23rd October 2017
In the last fortnight of the school term, the virus we are incubating grows claws and teeth, so much that I feel like any minute it will leap out of my stomach like Ripleys alien. (Dramatic? Moi?) As soon as one child stops vomiting, another seems to start. Asthma attacks, ear infections and fevers make their appearance, and a hacking, spluttering cough is the constant bass note of infections that migrate from sinus to throat to chest. Mornings are rough - there is usually at least one whimpering child in the bed (apart from Keith) and we are often up in the night. Also, we are sleeping in a something of a medieval cellar, which is perhaps not helping our respiratory health. In fact, what we probably have is the Galloping Consumption. (France! You glamorous bitch mistress!) By the end of the school term those four flights of stairs unwind above me like some kind of unending, evil Mobius strip.
Every day we do the school run four times, and each time I must interact with school parents in French, which (although I love it, and the parents are lovely) is exhausting. I desperately want to hole up and not struggle through every supermarket run, but it’s not possible.
The days are full, and after dinner each night we must pick our way through homework and school notes in French. (Google Translate is less helpful than one might think - last week it told me that the P and C is ‘an association of volunteer parents who organize abductions for children’ and that ‘ Clovis I sucked his father as king of the Salian Franks in 481’. And forget about translating medicine boxes. I know the French are into suppositories but Child Nurofen should never have to be administered into ‘3 or 4 outlets of the infant’. )
As our energy wanes, our social life picks up, which drains the tanks more. We have school friends over for lunch, friends from Australia visiting, new friends inviting children for play dates. These things are wonderful, and so good for the heart, but the timing of it all seems epically, biblically bad.‘Come in!’ I feel like saying at the door. ‘Welcome to our maison of shame. We’ve been culturing some delicous bacteria for you. Can I offer you a cheeky upper-respiratory chest infection? Or a tasty strain of gastroenteritis, for the adventurous amongst you? Please, eat the food. Use the toilet! We are delighted to have you. Also, consider us Ambassadors of Australia.’
Of course, the children are exhausted. I am so impressed at how well they have handled this tough first term, but it’s been hard and their stress has leaked out in different ways. Small George has taken to pretending she is a dog called Belle who only speaks dog language. I guess it’s her way of processing the bizarre language world she’s been thrown into; but it is very tiring for me. ‘Mum! When I say ‘ah roo roo’ that means ‘I want some apple’, OK?’ Yes, I say. But then she says ‘Mum! When I say ‘roo roo rah roo’ that means ‘I won Australia’s Cleverest Dogs for walking everywhere on my knees’. OK, I say. Then George cries because walking on her knees on the hard stone kitchen floor is painful (this is why dogs don’t generally do it, I suspect) and she feels sick, and is generally fragile. Poor little thing. She is only six.
All their clothes are falling apart. The cobblestones have wrecked their shoes and every t-shirt has holes. I cannot understand where all the socks have gone until one glorious day when I find a pile in the corner of the eleven-year-olds attic bedroom. I feel like Indiana Jones stumbling upon the Arc of The Covenant. All those dirty socks glow like treasure! Choirs of angels, etc! Finally, a domestic win!
As for me, I have snapped arms off both my pairs of reading glasses, and the grey in my hair is staging a coup over my whole head but I can’t yet brave speaking French to a hairdresser. I’ve wanted so much to write but these last few weeks, I’ve been too busy expectorating sputum, running the spew-wash, fattening up my buttocks with pastry like a prize cow and juggling my emotional little children.
Keith’s been amazing. He is up at six every morning Skyping for work, and often works late into the night. In the day he takes breaks for the school runs, spends a long time at lunchtime helping the kids rally for the afternoon, and settles in after dinner every evening with one child to help them make their way through their difficult homework while I try and pick my way through another.
Everything, everything is new and hard, and I feel very far away from home, especially when Mum calls to tell me that my Aunt Jane has died unexpectedly. Jane was a true hippie child of the 60’s counterculture, who moved to an intentional community in Australia in the early 70’s, and never left. She always had a rollie in hand, a fantastic sideline in snarky asides at family gatherings, and a full-throated, husky, glorious laugh that I will always remember. The news is so sad. It lands in me as the virus takes hold and I spend a day in bed with a bucket beside me; back aching, sapped of juice entirely. Keith takes over every school run and my big girl makes pasta for dinner. It’s restorative, that day in bed, but there can only be the one. This school term hasn’t finished with us yet.
But we make it. Finally, la vacance! And not a moment too soon. Time to relax, to restore, to enjoy lots of ‘grasse matinee’ (sleep-ins), to ‘flaneur’ about (wander with no purpose in mind), and to window shop: ‘leche vitrine’, my favourite Frenchism, literally, to lick the windows. Almost possible in my little town of delectable patisseries (sadly, these are already impacting on the #frenchbuns situation). Card games after dinnner are back on the agenda, and we have road trips on our mind. We need to relax-ay-voo, and then I am itching to get things shipshape so that Term 2 doesn’t kick my arse as roundly as Term 1.
Despite all my complaining in these pages, we are really happy. There is no point where we question or regret our decision. Granted, if I had known about our Ebola virus in advance, I would have packed Hazmat gear, but even with the vomit and the never-ending staircase and the trying to talk dog language, it is amazing. I can only think that life will get better and better as I acclimatise to the culture, get my systems organised, and - impossible to imagine - start improving my French so that I can conduct a conversation at a level above Village Idiot. I adore this little town we are living in and I feel a passion for my shopping trolley on wheels that is close to unseemly. I could do with kicking this Galloping Consumption, but I would not want to be anywhere else.
ps - If you are an email subscriber, I’m so sorry if you got multiple copies of a recent post. I was tinkering with it off-line and on, not realising that each time I republished, an alert got sent to subscribers! Sorry for the spam. Have learnt my lesson nowx