manger ses mots

avoir la tete sur les epaules & Jackie's return

avoir la tête sur les épaules (ah-vwar-lah-tet-soor-layz-ay-pawl)

    : to be sensible, to have a good head on one's shoulders

Audio File:
listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's expression: Download MP3 file or Wave file

Pour faire un si long voyage seule à 15 ans, Jackie doit avoir la tête sur ses épaules. To go on such a long trip alone, at the age of 15, Jackie must have a good head on her shoulders.


    by Kristin Espinasse

Jackie's back! After a 4 week stay with her grandparents in Idaho, we met our daughter at the Marseilles airport. We are so proud of her for travelling solo from Sun Valley to Salt Lake City--then on to Paris and Marseilles. At the age of 15 she navigated the various airports, waited for long stretches for connecting flights, and got through customs--without any assistance at all. Bravo jeune fille! Tu as bien la tête sur les épaules!

Nearing the airport exit, on our way to pick up Jackie, Jean-Marc suggested we search the sky for her plane. After all, how many other avions were arriving at 5:12pm? 

"There she is! There's our girl!" I said, pointing to the sky above the deep blue Mediterranean. Our heads were craned before the windshield as we watched the plane descend like a metaphor. Thanks to this voyage de découverte, Jackie was gaining in Independence and confidence--learning to fly with her own wings or, as the French say, voler de ses propres ailes.

Entering the airport périphérique, I learned our plan was to meet Jackie at the zone de livraison des bagages.

"Baggage claim! Why aren't we meeting our daughter at the gate?!" 

Before Jean-Marc had a chance to answer, I bet this was part of the plan: he was rooting for our daughter to make it all the way through the voyage--from security check in Ketchum, Idaho, to baggage claim in Marseilles, France. 

"Go ahead," he encouraged me. There's still time to meet her at the gate. While Jean-Marc parked the car, I hurried toward the terminal.

Speeding to meet Jackie, I took a wrong turn in Hall 4--the arrival and departure terminal for international flights. By the time I got to "arrivals" (downstairs) the gate was clear. Everyone had already met up with their loved one. 

At baggage claim I ran into our friend Astrid, who was there to pick up her son from a similar trip (his voyage of independence took place in Miami, Florida). There was no time to chat; after a quick bise I sped off to find my daughter--but ran smack into Jean-Marc instead. With a giant ear-to-ear smile he announced our girl was waiting outside on the curb.

Pushing past my husband, I darted towards the tall glass doors--all but smashing in to them. Why weren't they opening? The answer came quickly enough as the doors slid open automatically, revealing the empty sidewalk beyond.

But where was she? Was this some sort of father-daughter prank? I give in! I give in! Bring on the much-anticipated reunion! I scrambled to and fro in frustration until... Was that she?  Beside the parking meter there was a tall figure with a mane of long blond hair. The apparition stopped me in my tracks and got me doubting.  

No, this was a woman. Studying the stranger's body language--upright, yet relaxed--I didn't recognize my girl, who tends to slouch. 

But could it be Jackie? I picked up my pace again--deciding to run around to the side and get a better look before bounding in and swooping her into my arms. I've made the mortifying mistake before, of embracing a complete stranger. With a bit of caution, the embarrassment might be avoided. 

But love throws all caution to the wind. Racing, now, toward the upright woman, whose back was to me, I threw my arms around her. My joy was sprinkled with relief on hearing the sound of her voice.

"Maman! Maman!"

*    *    *

That's my girl. Welcome home!!!


Valerian flower a.k.a. Le lilas d'Espagne (c) Kristin Espinasse

Before picking up our daughter at the airport, I saw this butterfly while watering the garden. As the papillon softly flapped its ailes, I thought of Jackie. This picture is for her. The leopard wings are just her style.

French Vocabulary

bravo jeune fille! = way to go, young lady!

tu as bien la tête sur les épaules! = you've got a good head on your shoulders

un avion = airplane

le voyage de découverte = discovery trip

voler de ses propres ailes = to fly with one's own wings

le périphérique = beltway, ring road

la zone de livraison des bagages = baggage claim

le hall = air terminal 

la bise = kiss

maman = mom 


  Outfits for Misfits (c) Kristin Espinasse

Black, black, or black? What to wear to the concert in Arles? Lately I'm picking my husband's brain for fashion advice. He didn't like the shoes here (the ones on the right are my daughter's), but suggested the black flip-flops my mom had left behind. Good idea! Let's go casual.

Panier du potager (c) Kristin Espinasse
Kale, parsley, zucchini, favas and tomatoes. Next year I'll remember to plant corn and melons and carrots in our potager garden

Smokey and Love Salad (c) Kristin Espinasse
Smokey: I love me some fruit salad. Recipe at the end of this story.

*    *    *

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Jackie Sand

OK, I admit to tears! I'd love to see an updated photo of the young independent Jackie! Glad you're back together again.

