For year 2, I decided to write a bit about Owen.
I think one of the things that has surprised us most about this experience was the amount of courage it would require from each of us, but especially our kids.
Owen is generally a pretty reserved, quiet kid who likes to take in a situation and really be sure about things before he puts himself out there. But something about moving to France has really sparked confidence in him. From the beginning, he has liked to run errands to the bakery, ask for help in the store, etc. and since the beginning, the language “barrier” hasn’t really been a barrier for him. Of the 3 of them, he has been the one least intimidated to speak.
I’ll never forget the day, a morning a few days after we arrived here in France and we were all still recovering from jetlag. It was so hot and we were tired and had no wi-fi so there wasn’t much to do besides watch French TV. The boys had seen a commercial about a cereal called Tresor which was like these little chocolate filled things and they were curious to try them. Owen came in the kitchen and asked for money to go next door to the grocery store behind our apartment for some milk and Tresor. I called out to Charlie to get dressed and go along with him, but Owen stopped me. “I want to go by myself”, he said, “I can do this”. I hesitated. Was he sure? What if he can’t find the milk? What if the grocery store clerk asks him something? Was it safe? As the middle child, he doesn’t get many opportunities to do things alone or first and it WAS right around the building. The store had just opened, so I figured no one would even be in there. I gave him a 5 Euro bill, certain that this was enough, especially after noticing the day before in the store how cheap milk was! In my head I knew that I could always send Charlie after him if he didn’t return quickly. 45 minutes later and after several inner battles to go look for him along with Charlie convincing me he was ok, O returned with a huge box of cereal, an even bigger smile, and 3 cents. He was SO proud of himself. And I think, even more relieved that he had had enough money! The exact amount, in fact, down to 3 cents. phew!
That was just the first of lots of examples where O has really been more confident to enter unknown situations.
Last year, he chose to play basketball at ASM, the local sports complex here in Clermont. The first several practices were so intimidating to him. The first day, walking into a strange gym filled with 25-30 other boys his age, none of which were speaking English; the practice began with all the boys lining up and the coach would walk along, yelling out the rules, checking their shoes to make sure they were tied, etc. and they jumped right into drills and then scrimmages.
Other than his knowledge of the game, he had no clue what was going on. After an hour, he walked over to me and told me that he wanted to leave; that he’d changed his mind, it was too hard to play basketball in France. Luckily, one of the assistant coaches spoke some English, came over and asked Owen to give it a month. He promised to translate for him the first month, but Owen would need to commit to trying his best and not giving up for that first month, if after that he still didn’t want to come, then so be it. But he assured him that things would seem much easier after a month. So Owen agreed. Slowly, I stopped coming at first into the gym for his practices, and then to the practices at all. Here in France, it is not encouraged for parents to stay to watch the kids at practice, it is seen as a distraction and can impede independence. So slowly, I stopped coming into the gym, and then to the gym at all. I would take him there on the tram, walk him in and then get back on the tram and ride the 20 minutes home; Chuck would pick him up at 8:00pm. These were long days for him- getting home from school at 5:00 and then straight to basketball; he was exhausted!
It ended up being a great year for him, as his French improved, so did his confidence on the court and by the end of the year, he was the leading scorer for his team. He was chosen to represent his team at a regional shooting competition, and he ended up placing 3rd in his age group!
This second year, he decided to try something different. As someone who loves to jump off things and land on the floor, climb, wrestle, tackle, etc, he had been inspired by a parcours demonstration at a nearby park and wanted to learn how to do flips.
We found different options- street dancing, breakdancing…. we needed something where he could run, jump and flip.
I asked around and found a gymnastics class for boys at ASM, so he and Wells signed up and have spent Wednesday afternoons at the gym this year. I asked the coaches if there were opportunities for Owen to come more than once a week. Unfortunately, at this time, they only offer class 1x a week for the boys and though he has learned so much, but would have loved an opportunity to go more often.
He has craved more physical activity this year, but not having to go back and forth to ASM on the tram in the evenings has meant earlier dinner times for our family, more homework time, less stress and more sleep for O, who definitely needs lots of it! So it was a good decision. He was approached a few weeks ago about coming on Monday nights to practice with the girls’ team, but at this point, we haven’t been able to convince him that someone has to be the first guy, that maybe this would open up opportunities to have a boys team, etc. so we will have to see. It has definitely been a great experience for him and he has definitely made progress with flips!
