And The Prom Queen Is…

I’ve been 23 for three whole weeks and have yet to talk about what a great birthday it was!

My first birthday present was an official contract for my summer job as an assistante d’education at the same high school where I’ve been working all year. Basically it’s a glorified resident advisor/gopher/receptionist job for the school during the end-of-the-year rush and the summer planning for the following year. Not too exciting, but I get to work with a great team and stay in France for the summer, and that’s what counts for me.

Back to the birthday.

Kids came in to sing poorly-rehearsed, adorable versions of Happy Birthday in English all day, and some of my favorite students presented me with TAGADA fraises (my favorite French candy), a stuffed frog (significant because of my well-known inability to pronounce the word “frog” in French: grenouille), and, most touching of all, a birthday card signed by the whole senior class. I had to suck in a few deep breaths when I first saw all the signatures. I was just totally blown away to see the clear visual representation of all the people who took a moment out of their day to write me a kind word. I love those students.

That evening, the entire school threw a huge dance party for me! Actually, it just happened to be Prom Night. I fell right back to my Student Government roots of blowing up balloons and taking tickets, and I was tickled to see all the seniors in their fancy outfits. The students strutted into the gym, mostly in groups of three or four rather than couples. They took unsmiling (too cool for school) photos with each other, head bobbed to the DJ, and sauntered around outside smoking. I’m sure they all had a fabulous time.

Our super romantic prom photo

Our super romantic prom photo

As the kids loitered the night away, the rest of the assistants presented me with my own bouquet of beautiful flowers and a packet of delicious black tea big enough for me to possibly never finish. We even popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  If there’s one thing that I love the most about working here, it’s that my colleagues never let a possible holiday, birthday, or anniversary go by without toasting it.

Gotta love bright flowers

Gotta love bright flowers

After I announced the prom king and queen (whoever decided it was a good idea to give me a microphone and a captive audience of high schoolers clearly doesn’t know me very well) I decided it was time to take my leave. Claiming “Birthday Girl” status, I left the after-prom cleanup to the others and drifted across campus to my apartment. Snuggly in bed with my new stuffed grenouille, I decided that my 23rd was one of the best birthdays yet.

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There’s No Place Like It

Sometimes, going back home is harder than just staying where you are.

(For that matter, simply going anywhere can be difficult for this homebody. As much as I love traveling, I really hate getting out of bed.)

Besides the physical act of taking three trains and two planes about thirty hours to reach my hometown, visiting family is tough. Not because my mother and I don’t get along or because I have a bum for a dad, but because of the exact opposite. My parents are fantastic, loving, and always there for me. So why do homecomings sort of suck?

In between the cheerful family dinners and reunions with old friends, I go home and I cry. My parents make me cry. It’s not because they do their best to upset me, but because they ask the serious questions and push the buttons that no one else knows exist. An innocent conversation about the future suddenly produces uncontrollable waves of tears and BAM I’m crying in the middle of a Cracker Barrel, blubbering out incoherent fears and the particulars of a mid-life crisis at the ripe old age of 23.

In a WASP-y family where everyone is surprisingly stoic the majority of the time, I gasp out my worst nightmares until I feel cleansed of the emotions that have lain dormant since my last visit home. During those short weeks we have together, I ritualistically lay down all my troubles in front of my mom and dad, and they see the part of me that no one else is allowed to see. The worst. The ugliest. The rudest and most hateful. It’s not fair to any of us, but that’s the way family is. Family doesn’t necessarily bring the worst out in us, but, in the comfort of our own homes, we are convinced to let down our last defenses. The basic social graces that keep us from bursting into emotional flame in public fall away, and we become our simplest, most childlike selves.

Why do we act the cruelest to the people we love the most?

I guess it’s because they’ve known us the longest. If you’re as lucky as I am, your parents have seen you through thousands of diaper changes, puberty, broken hearts, and much more. They’ve seen everything, so we allow them to continue to see it all without fear of judgement or rejection. I won’t comment on whether this is a healthy or kind way to act, but merely state that it seems to be the case for me.

Still, one thing that’s worse than going home is having to leave again.

Finding Family in France

Confession: I’m a choir geek.

I grew up on Solfege and considered sight-reading to be a fun afternoon activity. Most of my high school career was spent with my nose in a music score of one kind or another.

Professional choristers have no qualms about wearing all-black formal attire in any situation.

Professional choristers have no qualms about wearing all-black formal attire in any situation. The vast majority of my wardrobe is still entirely black.

For me, choir is home. I knew I would hate to go a year without music, so I set to work finding an ensemble as soon as possible when I landed in Normandy. More important than practicing the music itself, though, are the connections that are built out of that work. That’s why I’m so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the wonderful community choir I’ve worked with this year. On my first night at rehearsal, one of the ladies volunteered to carpool my car-less fellow assistants and me to rehearsal every week, and Annie has since become a great friend and one of the main reasons for my weight gain. Several members have invited us to the movies, fishing, to family meals. They were sweet enough to organize a little end-of-the-year party for us just before the other two assistants left France. 

These choir members, mostly retirees, have become like extra grandparents for me in a time when I really miss my “real” family. Yes, it’s cheesy, but music truly does seem to bring people together in a way that nothing else can. We spend our not-so-professional rehearsals giggling through difficult German pronunciations and kissing each other on each cheek. We seem to spend just as much time at our concert after-parties as at the concerts themselves. And, boy, can those retirees party! I’m usually the first to conk out at evenings where I’m the youngest attendee by 35 years.

No, it’s not the most talented choir I’ve ever been in, and lord, do we have vowel issues. But spending entire evenings talking about music and memories makes it a blast. I love chatting with my altos and sidling up to the warbling tenors. Sometimes I feel far more at ease with these people of “a certain age” than those of my own generation, and at these rehearsals, I’m allowed to be my hyperactive, happy self.

These wonderfully welcoming people, and the music we’ve made together, have been a highlight of my year.

She’s Back…

I’m not going to give you any dumb excuses. Suffice it to say that life has gone on here in Normandy, and this poor little blog has suffered greatly. All I can say is that I am back and I will be doing my best over the next week or so to catch you up as much as possible!

When I left you in mid-April, I was finishing up my official time as an English Teaching Assistant. Even though my contract expired at the end of April (the beginning of the two-week Spring Break), I decided to stay on in an unofficial capacity until the end of the school year in July. I didn’t want to abandon my students right at the beginning of the exam period! Since then, I’ve given countless exams, eaten delicious meals with my favorite Frenchies, and even gone back to the States to visit family.

So here I am, the last of the assistants. Now working even fewer hours than I was before, my days have been filled with one-on-one tutoring sessions, late night walks, and, honestly, a lot of Netflix. I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the year and get in some solid naps. Now, it’s back to work!