Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Our little french fry passes the BAC!

July 7, 2015. The results from the grueling BAC (Baccalaureat) were finally available this morning at 10am and Caleigh passed! It's quite an achievement as she took 9 written and oral exams over the course of two weeks; some, such as philosophy lasting 3-4 hours each and requiring 10+ written pages. No mulitple choice questions here. And oh yeah, all in French. What this means for her? It means that she's prepared; that she is now formally accepted to the University of Bordeaux, pursuing a general business degree as she figures out what she would like to do over the course of the next few years.

While all of that is highly commendable, how she got there is even more mind-boggling. Let's go back 6 years ago. She was 12 and Hank and I had set this crazy 'pick up and move to France' idea in motion. Prior to the big move, we enrolled in french courses that she detested. You can then imagine how excited she was when I suggested we just speak french at dinnertime to hone our skills (absolutely not) and she just about lost it when I would play my french CD's on the way to school. This was not a move she had any voice in and she was clearly not very happy about leaving her friends and home in Topanga, CA.

Caleigh 2010

Surprisingly, she didn't complain once after we made the actual move. I know that I would have been guilty of some acting out behavior if I were a 13-year-old (oh, wait I did that!), but Caleigh has always been wiser than the average teenage bear. She was thrown into an all french school not knowing more than a few words of of the language. Most of her teachers were on the jaded side of having to teach yet another kid who didn't speak french, so she received no special treatment and was expected to sink or swim.  There was one exception though and fortunately it was in her most difficult subject - French; so she learned quick and thus, didn't sink. Merci Mme. Dagron. To this day, Caleigh says you were her best, not to mention, kindest teacher of all time.

Before we had even moved, Caleigh had been put in touch with some of the students thanks to another incredible woman and friend, Isabelle, so she was able to connect with kids via Facebook. Because of this, when she first arrived, many kids already knew who she was and she was initially welcomed like a little rock star. She was the new kid from Los Angeles, CA and that was a first at her new school. She had instant friends and was happy and Hank and I heaved a hugh sigh of relief, 'see, this was the best thing for her.'

Unfortuanately, that same popularity she enjoyed for the first few months soon morphed into jealously of the most viscous, teenage girl variety and Caleigh found herself not only on the 'outs' with some of her newfound friends, but the target of unrelenting cyber-bullying that lasted for over a year. Hank and I were at such a loss and felt so bad that we had brought her into such an environment (it made the LA-based movie "Mean Girls" look like a Disney comedy) and just wanted to fix it. But every time we suggested sharing the lovely text 'messages' with the school or even the gendarme to get it to stop (yes, they were that bad),  Caleigh begged us to leave it alone.  In fact, she never retaliated. She never sent one nasty message back to the bullies. She just deleted them from her pages and retreated to her room for a long, long time before she could think of trusting anyone ever again.

To add insult to injury, she also seemed to catch every flu and cold bug on the continent. Caleigh was rarely sick when we lived in California so this came as such a shock that our once uber-healthy, athletic and energetic girl had grown quite sickly those first few years. So bad that during her second year, she had a mini seizure and had to be rushed to the hospital where after every test imaginable was done (MRI, brain scans, spinal tap, blood tests), before they released her the following day.

What had we done? One of the main reasons we moved was for Caleigh. We wanted her to have a more global and realistic view of the world that we found could be difficult to achieve while going to school in Pacific Palisades. Don't get us wrong, we loved LA. Loved Topanga even more. But, we just felt that there was something calling us to a simpler life for both ourselves and our daughter. A life less concerned with materialism and definitely, one less prone to spending over an hour in traffic getting anywhere.

With time, Caleigh started to get better. She began building up a few friendships and had her first little romance. Nice kid that we'll never forget. He ended up not being the greatest petit ami (boyfriend) in the world, but Caleigh did manage to learn french fluently, so not a complete loss, oui? All of a sudden, her confidence increased as she could understand and be understood. In fact, as Hank and I continue to struggle with our language skills, we inevitably call on Caleigh to be our personal 'traductrice' (translator).
Students in front of school waiting for BAC results (I
 am hiding in the bushes!)

She then made her way through the maze of choosing the right Lycee which is not as easy as it is in the States. Here, you are expected to have an idea of what you want to be as an adult when you are 14-years-old and the choices you make now will impact the direction you will be able to take in the future. At this point, Caleigh just wants to pass her classes with a decent 'moyen' (average) as I'm sure it's been quite frustrating coming from being an A-student in the States to an 'average' or slightly above average french student. Once you've been accepted to the school of your choice, you then have to pick the type of BAC you wish to pursue and there are more to choose from other the traditional, science, literature and economics. It was about this time that I realized I was way in over my head and had to rely on Caleigh's ability to maneuver through the system in the best way she possibly could.

