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.