barn-catalog-worthy room, but this feels like the place where thrift store items go to die.
The food: All of the people who talk about how great it will be to eat bread and cheese, and drink wine all day are idealizing. They'll only end up constipated and sleepy. There's something to be said about a well-balanced meal. Here's the thing: I love fresh food. I don't love processed food from a box; especially boxed instant mashed potatoes. I love being able to taste vegetables. I don't love them purred and drowned in a sea of creme-fraiche. Some nights, dinner is decent; other nights, it's manageable, but there are those times when the food tastes like it belongs in a Kleenex. Coincidently, that is where it ends up. Thank goodness for care-packages.
I'm trying to abandon the black and white thinking and stay optimistic that this experience will pay off, that the travel will make up for it, that the misery will fade, but I seem to be coming up short. And when I still don't have my luggage after three weeks, I wondering if, maybe my luggage doesn't even want to commit. All of my normal outlets for relieving stress are absent here, and I find myself, the proverbial morning person, wanting to sleep in order to escape reality. Like I said, it's not me.
I know setbacks are only temporary.(Though, c’mon, exactly how long is temporary?) so I’m keeping the “simple” techniques of Positive Psychology in mind.
1. Remember the hard times. Realizing that you made it through those tough times will reveal your strength.

2. Let it all out. Queue the blog. Done and done.
3. Write down good things. "Use good old corny gratitude like a drug." Queue Daily Gratitude’s. Check.
4. Be your own defense attorney. This suggests that every time you catch yourself thinking in a melodramatically negative way, like "I can never do anything right" or "This relationship ('situation' in my case) sucks", present yourself with cold hard evidence to the contrary.
5. Exercise. It triggers the release of endorphins and lifts your mood, lowers the blood pressure reaction to stress, and leads to a better night's sleep. Check.
6. Find something to love. Spend time with close friends.
So, maybe there’s still hope. Maybe I could get used to the royal blue carpet.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 13

I always considered “13” a lucky number. It’s the age when one becomes a teenager and knows everything. It’s the big bat mitzvah. It is deemed lucky in Italian culture, and Friday the 13th has never provided any complaints for me. That was not the case on my day 13 of being here.

7:00 a.m.- Wake up. Make my daily green tea and take my daily chewable.

7:30 a.m.- Wake up the kids. Clement wakes up with ease. Cecile wakes up whining (however, she follows this pattern at most times during the day.). Get them dressed and downstairs.

7:45 a.m.- Sit with kids for breakfast. Cereal? Nope. Yogurt? Nope. Fruit? Not a chance in hell. White bread with chocolate spread, aka Nutella? Absolutely. (Best to get them on a sugar high then send them to school for their teachers to deal.)

7:55 a.m.- Brush teeth with the kids to show them that good hygiene is the cool thing to do. “Clean” is the new black.

8:10 a.m.- A blur of “Dépêche-toi! On-y-va!! Où sont vos bottes ?? Dépêche dépêche! (Hurry, Let’s go! Where are your boots? Hurry, hurry!!)" Side note: According to the Au Pair Reference guide, this does not work. The kids could care less about hurrying.

8:15ish a.m.- Take kids to school. Drop off Cecile. Park car and walk Clement to class. Today, I decided to leave the car at the school and jog home to get some exercise and enjoy my new itunes purchases (Thanks, Rachel for the recommendations).

9:00 a.m.- Arrive back “home” to shower, enjoy less than adequate instant coffee, and prep the kids’ lunch that the mom left for them.

11:00 a.m.- Walk back to the school to pick up Clement, Cecile, and the car. Bring them home for lunch and sit with them while they devour their chicken nuggets and purred vegetables mixed with cream and cheese. 3 parts cream, 3 parts cheese, 1 part vegetables. (Does this still qualify for the 5-servings a day, food pyramid?) No judgment.

1:10 p.m.- Déjà vu of 8:10 a.m. Seems like all is going swimmingly, right?

1:30 p.m.- This is where the day takes a turn. After dropping the kids off, I thought I’d drive to the shopping center a couple miles away to pick up staples like lotion, face-wash, and tea, since the airlines have hijacked my luggage. Bastards. However, the gas tank was on empty; Light on and everything. Mind you, this is despite my request to the au-pair dad, Francois, to fill it the night prior. Aggravating? Yes, but the independent Lauren thought, “I’ll just fill it myself.” (Mistake #1). The last thing I want is to run out of gas and be stranded in the middle of France. “Uhh, Triple A? Could you send a serviceman to France to fill up my gas tank? Premium membership covers that, right? Great, thanks.”