Chris Allin

You have touched a mother's heart with this one, Kristin, and have so poignantly described a significant moment in letting our daughters go. I am reminded of such with both my girls and then... as a daughter myself. I will never forget the look on my mother's face as she put me on a plane halfway across the country and over the mighty blue Atlantic. I am still amazed and grateful that she let me go... back to France all alone for two years at age 18.

I'll bet Jules has stories to tell!

I hope Jackie had a wonderful and memorable visit with her grandparents. Glad she is home safely.

And now to get on with the day...after the tears dry.


I'm the third reader with tears in my eyes and memories of my own.

Congrats to Jackie for negotiating all those airport connections. What an adventure and what a confidence builder. Imagine she feels much older than her 15 years.


Like mother, like daughter :)

Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

I could feel your anxiousness and thrill when you were reunited with Jackie. What a wonderful experience for Jackie and for her grandparents. Thanks for again sharing a very special day. Bonne journée!

Bill in St. Paul

I remember how happy we were to have our daughter arrive home from six weeks in China one summer years ago. You can't stop worrying until they're home. (Cute picture of you and Jean-Marc.)


First, yes you two will make SUPER hosts! And second, I kept thinking we'd see the picture of the new mature Jackie ... So when you get a moment, do take one & share with all of us. Bisous, rk

Louis Plauche'

I know the feeling of losing a daughter to maturity very well,and it IS a bit unsettling. Console yourself with the understanding that it is inevitable...and she will still be "yours" for life however womanly she becomes. I still find myself indulging in such self-consolation, and my Michelle is 45 years old. Oblah dee, oblah dah...

Cheryl in STL

Tears from me, too. What a difference in perspective 4 weeks can make! Welcome home, Jackie!

Joy Bryden

Ahh but we were all waiting for the picture of Jackie!!

Gaelle from AZ

I, too, anxiously ran with you through the airport looking. Your story is so wonderfully descriptive of those searches we parents have all experienced. Watching our children turn into adults is bittersweet!

Wondering what Jackie thought of her first visit to the U.S? Idaho is so beautiful, too. Maybe she will come to AZ with you for a visit next time! I happened to drive by the mountain preserve we all hiked at and it made me think of you.

I agree! You both would be lovely hosts! Wish we could be there.

Gail in AZ

Fred Caswell

Beautiful! Touching! The photos are so clear. The food looks scrumptious! There is ample evidence of a "green thumb." Chere Amie, is there anything you can't do well when you put your mind to it? Affectueusement

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for these touching responses. Reading your comments is such a pleasure after struggling through the retelling of an event. Im grateful to know you could picture the scene and relate to those feelings!

Gaelle, I would love to do that hike again with you and other Phoenix readers. Putting it on my bucket list!

P.S. I will see about posting some updated pictures of Jackie :-)

Audrey Wilson

I also remember the feeling of waving goodbye to my 18 year old daughter, going off to Australia on a gap year. A year later she arrived back with an American boyfriend in tow (now her husband of 25 years !)
Since then my two grand daughters have done a working world tour, & previously my son drove from the UK to South Africa , across the Sahara & through Central Africa when only in his 20's
Travel is a wonderful maturer & educator and we parents can only trust we have given our children 'les tetes sur les epaules '
I'm sure Jackie had a wonderful time .
Actually I'm still at it. I'm off to Barbados tomorrow to meet up with all my family (UK & USA based) as an early celebration for my 80th later this year. Never too old is my maxim !!

Leslie NYC

I teared right up, and see that I am in good company. I haven't deconstructed how you did it, but you wrote a very effective, affecting story! I was right with you and the others, rushing blindly through the airport toward my daughter. I don't even have a daughter but I was with you!

MJH DesignArts

So beautiful. Thank you for sharing this wonderful moment with your beautiful fledgling. Our mother's hearts.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Je suis d'accord avec l'idée de Gaelle ( I agree with Gaelle)

You set the time and we’ll arrange another desert hike. Bring “le patron" (the boss) along. We could even have a picnic in one of those nice pavilions.

À bientôt


So sweet I remember my reunion with my mom on my return from a semester in Paris. Our tearful hug is etched in my memory forever. This reminds me of it! On another note, did you know you can plant the root tips of green onions from super market after you eat the green parts? So easy to grow!! Just cut tops off when you need!


Our dear Kristi,
Many times your gifted writing has touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes,but today's post is absolutely a shining star.
Welcome home,sweet Jackie!What joy for you and your family.
THANK YOU for sharing these moments with us!
Love, Natalia XO


Jackie is not only gaining her independence, but her mother is also knowing that one day she will leave the nest. Sort of preparing both of you. But no matter how close or how far away you are your hearts will be as one.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, chère Natalia -- and to Joie and everyone who wrote in with these heartwarming notes! Jackie and I have just returned from the supermarché--where we picked up some of her favorite things to eat. What could feel better than being home... with your favorite comfort foods? It is cozy city here tonight. Wishing everyone a comfy day (or evening). Enjoy.

