Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I Learned In London, Part 2

Today marks three weeks since we arrived in Paris for one year. Shhh, don't tell anyone in Paris that piece of data, we want people to want to invest in getting to know us. If they know we are leaving in one year, why would they bother? Oh yea, cuz we really are that cool. (I take the liberty of applying self-affirmations to my whole family as you can see). Anyhoo, the past three weeks have felt like a long vacation, and London just felt like a vacation from our vacation. During the 2+ hour train ride back to Paris (when I tried to not think about being submerged under the English Channel the same way I try to zen-out when on Bart in the TransBay Tube) I caught up on the news of the day by reading a discarded London newspaper. I read about  British teen students who had just received their test scores that help determine their placement at University this coming year. There are too many eligible candidates and too few available spaces at Universities across the U.K. So student advisors, more so than ever before, are recommending a "gap year" where former students gain life and work experience prior to attending University. (This is not a very attractive solution presently since unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. I'm thankful that I am not a recent graduate facing this dilemma.) It occurred to me then that my family is taking our own "gap year". I found myself feeling comforted by this notion. Here's why. For the past year, I have privately questioned the wisdom and logic of plucking our kids out of their very nice life in the U.S. that includes being surrounded by loving family, close friends, great neighbors, a supportive school, a nice house, and an appealing city. It's one thing to want to shake things up as an adult for your own personal reasons, or to move away because your job is being transferred or because you want to be geographically closer to the grandparents. These reasons seem logical to me. But to impose an elective shake-up of this magnitude on our kids when the simple, honest answer to their repeated question of, "Tell us again why we are moving to Paris?" is, "Because we can," seems indulgent to me.  When I put our upcoming indulgent year in the context of a "gap year", my own privately repeated question of, "Why are we moving ourselves to Paris?" is easily answered. I actually started fantasizing about having Raelyn and Nola not register for school at all and simply let life abroad continue to be their teacher. Already in our first three weeks , they have been exposed to new concepts, ideas, and ways of being. Some are more drastic than others. Here are some examples: Living without a car and walking everywhere or taking public transportation. Mustering the courage to utter a few polite words in another language that they have yet to learn and master. Exposure to the metric system. Reading maps. Shopping almost daily for food because our refrigerator isn't large enough to hold but a few meals worth of food. Trying new foods. Realizing that Sundays are meant to be a day of rest and exploration because we can't shop since stores are closed (so retro!). Performing daily mathematic conversions in their heads to figure out how much something really costs because when you're spending your U.S. dollars here, it's pays to shop smart. Remembering to scrape the plates clean over the garbage can because there is no luxury of a garbage disposal. Telling time, military-style. Living with fewer things within less space. Sharing a bedroom. Sleeping on square instead of rectangular pillows. Walking vigilantly down the street so as not to step in dog poop. And there is lots of dog poop (which is increasing by the day as Parisians are flocking back to the city from their vacances). Of all these life experience gems, so far, my favorite is this: Raelyn and Nola were playing on the play structure at the park across the street from our apartment building. A girl about Raelyn's age approached her and said something in French. To which Raelyn replied beautifully, "Je suis désolé. Je parle seulement un petit français." To which the girl responded with a smile, "English?" Raelyn grinned and nodded and they played happily for quite some time after that. That's all the proof I need to know that our gap year is off to a very rewarding start.

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