Stop at the gas station, grab black nozzle and begin to fill gas tank (this is the nozzle that the gas attendant instructed me to use when I asked (Mistake #2).

Gas attendant comes out. “Je peux vous aider?”

“No, I think I’m just about done (In French, of course. No one in this town knows a lick of English).”

She must be asking if I need help because of the gas spilling all over the ground and my boots.

Her, in French: “Just a moment, I will go get the mechanic. I think you are putting in the wrong type of gas.”


Enter Mechanic. Queue rapid French dialogue. (Keep in mind that my ability to speak “car mechanics” in French is about as proficient as my ability to speak “car mechanics” in Chinese--Non-existent. However, I have a gut feeling that I know what he’s saying. It’s not good. With a lot of hand motioning, I understand. The gas tank needs to be emptied. Perrrrfect. He can’t do it until at least 4 o’clock. I have to pick up the kids at 4 o’clock to head downtown for Cecile’s cello lesson.

Me: “Can’t I just drive it home and bring it back after 4?”

Mechanic: “No, you can’t start the engine. If you drive the car, it will sputter and break.”

Me: “Oh, really? Are you sure?”

Is he absolutely positive it will sputter home? I'm sure it'd be fine. It's an old car.

Without choice, the car gets left with the mechanic. Start walking. Anxiety is streaming. Figure out the next plan of action. Do I call Francois and tell him? Do I head back to the gas station at 4 p.m. and hope that it’s done so I can pick up the kids and make on with the day as if nothing happened?. Do I call the neighbor to pick up the kids? Oh good, it’s raining. Thank God my dad is on his way to the house so I don’t have to go through this alone. Maybe they’ll fire me and send me home… Then I can just tell the airlines to route my bag straight back to LA.

Apprehensively, I called Francois and explained the situation, to which he responded that he didn’t fill up the car because “when the light comes on, it still has another 50 kilometers left in it.” My thought is that this is his way to control my driving whereabouts and it really doesn’t seem all too far-fetched.

The afternoon ended with my dad and I walking to the school to pick up the kids (Rain). Walking back up to the bus stop (raining harder). Taking the bus to the metro to the tram to the cathedral to the conservatoire for Cecile’s cello lesson (rain plus wind).

Francois met up with us there, lacking the reaction that I was anticipating. After greeting us and babbling in French, he commented to my dad in his broken English and obnoxious smile, “Lauren has a lot of emotions with us.” Huh?! I don’t know the meaning of that and I’m not sure I even care at this point. As remorseful as I felt about earlier, I was infuriated to be put in that situation in the first place. His comment fueled the fire.

So, in the end, they didn’t fire me. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Lesson learned: Always carry an umbrella. No, I still don’t know what type of gasoline the car takes.

Daily Gratitudes:

  • My dad was there with me during this whole fiasco. He's amazing.
  • In less than a month, someone from home is coming to visit. A trip to Cinque Terre, Italy is in the works. I’ve always wanted to see the 5 cities.
  • With my missing luggage and all my undergarments hanging to dry, I’ve started going “Commando”... I kind of like it. It feels freeing and I may continue even after I get my luggage. TMI?
  • These lists of "daily gratitudes" are keeping me from making lists of "daily annoyances."
  • This book Merde: The Real French You Were Never Taught In School, has provided material to use for responding to Cecile's whining.
  • My host family doesn't know about my blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2 Days in Paris

Such a great movie. Check out the trailer here. It's follows the relationship of a Jack, a classic neurotic with his hypochondriac traits, and his girlfriend, Marion, the sexually liberal Parisian, as they spend two days in her hometown, Paris.

I'm on my way back from a journey—two days in Paris with my dad. I'm exhausted as I sit on yet another late-night. delayed train back to Lyon. Hopefully we'll depart before midnight, putting me into Lyon two hours later, but four hours past my anticipated arrival time.

Whatever because I LOVE Paris. The city of lights and cliches. Croissants, fromage, and espresso. Patisseries, boulangeries, and brasseries. Boots and scarves and classy fashion. It's also the city where lovers walk hand-in-hand through the city, partly in fear of falling off the overly narrow and busy sidewalks. There's as much art and culture as transportation strikes, and as much entertainment as there are metro lines. It's the European Manhattan.