Bill Facker

Great photo of you and JM, Kristin! Super tale today, I "feel" your anticipation, frustration, and inevitable relief and joy at having Jackie back in your arms and back in your nest. How wonderful she was given the opportunity to spend a month in another country .. kudos to you and JM for being excellent parents! Aloha


Welcome home Jackie! Emma is on her way home tonight...I can't wait until tomorrow morning! I would love to go on that cruise with you. I will have to check out the details. But next week we are going on a different cruise...hello Ibiza, here we come :) Bisous

Julie Farrar

I wish Jules would chime in here with her tale (all in CAPS) of the first reunion when her daughter returned from far away and then her story of watching her fly away again, almost for good. But we must all learn to let our butterflies spread their wings. As for the clothes, I would have found some orange or peach summer sandals to wear. Summer calls out for something frivolous.


So beautifully written that I could feel every emotion, having had a similar experience when my daughter, at 15, went to Japan for 6 weeks...and yes, I too admit to little tears!

Donna Knight

Merci to you and you're family, for sharing. You are creating an ever growing family throughout the world, with your beautiful writing.


A puddle of tears from me. I look forward to hearing about her experiences in Arizona!


Welcome home Jackie, and thank you Kristi for sharing this beautifully written treasure of a story with us.

My 17 DD just returned from a solo visit to NYC (Summer School Program), and is now back in Australia :) What a sight it was to view her walking out from customs!! My heart leapt for joy, and I let out a good old-fashioned American whoop for good measure!

You have provided Jackie with confidence and strong wings- well done. xx


I, too, had tears in my eyes and am relieved to discover I'm not the only softie who is easily brought to tears. Your writing does that to me very often, Kristin!

june furey

Kristi, once again your story re Jacky's return expresses all the feelings we have when we reunite with a member of our family who has travelled far. I thought the photo of the butterfly said it all. Jacky has emerged from her chrysallis. I think its one of the loveliest pictures you have posted
thank you as always, June, G.C.

Ellen from BH

Just beautiful, Kristin. And could it be that you are hugging not only your amazing daughter, but also a tiny bit of the fairy dust of America that you cannot help but miss, in spite of the pleasures and distractions of la belle France? What a sweet combination in each of you.

Kristin Espinasse

What a lovely thought, Ellen, about the fairy dust! How delightful and how thoughtful!

Thank you all for your tender messages, which are much appreciated.

Heather in Arles

As you know, I am not a Mom, mais j'ai deja pris pas mal des avions dans ma vie et franchement felicitations Jackie!! That is a long haul trip and a tiring one. I know and have seen many an adult that falls apart at the stress of it. Of course, I am not in the least surprised by all we have heard about your gorgeous girl here.

How I would love to join you for the cruise! Alas, not this time but I am sure that the evening will be a stunning success.

Edie Schmidt


I remember our son's first solo trip away from home. We missed him but we knew it was a chance for him to become more independent.
I sure this was a great experience for Jackie too. We love that they have a chance to spread their wings even though we really miss them when they are gone.

Edie from Savannah

Esther Leung

I love this story,my daughter is still young (11y) but I would like her to be brave like Jackie and travel the world at such a young age. I tell my kids that the world is a big place and encourage them to go see as much as they can.

Gordon Lyman

Kristin, very nice write up about your reunion.
If Jackie is inclined to share, I'd also be interested to hear something of her experiences and impressions in her mother's native land -- and about returning to France. Did a month seem a long time to her?

GL in Arizona


Good evening Kristin,
I always enjoy what you write, I just don't always feel a short response in myself. They are usually thoughts and extended thoughts of my own memories you trigger. So thank you for bringing some warmth to me.
I just saw a video and I thought about something you wrote a few days ago about planting corn next year. Ever since I was a child I have hated slicing corn off the cob and in the video they placed the corn on the center part of a bundt pan which holds it in place. Who would have thought! Anyway thought you might enjoy hearing that one.
Have a great day and welcome home Jackie!

Kristin Espinasse

Gordon, Ill see if Jackie would be interested in sharing. Good idea. However, she will be here with a couple of friend these next ten days... Wth little motivation to write :-)

Sharon, love the bundt pan tip! Now to see about growing corn. I am still getting over the humiliation of my neighbors remark, when he informed me I had planted chicken and pig fodder and not sweet corn (a few years ago). Apparently there is a difference!


You have brought tears to my eyes, Kristin. Am picturing your emotional reunion. And remembering when my 13-year-old daughter flew off with her school group from California to New York and Washington, D.C. She left as a frightened girl, and came back a confident young woman. I was a mess, but she was all grown up. It did wonders for her independence. Now, at 18, she's a little too independent, I think, haha. Lovely pictures, too. (I think Jackie's shoes are adorable, but probably not as comfortable as flip-flops. At our age, comfort is important!)


Hi Honey,

Your photo is a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly...xoxo



I enjoy reading your blog! I have this fascination over the French language. Reading your blogs regularly can provide ways to help me know more about this language

Mary Keates

What a wonderful story.Thank you for sharing.It brings precious memories of my children traveling solo, and of anxious moments
waiting for their return.
Your children are so lucky to have you and JM as parents.

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