When an expat's expat parent comes to live with daughter in France: After 25 years in Mexico, Mom is moving in!

Window and shutter in Mexico
Au revoir Mexique. Our Mom is about to begin a new chapter in France!

On ne s'ennuie jamais

    : never a dull moment

Click here to listen to on ne s'ennuie jamais

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
A blow to her wings, not to her spirit! 
by Kristi Espinasse

My mom has been an expat in Mexico for 25 years (the same amount of time I've been in France). Now, following a recent coup dans l'aile, or blow to her wings, Jules will be moving into our nest and we are going to take things au jour le jour (just as the birds do!)

Petit à petit l'oiseau (re)fait son nid.
Jean-Marc and I will be researching the administrative side of when an expat's expat parent comes to live with American daughter and French son-in-law in France. (Kicking myself for not applying for French nationality after all these years. It would come in handy about now!). Meantime there are some non-administrative pépins, like where to put Mom...now that our two kidults have moved back in for the summer. As the French say: On ne s'ennuie jamais.

I'll be back with you later for an update. D'ici là, meantime, please send Jules and my sister, Heidi, (who just arrived in Puerto Vallarta) bon courage. They'll need it. They have two days to turn the page on a colorful chapter in Mom's life. On to the next! 

Jules in st-cyr-sur mer at la madrague
We may need a second bagnole now. How about this Méhari? Perfect for a sunset drive here in La Ciotat...

FRENCH VOCABULARY
un coup dans l'aile = a blow to the wings
au jour le jour = day by day
Petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid = little by little the bird makes its nest
le pépin = glitch, hitch, snag
on ne s'ennuie jamais = life's never boring
d'ici là = meantime
bon courage = good luck
la bagnole = car 
la maman = mom, mother, mama...comme Mama Jules ♥ 

Heidi Kristi Mom Jules wedding day
Surrounded by my sister, Heidi, and our Mom, Jules at my 1994 Wedding in Marseilles.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


vélo

Mom_velo
My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.

vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
     1. bike, bicycle

[from vélocipède]

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo

Column
(The following story was written in September 2007)

My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.

I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.

"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!

                                    *     *     *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."

The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.

"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!

My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"

Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)

"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.

Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"

Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.

"We have a different model in silver..." he said.

                                           *    *     *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.

***
Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.

IMG_1521

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench

     Read more stories about my mom here.
 A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.

   
     Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS

IMG_1514

Terms & Expressions:
  vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
  vélodrome = cycle-racing track
  vélomoteur = moped
  faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Shopping:
Aromatic lavender honey
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
In music: Putumayo Presents: Paris

IMG_1515

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


baba cool

Mom's cosmos
My mom, Jules (her hands pictured here) was busy harvesting cosmos seeds up until her departure. She's gone home now, but the seeds are drying on my kitchen table--and they make me smile each time I walk past them.

baba cool (baba-kool) noun, masculine/feminine

    : hippy, flower child


The plural of baba cool is "babas cool".

    Il est baba- cool, respecte son gourou, et rejette la violence.
    He's a flower child, respects his guru, and rejects violence.


--from "Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions"


Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word baba cool and read the example sentence (above):  Download baba_cool.wav


A_day_in_a_french_life
My mom will be waking up any time now, having traveled 24 hours en voiture,* en avion* and à pied* to arrive home in Mexico.

Having kissed her goodbye at 3:30 a.m., Thursday morning (Jean-Marc took her to the airport in Marseilles for her 6 a.m. flight), I spent the twilight hours moping around the kitchen... until I received a surprise several hours later! In Amsterdam, during her first flight connection, Mom had sweet-talked a "darling" traveler with a laptop into letting her leave a message* for me on my blog.

Thankful for the unexpected sign that she sent me, I thought about the surprise that mom was hoping for. Mom had one wish (on arriving home): that the one she loves would be waiting for her, flowers in hand. I listened to Jules's wish, which she repeated over and over on the days leading up to her departure, and hoped that she might be happily surprised.

So as to get her husband off the hook (just in case he forgot to show up at the arrival gate, fleurs en main*), and, as a way to welcome Jules home--and to put a great smile on her face--I thought we might all take off our reader hats today... and put on our baba cool* headbands.

That's right: let's be flower children just for a day, and just for Jules.... I'd love for Mom to wake up this morning with a beautiful bouquet on her desk... when she logs on to her computer... and visits her daughter's webpage. 

Here's how I thought we might compose that flower arrangement--and it won't even cost us a penny!:

 1. Choose one French* flower to put into the virtual basket (we'll use the comments box for our fancy flower "vase").

2. Include the city that you are "sending" it from.

If you do not know the French name for your flower, no problem, just write the flower name in the comments box, along with the city you are "sending" it from, and allow me or another reader to translate it for you.

*by "French"... I mean the French equivalent of the flower. For example: un coquelicot (or poppy) for Jules from Maine... or "un oeillet jaune (a yellow carnation) from Beijing"....

Note: the flower does not have to be native to the area that you live in: you can send an entire Hawaiian orchid leis (virtual, bien sûr!) from Tempe, Arizona, if you like!