Whatever he chooses for next year, it must involve lots of running and energy burning. His heart is with American football, but there aren’t any opportunities to play here in Clermont. We will plan to ski a lot too on the weekends if we have more snow!
As much as he misses football and baseball, it’s been so fun to be exposed to other sports that are so big over here in France. Last summer, France’s mens soccer team won the World Cup and there’s no doubt that being in our city square and watching the final moments on a big screen along with thousands of others was one of the most exciting moments!
It has really been incredible to watch him thrive in school. Last year, starting in a new school, new language, new everything was challenging for him. The first week of school he barely ate and the first few months were just tough.
Being in his full French class (not his French learning or English class) was his least favorite and as he spent the most time there on Mondays, it was Monday mornings that he dreaded more than anything. In fact, the dread would start Sunday night.
But it has been the friendships he has made that have gotten him through those tough first 12 months. He had met Sawyer the first few days we moved here, another Michelin ex-pat from Greenville and in Sawyer, Owen found another sports-crazy, video-game loving, pizza-obsessed kid who understood him and all the things he missed from Greenville.
They had a great year together, but last summer, it was time for Sawyer to move back to Greenville.
On day 1 of school, the Lord dropped another cute kiddo into Owen’s life named Robin. As luck would have it, Robin had just moved back to France from a 6 year ex-pat move to Greenville. Though he is French, his English is absolutely perfect and he and Owen were fast friends from day 1. But, because his English was perfect, it was easier for them to communicate in English and it was a natural thing for him to translate for Owen and speak English together. In the same English and French class, they were together all the time.
As his first year went on, he was working hard and doing well in his FLE (French as a foreign language) class, but his French teacher was hoping to see him take more risks in class, to talk more, ask more questions instead of asking Robin (who was always so kind to translate for him… much easier! )
And, even cuter- they look very similar!
He and a shy little boy from Japan named Masato were in the same FLE class learning French together and though Masato didn’t speak much French and no English during the first several months, Owen decided to learn some Japanese so that he could write notes to Masato. With the help of google translate and Duolingo, he learned some simple words, and wrote an entire Christmas card in Japanese to his new friend. They started exchanging candy from their own countries with each other. Their friendship has been the sweetest thing ever. As they’ve both learned more French, they can now communicate fluently and Owen has been lucky enough to really get to know him. Masato has the cutest personality ever!
This second year, Owen and Robin were placed in the same class together again, but from day 1, there has been a group of 6 of them that have literally been inseparable. Wojtek is from Poland, Martin and Augustin are French. Besides Robin, none of the other boys speak English, so it is French that is the only common language they share. This has been incredible for Owen’s french and has been the difference between last year and this year, where he is now basically fluent!
Since the boys have 2 hours for lunch each day, the moms started inviting all 6 of them every so often to one of our homes for lunch. It has been so cool for Owen to get to try new things like goulash and rice balls! And we had so much fun typing in “garlic bread” and “graham crackers” into google translate for a few of the boys when they were at our house for lunch. They’d never had either one!
This pic is from the last day of school and it sums his year up perfectly. Sadly 2 friends had already left for vacation…
Each year in French primary school starting in 3rd grade, the kids take a trip for 3-6 days to a different region in France in order to incorporate different things they’ve learned throughout the year. Last year, it seemed a big step for O to get on a bus and drive 5 hours down to the Mediterranean for sailing camp. He had a good time, but they’d visited an Oyster farm one day where they were forced to sample oysters and the next day, several kids fell ill including Owen’s roommate, so it was a bit traumatic. I’m talking about eating Oysters 🙂
After that, O told me at the beginning of this year that he was not going to go on the school trip this year. But as the year went on, the idea of taking a 3 day boat trip down the Midi Canal to learn about all the locks and visit different villages with his 5 best buddies and other classmates seemed more and more fun.
He had the best time. They took a bus down to Bezier where their class boarded a barge housed with a classrooms, cafeteria and rooms and sailed up the river for 3 days to Capestang where we picked him up.