We arrived into the city on Saturday at 3 a.m., due to snow storms in Lyon that delayed all trains, including ours that was set to depart Friday at 8 p.m.. Have I mentioned how much I hate the snow, yet? Four hours in a subzero station, three bags of luggage, two hours on a train, one hour in a taxi, two double-espressos, and more clothing layers than I can count. Finally, we made it to Paris, but more importantly, our hotel with a hot shower and the most comfortable bed I've encountered in 2010. To make things easy and because familiarity is calming, we stayed in the same hotel that I stayed at two years prior, and it was just as amazing as before.
Saturday morning, the sequel, started around 11 a.m., a billion times better off than the day before, and thrilled to be in Paris. Scarves, gloves, ski socks, hand warmers and any other clothing item that is synonymous with heat, we put on and set out what we came here to do.

It was 2 days that included: walking around the city...
The Louvre Museum...

...with weather that turned the fountain pond into...
...an ice skating rink.. Until I was yelled at, by Dad...

There were statues...

...and famous pieces...
...and people watching...
...Oh my!
There was a walking tour to Notre Dame...

...but we didn't climb the 386 stairs to see the Bell Tower and view from the top, like I did in 2007 with my mom!

There were lunches in local cafes...
...and dinners in the Quartier Latin

There was a lot of walking, a lot of pictures, a lot of site-seeing, a lot of culture-comparing, a lot of talking, and a lot of laughs.

...and maybe even a Starbucks (x2).

I am also heading back to Lyon with an extra bag, thanks to Dad, who took me boot shopping! For the first time in 8 days, my feet are dry and can move! Snow storms? Bring.It.On!! All in all, it was an amazing 2 days. I love exploring Paris with different people to see their take and desired "must-see-places" which always presents a different experience than the last. I am infatuated with the city and would live out the rest of my Au Pair Project there, if I could, but alas, it's back to the suburbs, back to the kids, back to Lyon.

Thank you, to my dad, for a wonderful mini-vacation to Paris!!

Daily Gratitudes:
  • New boots and a new scarf, all which are so warm! Best part: I didn't break my New Year's resolution!
  • After this evening, I feel confident that my dad will be able to navigate around Paris for the next week while I'm back in snow-ville.
  • I was able to Skype with my mom before heading to the train station. Being in Paris brought back good memories of being here with her a couple years ago.
  • I start "school" this week.
  • Ipods and mini candy-canes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Au Pair Reference Guide

In the few short days that the kids have been in my possession, I've learned a few important and key lessons very quickly.

1. Moms have large purses for 2 reasons: 1.) Snacks. 2.) To hold the items that have been confiscated that one sibling used to hit the other one with. ie: gloves.

2. Get in the car, start it, and say "Bye kids!" That will get them running.

3. Don't bother repeating yourself when saying "Hurry up!" or "Let's go, you're going to be late." They don't care. Just start walking and they will follow. See number 2.

4. When it comes to small decisions like what to eat or what book to read, don't give them a choice--you'll be wasting your time and theirs. They don't know what they want. Just put something in front of them to eat and start reading any book. They'll enjoy both.

5. Can't get your child to stop running around in a quiet waiting room? Give them a camera with a viewing screen. Best. Thing. Ever.

6. A piggy-back ride is the most effective method for a child that lags behind or won't stop throwing snowballs at their sister. They love it and it's a pretty good workout, too.

7. Snacks. Always always always have them. See number 1. Have one healthy and one junky (ie: a cookie and an orange). They are also incredibly effective bribing tools. Seriously, never leave home without them.

8. All of those ridiculous songs I learned at cheer camp in high school have finally come in handy. Go learn some for long walks home... Especially the banana song which will support number 9.

9. Run, race, hopscotch, jump. Just get them out of breath and exhausted and you'll have a quiet evening to yourself. See number 8.

10. Oh, what? You say that you can't get Clement to eat cauliflower? That's funny because today, when I "food-processed" it and mixed it in with white rice, he had no clue he was even eating cauliflower! AND, he asked for seconds. Lauren-1 Parents-0. Work smarter, not harder.

11. There is a wrong way and right way.

The wrong way: "Awww, poor Cecile? You tripped and fell in the snow? Oh my goodness! Is your hand okay? Don't cry! Give me a hug."

The right way: "Cecile, you fell in the snow? That's what happens when you try to hit your brother and aren't paying attention to where you're going. Your hand looks fine to me. Let's keep going, kid. If you hurry, you can get home and put a bandaid on before the germs make your hand fall completely off!"

12. Deep breaths and lots of them.

13. Make everything a game or a race against the clock. Dramatize.

14. Hand sanitizer.

15. When they decide to eat dirty snow, tell them once, not to do it. If they try again, just let them eat it... I'm sure they'll be fine.

