November 9, 2011
Three weeks of rainy weather in Agde stormed a legion of wind and water from the heavens. Its temper descended with a fury that filled the river to overflowing. What was once the clear, calm, fishing waters of the Herault, transformed into a torrent of cinnamon toned mud, flowing with an anxiety to fill the empty spaces.
Autumn’s colours were held hostage by shadows of grey, its fiery tones muted in oppressed reds and gloomy golds. Murky water pushed past the rocking boats, bullying its way onto the sidewalks and into our rain-drenched spirits. We watch dejected, as branches of trees and earth swept toward the sea with melancholic velocity.
The sun went on a vacation, and didn’t send a postcard. Yet we waited for its return, peering through our cloudy point of view, pining to see it bounce across the horizon with a shiny souvenir. Meanwhile, homesickness captured us, disorienting our sense of home.
Elisa Bernick describes homesickness in her book The Family Sabbatical Handbook as a tangible, inexplicable tension, irritability, and grumpiness. She warns families that around the second or third month it would strike. It struck our family while we withdrew indoors, away from the rainy, overcast weather.
All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a foreign land, realizing that we were the foreigners.
Perhaps it was the combination of cabin fever and lack of sun which triggered it for us. We missed our family and friends back home, and the familiar comforts we took for granted. The kids were unusually feisty with one another, reckless (little boys indoors with slingshots don’t mix), and selectively deaf from our pleas to “stop that” or “clean/pick that up”.
Short tempers rose.
Irritability struck the last nerve.
We were snarky and whiny and yell-y. The older kids would smirk when we’d reprimand, while the younger ones screamed and cried like we were abusing them when banished to their room or a special toy taken away. Shamefully, there were even times when we couldn’t help but swear, shocking the kids and ourselves with our loss of control.
The shock of our irritable behaviour slapped Brian and I in the face. One night, while the kids were in bed, we spoke in whispered tones about what was happening to our family. We realized that homesickness snuck up on us, and played us all like a set of fighting marionettes.
Brian and I poured our hearts out to each other. We shared our burdens, our fears (Did we do the right thing moving to France for the year?), and our shame (Are we awful parents?). We cried. We prayed. We asked God to help us be better parents – grow in patience, understanding, gentleness, and wisdom. We made a new resolve, now that we discovered what was happening to us, to take the time and be more present with our children.
The next day we spoke to the kids. We asked for their forgiveness for being cranky, yell-y, bossy parents. We shared that when they fought with each other or argued with us when we asked them to do something (um, like wear their raincoats because it was raining – “Please don’t argue with me, just do what I say! I’m not asking you to cut off your arm, I’m asking you to wear your rain coat so that you could stay dry while you bike to school in the rain!!!”), it drove us CRAZY, and that all we needed from them was their cooperation, their trust, and their respect. We hugged each other and promised to do better.
That night, after reading books out loud to each other, we gathered in one room and prayed as a family. As we lifted our intentions up, the ragged threads of our family tensions transformed, knitting us closer in a warm blanket of love. We wrapped ourselves in God’s peace and comfort.
Sunny days are here again!
November 28th, 2011
A month after the rainy weather began, the sun decided to return. Its brilliant smile brought out the vitality in our hearts. We put away our somber raincoats and boots, leaving the shadows of irritability and loneliness behind as we walked vibrant in the sun. The Herault river is clearer now, and looks magical with its glassy peacefulness in the morning.
The sun returned, embracing us like old friends. We’ve enjoyed its warmth and company of blue skies for almost a week now. We’re amazed at its charisma on our emotions. We’re hopeful, and happy, and sing-songy. We’re still praying every night together. We’re thankful for the unconditional love in our family.
It’s still magical for us to be living in Southern France. 🙂
A Little List
I wrote up a list a few weeks back on the things we missed and didn’t miss about our life back home.
Things we miss
- Family: My big Filipino Family. Holding the littles. Celebrating birthdays and holidays with them.
- Old Friends: Enjoying a meal with our good friends. Sushi nights with girlfriends, restaurant haunts with old high school friends.
- I miss knowing exactly where to go to find our favourite foods and affordable shops.
- Hearing English spoken everywhere.
- Understanding and being understood completely without miming words.
- Coffee dates at Tim Hortons or Starbucks with friends and family.
- Costumes and Trick or Treating for Halloween
- Our van
- Movie nights and games nights with loved ones
- Our Marriage Encounter Community
- Our furniture and home decorations (family photos on the walls), especially our Christmas decorations.
- My large capacity washer and dryer (during the time we had the lice attack).
- Our local library filled with great English books.
- Our automatic grinding coffee maker.
- The Running Room and my fellow runners
Things we don’t miss
- The compulsion to shop recreationally to fill an emotional need.
- Edmonton Traffic
- Canadian winters
- Shovelling 2-3 feet of snow
- The need to dress up in a thick jacket, mitts, toque, scarf to get the mail
- Icy roads
- The feeling of always having too much on our plates with dizzying commitments of extracurricular activities for the kids.
- Having children ask for things they don’t need because they see their friends have them.
- Continually getting sick with the flu. We’re feeling healthier now (perhaps it is from being more active and eating healthier).
- Cravings for fast foods like McDonald’s, Burger King.
- Mountain of laundry: Laundry at our house here is very manageable! I enjoy hanging the clothes to dry, and I love the smell of clean laundry in the air.
- Having too much stuff we had to store and maintain.
- A house too big that we got lost in it. I certainly do NOT miss tidying and cleaning our house.
- School 5 days a week.
- Short lunch breaks and less holidays. We prefer the French noon breaks and longer vacation time.
Written by Jenn