Have fun and be creative (invent your own flower, if you so fancy), and thank you for your help (or should I simply say "Peace and Love" to you?!).

Signed,
Ze Flower Chick en France.

~~~~~~~~~~~~References~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
en voiture
= by car; en avion = by airplane; à pied = on foot; message (see Mom's message): http://coucou.notlong.com ; fleurs en main = flowers in hand; baba cool = hippy, flower child


When you order through Amazon, via the following links, you help to support this French word journal -- soon in it's 7th year of publication!... and always free. Please note that the book lists (see left and right columns) are renewed "thrice-weekly", along with the posts.

Country French Florals & Interiors

St.Brigid Anemone Windflowers 15 Bulbs - Double Flowers (because Jules tells me "plant bulbs, plant bulbs!" and enjoy them this Spring!)

Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle -- a must for French pistou!

Printed in French, Cuisine Et Vins De France features dozens of recipes in each issue along with articles on wine, cheese, appetizers, table decorations, and more. 
 
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language



Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


beau-fils

Jules-poncho2

***Book Fair near Bonnieux***
Please come and see me and my mom, Jules (pictured). We'll be in Roussillon (Luberon) this Sunday: she, in her colorful poncho, a just-swiped flower in her fedora... and I'll be the one who needs to loosen up a bit.

Michel Thomas Speak French For Beginners: 10-CD Beginner's Program

beau-fils (boh-feece) noun, masculine
   
    : son-in-law

synonym: "gendre" (more synonyms, a great soundfile... and a dictionary of terms, after the story column)

A_day_in_a_french_life
It is 7:48 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and my mom and my husband are dancing the tango. Mom's silver hair is swept back; she's laughing though she hasn't yet put her teeth in.

Tango "I'm sixty-two! I'm sixty two!" she sings as she looks into Jean-Marc's eyes.

"You know why I married your daughter, don't you?" he asks, with that melts-your-heart French accent.

"Because when she is sixty-two... she will be as beautiful as you!"

* * *
PS: I forgot to add that yesterday was Mom's birthday. We'll be celebrating all week.

Jules-tango
"Family" dictionary:
la belle-famille = in-laws
le beau-fils (son-in-law, stepson) = gendre
la belle-fille (daughter-in-law, stepdaughter) = bru
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
le beau-frère (brother-in-law) = beauf
la belle-mère (mother-in-law, stepmother) = marâtre
le beau-père (father-in-law, stepfather) = parâtre
les beaux-parents = step-parents
 
Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the lexicon, above: Download beau-fils.wav . Download beau-fils.mp3




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Shopping~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SmartFrench Audio CDs: astep by step approach for understanding French
Wooden ABC blocks: Versatile and timeless - ABC blocks from French company, Vilac
Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle -- a must for French pistou!
 .
"LA BELLE FAMILLE"...
This is a great time to discuss all those "beautiful" members of the French "belle-famille". Why do the French call their in-laws "beau" and "belle" and isn't it a lovely idea, as well?

...Belle-mère, belle-fille, beau-père, beau-fils, beau-frère, beaux-parents...

A mother-in-law is a "belle-mère"... and so is a stepmother. Do you have other examples of how these words are borrowed for other family members? Does Cinderella call her evil stepsisters "belles-soeurs" ("beautiful sisters")?

Finally, if one can refer to her beau-frère as "beauf"... just what can she call her "belle-soeur"? 

Your thoughts, anecdotes, questions, and answers are welcome here:

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


coin du feu

Coin_du_feu
When a coin du feu feels good!

le coin du feu (kwan dew fuuh) noun, masculine
    : fireside

Mais il existe un havre où l'on peut toujours savourer une relation authentique: le coin du feu chez un ami auprès duquel on peut se défaire de ses petites vanités et trouver chaleur et compréhension.

But there is another realm where we can always find something true, the fireside of a friend, where we shed our little conceits and find warmth and understanding.

              --Kressmann Taylor, author of Address Unknown
.

Column
by Kristin Espinasse

The words "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" meant little to the pint-size Phoenician who once sang them. More than thirty years later, and Jack Frost still isn't hanging outside my window. (Though it is snowing in parts of Provence...)

One thing roasting "fireside" in my childhood home was cheddar cheese, this, over a flour tortilla (and this, beneath the oven's grill). As for snug fireside seating, my mom got creative: she pulled a few chairs across the cramped linoleum floor, flush with the oven's open door (on which we set our
feet -- all four!).

(Wait a minute... isn't this account of "My Mother Stuck Our Feet into the Trailer Oven!" the stuff of a gritty memoir? Move over Frank McCourt. Step aside Mary Karr! On second thought and before I get caught--like that guy who wrote about alcohol, drugs, rehabilitation and whatnot--I'll have you know the oven's "fire" was low, and that's as far as my gripping tell-all goes!)

Back to my story, which takes place early morning in the desert, near Christmas time....

...Feet resting on the oven door, box of black licorice between us (or orangettes,* depending), my mom fueled her fire for fiction, and I, warm and toasty beside her, watched literature light up her face...