Just before Caleigh turned 18, with the adolescent acne gone, along with the braces. Her fashion style evolved into a more classic, french chic rather than the, oh, let's just say, not-so-classy look of a tween. She doesn't do drugs and rarely drinks so she's made her parent's life real easy. She's basically grown up to be that dream kid you just pray you're fortunate enough to have. She's compassionate, empathetic  and still wants to save the world (that is, when she isn't sleeping or texting of course). She's just an incredible young woman; beautiful both inside and out.

So, with no graduation ceremonial fanfare available, here's to our incredible daughter, Caleigh. In under five years, she has managed to learn how to speak another language; then graduate high school and pass her Baccalaureat in that new language, not-to-mention, be accepted to the University of Bordeaux.

She is definitely on her way and we could not be more proud.
In her new studio apartment in Bordeaux

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Channeling Ora Ball Carlyle

Woke up again this morning at 3am and before my brain had time to register that it was time for its merciless nocturnal "I'll never get another job ever again" and/or "how in the hell are we ever going to make it" onslaught, I decide to get up and at least throw in a quick load of laundry and turn the dishwasher on while we were still under nonpeak hours.  This is not the exception mind you. This is what I have been doing about 5 nights out of the week ever since my freelance assignments came to a halt last November and our savings has been slowly, but steadily depleted. As for the other two nights of the week? Let's just say that the CĂ´tes de Duras vintages have been known to be mommy's little helper on occassion when I can be at least assured a full night's sleep. 

So, by 3:10am, I'm feeling a little better that I've at least saved 20€ in electricity charges for the day and I crack open my latest kindle book, "These is my Words" (sic) by Nancy Turner, and enter into my latest escapist world of American pioneers in their wagon trains headed west in the 1880's. The hope here is to stave off our monetary woes until my insomnia passes and I am able to fall back to sleep. Reading this book reminds me of a comment that our friend, June made about four years ago when we first purchased Petit Clos. "You're like real pioneers; only in reverse," she had said about our 6-thousand mile move east back to the Old Country.  It kind of stuck as I've often felt like we were breaking new ground with all of the challenges we faced over the past four years. New ground and new language maybe, but many of the same old challenges we had before and most that we share with our non-going-back-to-the-old-world-friends from back home.

Take stress for example. According to the American Psychological Association's "Stress in America" survey recently, it found that 72 percent of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time. Further, "women shoulder much of the burden. Far more than men say they have lain awake at night in the past month due to stress - 51 percent, compared with 32 percent of men." You don't say? as he sleeps ever so peacefully.

Anyway, so right now in the wee hours of the morning, I'm somewhat jealous and imagining that those original pioneers had it so much easier than we do right now, living a much simpler life with fewer worries and definitely no stress over money matters. Well, that was until I got to the parts in the book about the rapes, Indian villages being burned to the ground and Comanches retaliating by burning the wagon trains and scalping the pioneers. Don't even get me started on the amputations administered without drugs and babies being born on the trail (I have always said that I never would have survived my 48-hr back labor if not for Cedars-Sinai). But, hell, how will I ever to get to sleep now?!

Okay, so deep down, I kind of knew about all of that, but what about the families portrayed in one of my favorite childhood shows, "Little House on the Prairie?" Surely, they had a simpler, easier, no stress life? Well, not so, according to Miss Laura Ingalls Wilder whose more accurate and authentic autobiography came out last year, "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography."Apparently, her family was practically running from the law over unpaid bills and mortgages so they obviously had some serious stress over money, not to mention disease and basic healthcare that we thankfully have now. In fact, it wasn't until her popular stories were sold that some of those monetary debts could be paid.

So, as I'm thinking about this all,  I begin to ask myself, what would my Westward-Ho pioneer great-grandma, Ora Ball Carlyle do if she was in my position and awoke at 3 o'clock in the morning worrying? A position that is quite literally uber comfy and warm in my big, beautiful french country house, lying next to my best friend and husband, Hank (who is soundly asleep of course), with our wonderful and thankfully, healthy, college-bound daughter sleeping upstairs, not to mention all the critters cuddling and crowding me out of my side of the bed. Would she let her mind wander and worry about things that were out of her control? I think not. Would she have done the laundry at 3am? Maybe so if she knew how much money she could save. But, I'd like to think that she was the type of woman who would have pulled up her boot straps, probably pulled out her Colt 45 from one of them and then went hunting for some dinner if she couldn't make it to the market. That's it though. She'd then leave her weapon safely at home, out of reach from her children (otherwise, I probably wouldn't be here). Yeah, that's what Ora would do.

So that's what I'm going to do. Hunt for dinner. Just kidding, I'm too city girl for that. But, I'm going to start working on what I do have control over - making sure we have the best Bed & Breakfast ever and that starts with a new and improved bilingual website, making our farm work for us by selling hay and grapes and then start sewing like a maniac making beautiful gifts to sell in the Spring and Summer marches and maybe online as well. And maybe, just maybe, once I stop worrying so much, those freelance gigs will return again. And with them, hopefully sleep. Beautiful, often underrated, REM sleep.