When I was thinking about moving to France, I spent a large proportion of my time worrying whether the kids would settle and be happy. Once I arrived in France, and the kids seemed settled, I spent an equally proportional part of my time worrying whether the kids would be happier back in the UK, and whether school was more fun ‘UK style’. This wasn’t because I had any undue worries about French schooling per se, but that in one of my French classes back in the UK an ex school inspector, and fellow student had planted a seed of doubt in my head that French schools lacked ‘va va voom’ and inspirational teaching after having visited many in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My own second cousin(once removed) did not wax lyrical about her own experience in a ‘collège privée’ in France in the 70’s.
When my 9 year old pipes up that he really doesn’t want to go to school as he clambers out of bed in the morning, and my 13 year old tells me that history was really boring, instead of recognising that it is early morning and my nine year old would far rather be playing on a computer regardless of which country he lives in, and that my thirteen year old has a tendency towards the sciences, I lurch headlong into several long moments of guilt with a supplementary dose of worry. The overriding problem is that maternal instinct drives a parent to want to provide the best for their child and there is very little one can do to fight it.
It would be easy to jump back into our old life; the house remains where we left it; our friends for the most part are still where we left them; all our children have taken the 11+ as a sort of insurance policy thanks to the UK grammar school that was prepared to send the test papers to our collège in France, and we did on-line applications for each of them for entry into UK secondary. So why don’t we jump back to our old life?
Because, as you’ve already spotted, no sooner done than we will worry that we have given up on an opportunity, clipped a growing skill of bilingualism, limited their horizons of multi-culturism and separated them from their friends. And haven’t we already worried about separating them from their friends when we departed from the UK, and didn’t we discover that the very best of their friends stayed in touch.
The simple truth is that we could easily go back, but would our life be quite as rich. Would our children forget how they kiss all their fellow classmates each morning? Would they loose the possibility of buzzing to Lycée on a scooter? Would they start to forget their new language? Would they start to loose the confidence in themselves that came from facing a challenge, succeeding, and realising that anything is possible?
Our local town back home has market, castle, river and canal, but does the market sell Bulots (welks) and Crevettes(prawns) draped in seaweed, and is there a local guy in ratty trousers selling local cider (which could be quite frankly dreadful – but often isn’t)
and is there watercress for sale from on a little rickety table manned by the farmer who grew it locally,
or trays of goats cheese, some so mouldy that one starts to question their edibility, and is there a man selling freshly cooked crèpes?
Are there cafés set out on the pavement with every age group enjoying a coffee outdoors whatever the season, and are there teenagers sitting in groups drinking coffee in preference to beer?
There are bakers of course, but are they independent, selling incredible patisseries and freshly baked bread without preservatives? Are the pharmacies run by husband and wife teams who know the ailments and family histories of their customers, and do the bank clerks of the inner-city banks know their customers by name and greet them as they enter?
My 15 year old daughter came back one day, three weeks into her new lycée with a verbal invitation for a sleep-over party. ‘Will there be boys’ I asked, ‘One or two’ she replied, ‘Will there be alcohol’ I asked ‘and will the parents be there’. I grumbled about never having met the parents, and she muttered something about the fact that none of the other parents were making such a fuss. I insisted I dropped her off, and if I didn’t like the look of the set-up….
When my daughter told me the address I mused that on that particular stretch of road there weren’t many houses. As we parked outside a beautiful mini chateau with a circular drive and sweeping steps up to the front door she pulled out her phone. ‘M’, she said, ‘Do you live in the biggish house with the iron gates?’ I had to admire her ‘sang-froid’.
As I sat down in the café a day or two later with the French mother of one of the other invitées, she related how she had jumped straight on the phone to ‘interrogate’ the host mother. ‘When she told me she was senior in the ‘Direction for the Commissariat d’Education’ I decided she was OK,’ she said.’ And my son sent me a photo of the house from his phone when he arrived’.
It seems that Expats aren’t the only ones to worry after all!