We got back from France on June 17.  We was myself, my eight year old son and my three year old daughter.  Dad stayed home to tend to the economic fires.  My sister and her family live in Perth, Australia so I thought it would be a great idea to meet them in Marseille, France where her husband’s family resides.  And it was great.  Great for culture, history, family and the stunning beauty of France.  And it was also hard spending three straight weeks with your kids, everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.  I woke up on day 16 to the delightful laughter and screaming of children beckoning me to feed them, feed them, feed them and to find the IPad and Princess Elsa and were we eating chocolate croissants because they love chocolate croissants.  This was into minute two of day sixteen and I lost my mind.  Somewhere in Canada my husband was sleeping deeply, spreading his carefree body across my side of the bed and drinking in the solitude through every pore of his body.  I was burning brioche in the oven and embellishing my exhausted rage with the reckless use of “Fuck.”  My sister, her husband, my nephew and my kids made a hasty retreat to the other room while I embraced the madness of burnt breakfast and unmade coffee.  It was an epic parent fail.

Let’s step back in time.  I am a lover of the unknown.  I have wholeheartedly jumped into adventures to Guatemala, Ecuador, Egypt, Belize and Mexico with nary a concern for research about political unrest, tourist kidnappings or terrorist threats.  I like to arrive wide eyed and blundering so as to catch the locals with their worried stares or offer up predatory hopes to the the knic knack vendors and con men.   After I returned from Guatemala during a university led trip (this was shortly after the end of the civil war but guerrilla groups were still kidnapping tourists), I finally phoned up my parents to tell them where I had been.  It was an afterthought because I was independent and I had paid for the trip myself.   That Christmas, my father, a man not prone to much emotional sharing, gave me a book titled, “World’s  Most Dangerous Places” with Guatemala lovingly earmarked.

Several years have passed since I’ve been on a trip that has surprised my senses or tested my character.   I’ve managed to keep our family away from resorts or Disney cruises but Hawaii or California hardly test one’s mettle.  Don’t get me wrong, a resort would be really relaxing but once you’ve crossed the line into watered down cocktails and Kid’s Club babysitting you’ve entered into easy and easy is scary.  Easy is processed food dinners with high carbohydrate and sugar content, credit cards and binge watching on Netflix.  Easy doesn’t feed the soul,  it builds debt that will eventually need to be repaid.  It doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to suffer through life – I’ve avoided crack and prostitution and still feel surprisingly whole.   I’m just saying France with two children in tow was hard and hard is good.   I found a well of patience hidden in my depths especially after the 9th hour on the plane when my three year old still hadn’t slept and was careening off into irrational fits of squawking and contortions of unrest in her seat.  She fell asleep on landing.

The two best surprises from our trip to France:  my daughter stopping to gaze intently at the same Picasso painting that had captured my attention.  Unlike most of the Picasso artwork at the exhibition which was layered with curvatures and obliques of color, this large painting was centered on a person of singular blue.  It was striking and surreal and shockingly beautiful.  The second best surprise was my eight year old son, sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, striking up a lengthy conversation with two young bearded men from Oman.  I nodded to the men so they knew I was his mother but gave my son space to engage freely with his row companions.  He showed them how to play the onboard video games and they answered his polite questions about their country and themselves.  After landing back in Canada, my son told me they were geologists on their way to the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) conference in Calgary.   He had told them I was a geologist and I had traveled to Egypt for work and spoke a little Arabic.  The eight year old boy who arrived back in Canada was not the same boy who left for France.  In fact, none of us were.



The Universe Is Telling Me Something

My family does not belong to a church, cult or club.  We are not atheists and we are not nihilists.  We may be agnostic but we’re not willing to commit to the definition.  We definitely believe in fate and we believe in the Universe.   If coincidence coincides with either of the former two, then we believe in coincidence.  Oh yeah, were animists too.

Why does this matter?  Because, life is hard.  We have to make choices and sometimes the choices paralyze us with their infinite amount of outcomes.  Your belief system  gives you the zeros and ones for your decision making circuitry.  Which brings me to Mr. Bean.   Mr. Bean, the character conceived and played by British actor Rowan Atkinson is contemporary Charlie Chaplin, his foibles acted out in pantomime.  Recently, Mr. Bean helped tip the balance in a decision I needed to make.

