One of the things that had me in the most panic last fall as we were planning our move was where the girls would go to school. I spent weeks researching schools and reaching out to friends of friends for recommendations. In the end, we decided that an English-speaking international school would be best, as dropping the kids midway through the year into a French-speaking school for only 6 months seemed pretty cruel. We applied to several, spent some anxious days and weeks waiting, and in the end had both girls accepted (one off the waitlist) to the English-speaking campus of EIB (Ecole Internationale Bilingue). Now as we come to the end of our school year, I don’t think we could have made a better choice.
The girls were both welcomed into their classrooms, as it is not a rare occurrence for kids to come and go during the school year. While Piper had some trouble fitting in at first, she ended the year with tons of friends, boys and girls alike. Ruby hit the ground running, making friends quickly and winning “Student of the Month” in her first month at school. And unlike at home, where I feel like parents were pushed out of the classroom in kindergarten and barely invited back, here I was welcomed into the girls’ classes as well. Once a week, for each class, I’ve headed out to the school to spend a hour reading with the kids (or, actually, having the kids read to me). For many of the children, English is not their native language, so the teachers consider it extra helpful to have a native English speaker come spend 1:1 time with them reading. And I have loved getting to know Piper's and Ruby’s classmates. They come from many different countries, and are smart and curious about the world around them (and especially the United States)! Piper’s three best friends are from Japan, Ghana, and Russia, while Ruby’s two best friends are from Malaysia and South Africa.
One of the biggest challenges in moving to a foreign country is having to rebuild all those life pathways you have created over years and years. How long have you used your favorite brand of toothpaste, or mascara, or cereal? How do you know where to buy your clothes or kids’ shoes or birthday party decorations? Moving to another country is to disrupt those worn pathways almost entirely, to give yourself a reset for all those routines you fall into without really questioning why.
While at first I was overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of almost everything here, I have also come to appreciate the shake-up. I was listening to a podcast I enjoy, Dear Sugar, in which they were talking about how major life changes like a birth or a death or a big move can be a chance to “swirl the waters” of your life, and in that, make you reexamine the choices you make every day and find out what does and doesn’t work for you anymore. I’ve found that I have been happy to disrupt some routines I had fallen into back at home. For example, rather than having the kids in 4 different extra-curricular activities each after school and on weekends, here it’s been school and that’s it. We have had more time to explore what’s around us and spend family time together on the weekends. Back at home, it’s hard to resist the pressure to over-commit your child, especially when you hear how Susie down the street is doing music, art, science, and language lessons after school not to mention ballet and basketball. But that leads to exhausting days and weekends filled with commitments—I feel much more confident now about limiting our activities to just our very favorites, and with that, taking back some weekend time to relax and take advantage of the wonders of our own awesome city, Washington, D.C.
Just 7 weeks left in Paris, and suddenly I feel like the days are being ripped off a day-of-the-year calendar in fast motion like in the movies. There is still so much I want to see and do (and eat!) before we leave, while at the same time, lunches need to be packed, and laundry needs to be done, someone just yelled “but it’s not FAAAAAIIR! she got…” for the bazillionth time, there’s no food in the fridge, it’s time for the homework battle, and dinner must be made. It’s a weird combination of vacation and regular old daily life we’re living here, and it’s clear that without making an extreme effort to do so, we could just ride out the days and find ourselves at the end of July wondering how we possibly could have missed going to the Musée d’Orsay. I dread returning home and having some well-meaning friend who checked off every major sight in Paris in a week-long vacation say, “Oh, didn’t you just love the insert-obvious-Paris-sight-here,” while I say, “Um, actually, we never made it there. Nope, not in 7 months. But did you know I managed to get my hair cut (twice!) and had a dryer installed?”
Anyway, it’s obvious a list must be made, and who am I but champion list-maker! (Pro tip: never start a list with something you haven’t actually done yet. It is much more satisfying and encouraging to start by checking off something immediately—see how much progress you’ve made already!) So here goes:
1. Go to the French Open
2. Musée d’Orsay, without kids
3. Rodin museum and lunch, with kids
5. Go to the Sunday organic market at Boulevard Raspail
6. Relaxation and massage at one of the Paris hammams (traditional North Africa/Turkish steam bath)
At home, back in the States, entertaining is one of my great pleasures in life. I can spend hours planning menus and weekend time prepping dishes (or parts of dishes) to freeze before the event. I create detailed timelines so I can keep track of when each step for each dish needs to be completed, sometimes backing up a few days in advance of the party. And while you might consider this to be
completely insane a little extreme, I can assure you, I love it.
But somewhere between the small kitchen, lack of cooking equipment, and easy availability of such wonderful food around here, that urge to throw parties with complex menus has somehow been replaced by a much more simple style of entertaining. Instead of choosing dishes with long exotic ingredient lists, why not just try to showcase the best of what’s here? Now, when I lie awake at night, going over menu possibilities in my head, more often than not, it is filled with the things I can buy nearby: how about some slices of smoked salmon from Autour du Saumon and proscuitto from the Italian shop in Rue Cler? and cheeses from Fromagerie Laurent Dubois? Should I serve dessert from Aux Merveilleux de Fred? Crostini with olive tapenade from Provence or the artichoke truffle paste I picked up in Italy? And of course whatever is in season at the farmer’s market.
As a result, I’ve been drawn to recipes that don’t call for specialized equipment or spices and just let the basic ingredients shine. (It helps that my pantry is extremely limited here since I am trying my best to only buy things I know I will use up before we leave—spices like cumin, cinnamon, and pimente d'espelette and a few different types of vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing.) It’s actually a way of cooking that is somewhat inspiring—far fewer jars of things in the fridge and cabinets that I’ve used once and then kept around “just in case.” So, appetizers with friends might look something like this: