Monday, February 11, 2008

A little bit of what I love about being a parent in France...

Although it wasn't the only reason the Duke and I moved to the Languedoc in 2000, the idea of starting our family in France appealed to us, and made the permanent move feel more 'right'.

Now that the little ladies are 5 and 3, I'm able to appreciate the fact that we made the right decision. France is a wonderful place for families. Not a utopia, mind you, but a comfortable place for parents to watch their kids grow, and a place full of interest for the budding curiosities of the small ones.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons why I love being a parent in France:

1. Children are still seen as a priority. They are important people here, right up there with the elderly. I think the ladies visit the retirement home in the village at least once a month with their school classes. This sort of respect is not only healthy and constructive, but socially imperative for community life.

2. Watching my children grow up bilingual must be right up there with the Seven Wonders of the World. I compare how long and hard I've struggled to have a working knowledge of French to the ease of them learning naturally, and I'm amazed on a daily basis how incredible their young minds are. Now we are at the point (already!) where they are correcting me, and even though I have a degree in French, I can see that the money my father spent on my education could never have bought me the accent and subtle knowledge of the language that they have already acquired. Surely this is one of the best gifts I could ever hope to give them.

3. We truly live in a beautiful place. Every time we turn a corner we are faced with another incredible landscape, whether it's the mountains behind us, the vineyards all around us, or the Mediterranean to the south of us. Biking, walking the dogs through the vines, throwing stones in the river, building sandcastles, watching the sun rise as we walk to school, these are some of the ways we appreciate where we live together. I'm pleased every single day with our simple life in our simple village, and I think the ladies are growing up in a wholesome environment. Will the simplicity one day cease to be seen as a plus? I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when and if we ever get there.....

4. When people ask us why we decided to live in France, my first response is always 'For the food!’ Of course the idea of transplanting yourself to a foreign country simply in order to eat well may sound a little crazy, but I place a huge level of importance on my food, which you would know if you ever saw me eat. And I'm happy to report that French schools think food is important too. The canteen menu reads like a page from a Michelin-starred restaurant, with dishes I would never even have thought of feeding my children, like salsify, blanquette de veau, braised cabbage, and turkey with chestnut sauce. Most meals are at least four courses, and all include some form of cheese or another, whether it's brie, blue cheese, goat's cheese or sheep's cheese. Not a Kraft single in sight! Some of the other English mothers I know send their kids to the canteen just so they can be introduced to new foods. There is a confidence here knowing that my kids are being fed well and hopefully in a way that will form a healthy love affair with food that will last their whole lives.

5. As an American, the fact that within a few hours driving time I can be in Spain, Italy or Germany is definitely a bonus of living in France. And the fact that the little ladies have already been to England, Italy, Spain, Corsica, and the Cote d'Azur on holiday reminds me of why I have always felt drawn to living in Europe. On our list of very next must sees are Morocco, Sicily, Sardinia and Madrid. I've always thought that travel is the best education a person can have, and I love the fact that my girls will have so many horizons opened up to them, unlike my fairly sheltered childhood. Who knows, they may well turn against travel later in life and become hometown girls, but at least they will have experienced other people and places and hopefully will have a more open mind when it comes to cultural differences. Lord knows we could all do with a bit more of that today!

6. As much as I feel settled in France now, feeling at home here like nowhere else in the world, there are still things that remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore. Watching my kids run around on a summer's evening at the village fete, dancing under the trees to the sounds of the accordion with their friends, never fails to make me feel a little warm and fuzzy. Taking the oldest little lady to her Seveillana dance class in her traditional Spanish dress and watching her dance to the sounds of the Spanish guitar reminds me again of how important it has always been for me to live in a place surrounded by culture and tradition. I know that it's entirely possible that the girls will know the words to the Marseillaise before they will know the Pledge of Allegiance, or conversely that they would be perfectly within their rights to leave their parents in the 20's and install themselves half way round the world. But what excites me still about living in a foreign country is the fact that these options exist, making the world seem filled with endless possibilities.

Look, I know that any or all of the above experiences can be found in the States or in England, and don't get me wrong, I can be as patriotic as the next American. But what can I say, I love France, I feel happy being a mother in France, and for the time being, all is well in the Dukedom.

Now, if you thought this post was long, I won't scare you off with the list of things I'm not crazy about in France....... And I know it may sound a bit sappy, all of this, but I’m posting this for posterity’s sake. I may need reminding of these things from time to time!


pooja said...

nice article:)
thanks for sharing your thoughts with us..

The Duchess said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Penny said...


I found your blog last night (cant remember how!) and I just wanted to say I agree with so much in your post. There are so many wonderful aspects to raising kids here

Penny :)

BELLA said...

Hi Duchess

Found your blog and think it's fabulous! This post was particularly poignant as have recently moved down here with my boyf and our son and needed a little pep talk. Thank you!!

I'll stay tuned!


The Duchess said...

Thanks Bella! Hope you grow to love it down here as much as we do!