His favorite part was Le Tunnel du Malpas, a 165 m long tunnel on the canal that was secretly built in less than 8 days in the 17th century.
And on the topic of friends, one of the highlights of our 2nd year for big O was going home to Greenville and getting to spend time with his friends one afternoon while we were there. After a year and a half, they’d all grown, but picked up right where they left off!
This 2nd year was definitely better all around school-wise for O.
Being in CM2/5th grade, there’s something about being the oldest grade in a school and not the new kid anymore that has also really made a difference. The playground is a cement courtyard where kids are running everywhere, playing, kicking/throwing balls and each other. At lunch, all the teachers leave and they have monitors that come to “stand in”, but it’s absolute chaos always. It’s almost like anarchy. A friend described it as similar to the prison yard in “Shawshank Redemption”. French kids are rough, and especially to new kids. Last year, both Owen and Wells got knocked around a lot. But this year, things changed. Whereas we’ve always taught our kids to not respond to violence with violence, choose kindness, don’t retaliate, etc etc; it is the French playground experience that has changed the way we parent the boys through these types of scenarios. The bullying here is out of control with what feels little to no awareness or visible efforts to combat it. It became important to us that they feel empowered to defend themselves, at all costs. And that yes, that might even mean a call home or a visit to the principal’s office. Luckily this never happened! But, we’ve reassured them that if someone lays a hand on them, they do not need to be afraid that they will be punished for fighting back. Just that reassurance alone has changed everything. Owen takes his role as big brother seriously and has had to stand up for Wells many times.
These 2 have lots of time together. They share a room and go to school together, gymnastics together. It can be a bit much sometimes, but lately Wells has gotten more into wrestling and for O, this is a dream. He has waited for the time when he can roughhouse with a brother for sport.
This year, we had to say goodbye to his beloved monkey that he has slept next to every night since birth, except for the few nights it had been gone while being stolen from us the first October we were here. It was absolutely incredible that he made his way back to us that time, but this time, when he was left in a hotel room, we were not as lucky. He was never found, and it was sad for all of us, but especially for O.
He does not care much for the French food itself, but he has definitely learned to branch out during the time we’ve lived here. Eating at canteen at school a few days a week for lunch has given him a chance to try some new things- veal, fish, different kinds of sausage, omelettes, a million kinds of cheese… and though he isn’t a big meat/seafood eater, he has grown to love burgers. But, still, he could live off pasta. And over here in Europe, pasta is everywhere. I’m pretty sure if I asked him, though, he’d still pick Kraft Mac&Cheese from the blue box over it all. And nothing makes him happier than when we get a box of cheez-its in the mail.
I’m still pretty sure he’d pick American fast food over French fast food…
O’s favorite thing is just being with his people.
And beating us at every board game. Every time. Every winter, it is HE who finds the fève (the treasure) in every single king cake we eat.
As someone who is happiest sticking close to home, our homebody has really embraced all the traveling we’ve gotten to do here in Europe. Especially if it involves ice cream or dessert 🙂
more pics of dessert
He’s by far the most introspective of the boys and is definitely a deep thinker. All the time we spend in the car gives him lots of time to think… 🙂
We have loved watching O grow into his own person. He is the sweetest, most loving guy who is always willing to put others first, to give up the last cookie, to drop everything to help a friend in need. There’s not many days that go by on our walk home where he isn’t ask me how my day went, what did I do? How was my French lesson?
He has always been my biggest cheerleader. There are days where its easier for me in a store or restaurant to just deal with the wrong item or the wrong order and not speak up, not ask questions, because I’m too tired to find the words or not sure of myself. O is always there to encourage me, to help me find the courage to ask, go find help, or do things or in situations where the roles traditionally would be reversed. It’s been good for the kids to see all of us, even their parents on the same level playing field when it comes to living life in a foreign country. They see us stumble, trip, fall (figuratively and literally! (on a ski slope!?) many times and come out the other side.
We know that the boys have been so fortunate to live here, to learn what they are learning, see what they are seeing, taste what they are tasting, hear what they are hearing and to feel all of it. In the grind, it doesn’t always feel like something worth saying thank you for. But O says thank you every time. For every meal, every trip, every new experience. And for that, we are thankful.