The Drive to Percy-
We drove in on the A84 from Paris excited to see our new home. Still jet-lagged but full of anticipation, we drove from the “City of Lights” to the quaint country side. I noticed right away the lovely, lush and green agricultural area. As I glanced around, I thought that my father would love this because he always wanted a farm and would love this stunning farmland. As we drove into Percy-en-Normandie, we made our way, with the GPS google maps, to our new home. The meandering road brought us to a lovely stone farmhouse, sectioned in three; each section had it’s own door and character overflowing. We had arrived! Kale and Madison eagerly jumped out of the SUV and ran down a cobblestone path. We were greeted by the warm and welcoming Powell Family and Gites owners, Deborah, David, Amelia and Victoria. They knew we were still jet-lagged, even though it was only a 3-hour drive from Paris, and gave us the keys to our end Gite (guesthouse). It struck me that even though it was January, there were flower window boxes full of flowers in bloom. This was so different from the feet of snow we left behind in Maine. It was much warmer here in Normandy. We opened the door of the Amelia Gite, named after the Powell’s eldest daughter, to a lovely house with a wood burning stove roaring away in the corner and flickering candles creating a beautiful and comforting ambiance, it was so nice and toasty warm. Our new landlords and friends made us feel very welcome in Percy!
The next day we unpacked. The second half of the day, or the apre-midi, was organized by the Powell’s to help us acclimate to our new surroundings. In the evening, they brought us to a larger town near Percy, Villedieu, where there was a small movie theater that usually ran movies in French but as luck such have it (and planning by the Powell’s) we watch Paddington Bear in V.O. (voice original). As we walked out of the theater, with the beautiful architecture as our backdrop, it occurred to me once again (because I had lived in Luxembourg before), that I loved the detail of the buildings in Europe, the stone and brick lit up with lights and the night sky. You can just feel the history in each glance.
The First Day of School in a Foreign Land!
The kids, even though they had been educated in a French School in Maine, were understandably nervous. The night before, I don’t think they had a wink of sleep and truth be told, I did not sleep very well either. They woke up early, they had set their cell phone alarm clocks on and clothes aside the night before; they dressed quickly that morning. We cooked breakfast but I don’t recall them eating very much because of “new school jitters”. I remember their little faces were somber with no traces of a smiles. I remember I tried to make them feel upbeat, however I felt a twinge of sadness, when I looked at them and how nervous they were. “What have we done uprooting these children?” I tried to remind myself that this would be such a growth period for them and they were gaining a unique experience.
We dropped Kale off first. We waited in the dark of morning because it was a rainy gloomy day. We had to meet the Director of the College (College is like our Middle School). The Director came out and shook our hands, showed us around and spoke only French. I nodded as he spoke but I only caught half of what he was saying. The building looked very modern, it had student areas with Fussball tables and speakers to listen to music, lockers (which was new for Kale). It was also new to change classrooms for courses. We were shown a Technology classroom with lots of computers, a Music Amphitheater, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, French, English, Spanish, German, History classrooms, Gymnasium, a huge outside sports complex and a lunchroom (where the students scanned their fingerprints and the bill would be sent to the parents at the end of the semester. Tres Tres Cool!). We met the Chef and she told us about the 3 course meals they would be served. I made the joke that maybe I would stop by for lunch but I don’t think they understood or liked my American humor. Everyone in school was very hospitable. We were told that there was a website, with passwords, so that we could email the Director of the school or teachers, we could see what Kale had for homework and what events were going on in the school. Also we were told that parents had to wait outside and could not enter the building, this was new for us. Essentially, when the doors locked, I got the sense that the students were considered school property and when they left the building, they were again ours. This school / ship was going to be run tight. We said “good bye’ or “au revoir” to Kale.
Next was Madison’s drop off. Madison’s eye were Big and Wide! I could tell she was nervous. The Elementary School she would attend was up the street from Kale. She was greeted by the Director of the school too. We were lead to her classroom, they collected all paperwork, mentioned that she also would have 3 course meals cooked by a Chef. Madison would be staying in one room with Madame DeFoy, except when she had Gym, Music (learning the Trumpet) and swimming class and field trips (i.e. Mont Saint-Michel, Caen, Avranches, Saint-Lo trips, museums, horseback riding). The little girls, in Madison’s class were very warm and welcoming. To Madison’s bewilderment they gave her two sweet kisses, or “La Bise” or as I call it, “Bisou Bisou” (Kiss Kiss). At first, this custom made Madison a bit uncomfortable. She would not give the “bisou bisou”. She said to me, “I am a Maine Girl Mama, we don’t kiss”. I do think that Madison has realized now its a greeting to friends. Occasionally, she partakes in this tradition. A bit of advice that Madison has given me about the French culture is — ” You don’t wave hello Mama, you just nod, that’s very French, or say Bonjour Madame, Monsieur, as you walk by quickly.”
…When we picked up Kale and Madison from school, they were both smiling. What a huge relief! They had made some new friends and to all children, that’s the most important thing, to feel accepted and apart of the gang!
My new favorite routine, we have started a new tradition after school, where we stop at the local Patisserie, for a delicious treat on the walk home. It is on that walk that Bill and I can hear about the children’s day.
à bientôt! Until next time! Bisou Bisou!
by: Tara Magaw