16. If you want anything to be accomplished, turn off the t.v. It is a bribing technique, not background noise.

17. There are times where they won't like you. Get over it because in about an hour, they will, too.

To be continued...

Today's Gratitudes:

  • I'm going to Paris this weekend with my dad before he heads off to the the South of France!
  • Naps
  • Streaming television, mainly the Today Show (Side note: Regularly scheduled programs were made for people without children). It's nice to be able to keep up with what's going on back home.

  • My french is quickly coming back... although, there's been no other option seeing as English isn't spoken here.
  • The amazing few back home who are tying up loose ends for me. Thank you

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Adjustment- Day 5

5 days in and i'm finally starting to feel like this is less than miserable. Dramatic? Maybe. True? Yes.

It has been 5 days flooded with information; At __;__ o'clock, you drop the kids off here. At __;__ o'clock, you pick the kids up. At __;__ o'clock, you take Cecile here but not Clement. At __;__ o'clock, you pick up Cecile and drop off Clement. At __;__ o'clock, you drop off Cecile and pick up Clement, but only every other Tuesday and first Thursday of the month. Monday and Thursday, you pick the kids up for lunch. Tuesday and Fridays, they eat at school. Wednesdays, they don't have school. To get to music lessons in Charbonniers, you drive. To get to music lessons at the conservatoire in Lyon, you drive to the bus with Cecile, park the car, take the bus to the metro, take metro D, get off the metro, take the tram, walk around the block, up the stairs, down the hall and second door on the left..but on Wednesdays, it's the down the other hall. If you're leaving the house, drive this way but if you're coming home, go the back way. Don't forget to complete your french language hours in, give the kids a bath but only wash their hair on Wednesdays and Fridays.. (oh, and please keep the bath under 5 minutes to conserve), feed them, dress them, study with them, and repress the desire to beat them.

Oh, and explained completely en Francais. This is my life for the next 12 months.

Just as the time change hasn't quite settled, the culture is still taking some adjusting to, as well.

  • A friendly "Hello" from a passerby stranger, is nearly unheard of. I'm used to California where everyone says hi to everyone. Here, it's perceived as "uhh, I don't know you so why are you talking to me?"
  • "Everyone for themselves." I'm not sure if this is a trait of metropolitan cities like New York and Paris, or if it is just a French thing. Everyone just keeps to themselves and if you don't watch yourself, you'll be run over.
  • Signs are suggestions that are obeyed when desired. Smoking signs, pedestrian "walk" or "don't walk" signs, parking signs, etc...
  • Meal time will last a minimum of 2 hours and usually includes a smoking break--even at restaurants. I was so befuddled when I was having dinner with my dad and the two guys dining at the next table over, got up after their salad to have a cigarette outside and return 15 minutes later for their main entree. Children also get an hour and a half for lunch! A far stretch from the 30 minutes we used to get in grade school!
  • Dinner. It starts with crackers and spread in the entertaining room, followed by the actual dinner. Just when you think it's over, the cheese and bread platter is brought out. Don't worry, dessert is close behind.
  • This isn't a European thing but I am having the most difficult time adjusting to the weather. I learned very quickly that I am a California girl at heart and I don't do snow.... At all. Never in my life have I been so freezing, uncomfortable, and convinced I'm on the verge of frostbite. Reevaluating graduate school on the East coast.
Aside from trying to get acclimated and the cold weather (and by "cold" I mean "below zero temperatures"), it's alright here. I'm in the suburbs, about 10 minutes by car and 45 minutes by bus, from the centre-ville aka the downtown of Lyon, and it's quite cute. Actually being with the kids is the easy part. Do they speak English? No (Except Clement now says "hey dude!"). Are they cute? Sometimes. A handful? Absolutely. Birth control? You bet.

They prove true for the reason that women fought so hard to be in the workforce. It wasn't desire for equal rights, it was taking care of children all day. I've grown an appreciation for the calm and unruffled law firm setting that was my life about 2 weeks ago. However, I wouldn't change where I'm at and ready for this adventure.

