France, Lifestyle, Sabbatical, Travel

Parenting Abroad

This trip has been filled with so many highs and memorable experiences. It has also had its fair share of challenges. We expected them–the challenges–but that doesn’t make them any easier once we encounter them. They sort of sneak up on us, and it turns out that whatever frustration we’re dealing with most likely has a deeper root.

We’re not used to being in a foreign country with children. We love travel, and have been to many countries, even lived in South Africa for nearly six months, but never with children. I’ll never forget how we raced out to get Juliana’s passport less than 3-months after being born. We’re not going to let having a baby keep us from exploring the world! we thought, and we didn’t. The major variable here, though, is family. We’ve been lucky to have family who’s willing to watch her for for a long weekend or even up to 10-days while we were away in China. We know that most people don’t have that luxury, and we admire those who strap their little ones on their backs at much earlier ages to continue living and exploring.

Nevertheless, we’re here now, experiencing travel with TWO children as opposed to just one. In a way, it may have been a bit foolish for us to not test the waters with one kid before jumping in for several months away with two of them. Just four days prior to leaving, our pediatrician told me at Alexander’s well-checkup that I should write a book about our experience because we’re taking the children at a difficult time developmentally. He didn’t mean that we’re putting them through anything negative; in fact, he kept talking about how exciting it is and to enjoy it. Rather, that they are going through a lot of developmental changes at this age, and it’ll be more difficult on us. He’s right. Going through the normal developmental growing pains, such as sibling arguments, is sometimes magnified by the strain of being removed from our normal routine.

What’s made experience especially memorable is the pleasure of seeing it all through our children’s eyes. They have such a curiosity, imagination, and excitement for the small things. Two large planes travel on final approach over Carcassonne on a daily basis. We’ve made a game out of it because while we’re in the apartment, we can only hear and see the shadow of the plane. So when we’re out, and can actually see the plane, it’s an exciting moment. “Look mommy, a plane!” Only yesterday I caught myself dancing around and sharing the same amount of excitement for seeing that plane in the square. We must have looked like we’ve lived under a rock.

The kids are incredibly adaptable. We explained to Juliana before we left that home is where mommy and daddy are. However, I don’t think we needed to explain this concept. Though we’re in unfamiliar places, they’re perfectly content as long as they’re with us. What an honor and responsibility for us as parents. I’ve had a delightful time running errands and going out-and-about with Juliana. Having that one-on-one time with her opens my eyes to her thoughts and thrills. A few days ago, we were walking home hand-in-hand and she was singing Jingle Bells. I don’t know why she decided to sing that song in the thick of springtime, but I didn’t stop her. I also wrestled with whether I should quiet her down as to not disrupt anyone we pass. I decided against it and let her sing her tunes. She was so joyous, I figured if anyone had a problem with it then they had deeper-rooted problems that had nothing to do with us. Her small, sweet voice echoed through the street and she quickly paused to say “I love being on the trip with you”. Well, if that didn’t just melt my heart into a big puddle. As I quickly ensured her that I loved traveling with her as well, I couldn’t help but wonder that if I quieted her down, we may have never shared that little experience.

Though we were warned in advance, another difficult part of traveling with kids has been adjusting to the way people in other countries have a tendency to be more outspoken with their opinions. Just the other day, I was with Juliana in the square. She was playing around the big fountain and jumping from one step to the bottom while singing. I’m fairly certain she was pretending to be Felicie from the movie Leap! She’s fascinated that we’re in the same country where the film takes place. A very, very old man scooted up to us with his walker doing most of the walking while speaking French and pointing at her. “No parlez-vous Francais” I said apologetically. “Jumping like that is not good for her legs!” he quickly muttered in a thick accent. “Okay, merci.” I responded sternly while turning away. I told myself to not think another moment about it, and let her enjoy being the ballerina that she’s pretending to be.

Another occasion happened during lunch at my birthday getaway. I won’t go into detail, but there was a very rude man who made multiple assumptions and voiced his opinions on those assumptions. It shook me a bit. Believe it or not, those were the first times I felt truly judged by others, and I didn’t like it. I mean, who would? I’m someone who tends to over-think things, so this yielded a good amount of external processing. Brian pulled me out of my shell and helped me realize that we don’t know what those men have gone through to make them as bitter as they are. Even when people aren’t bitter, but just feel it necessary to share their opinions, I shouldn’t take it personally. Yeesh. It’s easier said than done, as I’m sure most of you parents would agree. I had an epiphany that in the U.S. I would care for and discipline my children the way I strongly believed to be best for them, and not worry so much what others thought. After those comments. instead of worrying about how to properly tend to my children, I grew more worried about what everyone around me could be thinking during a tantrum. The fact that people literally came up to me and told me I was doing it wrong robbed me a bit of that confidence. No worries, I will not let two hiccups interfere with being the best mom that I can at that moment. Clearly this living abroad thing is turning out to be a serious learning experience for all of us.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful most people have been. We continuously get glances of sincere warmth toward us and our children. At the wineries, everyone was incredibly accommodating of our children. On the streets, people move out of our way on the narrow sidewalks so that we don’t have to walk on the street. Store clerks smile at them, and sometimes give them small treats! I’ve been quite pleased being here with our children, and while it’s hard work, it’s incredibly rewarding. That’s usually the case though, isn’t it? Wasn’t it Teddy Roosevelt who said “nothing in the world is worth having or doing if it doesn’t require effort”? I guess that’s why we’re here.

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