Here’s the backstory:  I was laid off in November.  My husband is at a start up oil & gas company and is working for free until they get financing.  There is no guarantee they will get financing.  We are living off my severance.   For a smart, sensible person, spending money on fancy trips, new cars or new clothes would seem a foolhardy scheme.  My husband and I are very sensible people and I am the spendthrift in our family.  BUT, my sister and her husband and son are going to France in June.  They live in Perth, Australia and my sister is finishing her articles in 6 weeks.  My brother-in-law is a native of Marseille and he will be visiting his family and taking his son, the history buff, to various WWII historical sites.  He used to be a tour guide; he loves organizing and touring around and he and his Marseille family would be very excited for us to visit.  I made a trip when I was 19 and my then future brother-in-law and his family were amazing hosts.  I have also not seen my sister or my nephew for more than two years.  I would be using our savings to go to France with my 8 year old and 3 year old (she turns 3 in May).  Going to France is insane right?  Except, the Universe started whispering in my ear.

It started with a documentary about the Barkley Marathon.  It is considered one of the world’s most difficult marathons and is based in Wartburg,Tennessee.  Only 16 people have finished since its inception in 1986.  The year of filming, 3 people finished.  What was particularly astonishing was the final finisher, Jared Campbell, stumbled to the finish with only 18 minutes to spare before the qualifying 60 hours ended.  It was a mind boggling  accomplishment for a him, revealing in interview clips he had embarked on a dramatic life change several years ago brought about by the simultaneous death of his father and a ten year relationship.  He had been raised to make safe choices and wait until after the house, career and kids before taking those long planned for adventures. But, the premature death of his own father one year before retirement crystallized his understanding of the folly of waiting.  Life isn’t just too short, it’s not guaranteed.

The following day, I was chatting with the Moms in front of the school. Spring break was starting in a couple of days and we were all sharing our plans.  Everyone has been affected in some way by the recession.  We all agreed we were staying home for the break but also considering if we should plan any trips for the year or if the expenditure was a bad idea.  One mother piped up, ” You can’t wait on these things.  I just had a friend die of brain cancer.  She was my age with children.  I have another friend with brain cancer.   She might not live another year.”  Damn.   The Universe was starting to talk louder now.

I was starting to look for flights at this point and my husband caught on with my sudden desire to brush up on French vocabulary. “J’aime le vin et fromage.”  Thank you Translator App.  My sensible husband was annoyed and slightly hostile to the idea but we’ve been together  12 years now so he also knew by the look in my eyes that it was probably going to happen. This is how it works:  I let him try to talk me out of something, essentially using him to help me make decisions while considering all the cons and eliminating emotional bias.  We go through this for several days and if I waffle or give in, then I wasn’t really that set on the idea or I realize it was a bad idea after all.  If I dig in my heels, then my husband knows it is important and and we proceed at that point.  It helps I’m pragmatic and frugal and rarely make frivolous decisions.  I did buy an antique armoire once on impulse that took up a third of the bedroom floor space and wasn’t deep enough to hold any hangers rendering it essentially useless.  I eventually sold it at a loss of $400.  It terms of life time fails, that armoire still ranks #1.

Eventually, the Universe brought in Mr. Bean.  The last night of school is family movie night.  Picking a PG movie that the kids and adults will both like is a feat in of itself.  I hate Disney (actually, I don’t hate Disney, I just can’t handle the emotionally draining moments of death – someone always dies) and I can tolerate Pixar but really, the kids wind up watching a lot of documentaries.  My son has knowledge of extremely esoteric subject matter.  Last night, only 2 minutes into our search on Netflix, there was an Aha! and Mr. Bean’s Holiday was chosen.  I had never watched it before, didn’t even bother reading the premise but I knew Mr. Bean wouldn’t swear or shoot anyone.   And guess what?  Mr. Bean wins a holiday….to the south of France.  There is landscape porn throughout the whole movie and two times my toddler yelled out, “I want to go there!”  Okay, Universe.  I get it.

So, the travel agent is starting to look for flights.  My husband said it was okay (but he will have to work -and live like a bachelor for three weeks).  If all goes well, we leave May 28th.  And if coincidence has anything to do with it, I’ll see Rowan Atkinson running by in a Marseille marathon, right where he should be.