Today's gratitudes:
  • I went out to dinner tonight with my dad in downtown Lyon. Though calf's foot salad seemed appealing, I went with the salmon.
  • They found my luggage. I'm not sure where it's at in the delivery process but finding it is absolutely a step in the right direction. Good thing too because I'm running low on undies!
  • The care package I got from my friend Stef, has saved me! Especially on days when dinner included bacon or steak.
  • I have a heater in my room. Old school but crank it up full blast, close the door, and when I return home, my room is nice and toasty.
  • My dad and I are going boot shopping tomorrow! When he felt my toes after 3 hours of trying to navigate my way to school and his hotel, new boots moved to the top of the list :)
  • Kiki is doing good and is in good hands!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy 2010

Similarly, 2009 and 2010 were both brought in while on a plane. However, 2009 was en route to Sacramento, in need of the safety and security of “home”, while 2010 was on a flight to France, embarking on adventure. That alone, mirrors the vast adjustment that was 2009.

They say, just as a trapeze artist cannot swing from one bar to another without letting go of the other, that one must release the old in order to embrace the new. Happy Twenty-ten! With a previous year that started in a state of anorexia, the last 365 days have brought me around 180 degrees to a new mindset, or so I’d like to think. 2009 has been a year of learning, self-reflecting, tweaking, and fine-tuning. With my incessant habit for comparison, I can’t help but think, “At this time last year, I was: (fill in the blank with some negative emotion and relative behavior to match).” Happily, that has changed.

An honest self-analysis is always helpful to gain clarity and the New Year seems particularly fitting to do some reflection. 2009 was a noteworthy. That’s a given. As I devoted 2008 the year of discovery, with a resolution of experiencing and seeing new things, 2009 could be doted the year of recovery.

In a nutshell, I gained some new and amazing friendships which brought me out of my stubborn disordered thinking. I kept the old “classic” friendships, too. I started enjoying dance again and as the weight returned, my strength did, as well. I performed. I quit my second job doing neurofeedback in realizing I needed more “me” time and a moment to catch my breath. This was followed by getting serious about graduate school and researching programs to fit my interests, and of course, attempting the GRE. There were incredible vacations from New York City to Morro Bay, and Palm Springs to weekend get-aways in San Diego. There was an addiction to Greek yogurt and Encinitas that led me to a Trader Joe’s, where I stumbled upon a very special and supportive person. Coachella, a Padres’ game, blueberry cookies, wisdom teeth surgery, county fairs, Lola Gaspar, and a Chargers’ game were all firsts for me. And who could forget Fantasy Football?! Family relationships were repaired and strengthened as we learned acceptance of each other’s quirks versus trying to change them. My relationship with my parents became the strongest to date, as they were more than supportive through my "issues" and desire to move abroad. Saturday mornings at the gym soon changed to Saturday mornings with friends. Girls’ nights, date nights, and going out were all reinstated. I lost roommates, gained some, kept the important ones. Themed parties, stopping to smell the flowers (all fifty-something bouquets of them), weighing difficult decisions, therapy, and commitment issues were all included. I gave up my condo, my job, security, desire for perfection, and sense of normalcy that I created, in order to follow my dreams… and then I boarded a plane to France.

I found myself again, the version of me that I like, anyway. The Lauren who loves short jokes, puns, and “boy” humor; who spends hours on end in dance classes but can’t pick up my own feet when walking down the street… who isn’t afraid to admit that Lady Gaga is on my ipod, next to Britney Spears, Radiohead, and The Beatles…and who can appreciate Nintendo just as much as a good novel. 2009 became focused on living, enjoying, and finding beauty in life’s imperfections.

With 2010, I welcome the adventure, the firsts, and the adjustment of living somewhere new. I’m not one for “new” resolutions but there are a few to make the list:

  • While packing up my life for a year, I realized I have an unnecessary amount of clothes and shoes. 2010 will include the lack of clothing purchases. I think I can do it.
  • I want to add pins to my “been there” map. There are a few “must see” places but the rest are up for impulsivity.
  • Dance classes in France. Pretty self explanatory.
  • It took hip tendonitis and the inability to run in order to realize that I actually do enjoy jogging. I want to recover from this so I can start running again. Plus, I hear that there’s a European marathon that has wine stops instead of water stops and is done wearing Halloween costumes. Umm, yes, please.

It’s now 9 am in France and time for le café to make up for the lack of sleep and jet lag. Fingers crossed that 2010 also brings my lost luggage from the airlines!

Happy New Year!

Today’s Gratitudes:
1. I am adjusting well to France.
2. The American family lives right up the way and they’re awesome.
3. Kids snuggy.
4. There’s a hot water maker for tea. I had to contain my excitement when I discovered this at dinner last night.
5. The kids aren’t too bad. (knock on wood)
6. This past Christmas/holiday season has been the best I can remember.