                                        *     *     *

Should mom make it back to France (quelle chance!* quelle chance!), she'll now have a fireplace on which her feet might dance. And I might roast chestnuts beside her, listening, as she spoke, of rearing us girls while damn near broke.

                                     /---/

A chestnut recipe for you -- with instructions in French & English! Click here:
http://french-word-a-day.typepad.com/recipe/2007/11/cream-of-chestn.html

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
orangette (chocolate) candied orange peels; quelle chance! = what  luck!

    Book references: "Angela's Ashes: A Memoir" by Frank McCourt
    "The Liars' Club: A Memoir" by Mary Karr
    James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces"
.
:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word & quote:
Coin du feu. Mais il existe un havre où l'on peut toujours savourer une relation authentique: le coin du feu chez un ami auprès duquel on peut se défaire de ses petites vanités et trouver chaleur et compréhension.
Download coin_du_feu.mp3
Download coin_du_feu.wav
.
Gifts and shopping:

The Complete Pepin: Techniques and Recipes (DVD)
In music: Paris' Most Beautiful Songs
Made in Provence: Savon et Cie Bath Salts: in calm/soothing lavender
French Alphabet Blocks -- complete with letters, numbers and animal pictures
.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


piquer

Piquer
My mom (in hat) swishing, scrubbing, and "swiping" a moment with strangers along a country road.

(October 5th 2007) Just a story for you today, on the eve of my mother's departure. Today's word, and the theme of the following chronique,* is "piquer" (pronounced "pee-kay"). While the verb means many things, it mostly means "to sting" (like what happens to the eyes, just before they water, upon a loved one's leaving). "Piquer" can also mean "to steal". Read on...
.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

The French word "piquer" means "to swipe." It is my mom's favorite verb in French or English--not that she's a klepto--though you might call her a "clipper"...

In the town of Orange, Mom and I are studying plant life. Those municipal planters that lead up to La Place Aux Herbes are thriving and throwing out their green abundance from the suspended pots which line the neatly kept ruelle below.

"I always keep a little pair of scissors in my pocket..." Mom explains, regretting that she forgot her shears this time. She approaches a sumptuous planter and picks up an arm of ivy. When the green leaves feel like rare emeralds in her hands, I begin to have that uneasy feeling that Mom is close to committing another of her clippety-clip crimes. I look both ways, the awkward accomplice, while my mother reaches up and snaps off what she calls a "start".

"Mom! There is a policeman just around the corner!"
"Oh, pffft! To him, I am just an old eccentric woman out picking flowers. It's not like he is going to throw me in prison."

I take a good look at my mother, who I decide is indeed eccentric, though not old. From her silver crown to the soles of those stolen shoes she is the living, breathing definition of original--never mind where those soles originated from... She has swiped my son's tennis shoes, my husband's sweatpants and my very own T-shirt, which she wears as one of many layers under a tan windbreaker (I am not sure where she got the jacket, only that it is not her own). None of the items belong to her, least of all the conspicuous green branch hanging out of her (or whoever's...) coat pocket!

I decide to not worry about Mom. After all, she soon will be boarding a flight to Mexico, returning home, safe from the French flics. Meanwhile, all those parched plants out on my front porch have disappeared... in their place I now see a sumptuous emerald garden. As I look outside to those once neglected pots-now-come-to-life, I feel sick with sadness at my mother's imminent departure. Until she goes, I will steal, swipe and pocket as many moments as I can with my favorite thread and flowerbed thief.

***

French Vocabulary

la chronique = column, story

la ruelle = alleyway, lane

le flic = cop, policeman

Mom's favorite book... and wouldn't you know the hero's name is piquer ("Peekay"). Run, don't walk, and buy yourself a copy here.

French Before You Know It Deluxe--quickly learn to understand and speak French

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


camionnette

Camionnette
Crashing into the marguerites. Oh, the dangers of driving in Ceriana, Italy (where we saw the little camionnette).

la camionnette (ka-me-oh-net) noun, feminine

  pick-up truck; small van, minivan

La camionnette démarre avec fracas et la jeune fille ferme derrière elle la lourde porte, relique de temps moins sûrs. The truck starts up with a roar and the young girl closes behind her the heavy door, a relic from uncertain times. —from "La Nouvelle revue des deux mondes"
.

Column
I was wondering about what to get my son for his birthday when Jules called from Mexico to offer her two centavos worth:

"Get him a car!" she rooted.
"A car? He is turning twelve, Mom."
"It's not too late! Your uncle Rusty and I didn't start driving until we were twelve...or was it eleven? Hmmm. I had an old Ford pick-up!..." my mom reminisced.
"Mom! Max can't drive!"

The conversation was surreal until I remembered that my mom's clock does not tick to world time. She doesn't even have a watch. And lest day and night become nagging reminders of Father Time's regulatory nature she'll sleep with the sun and dance with the moon just to shake things up. She's a rebel that way and wouldn't want her grandson to be driven by society's clock--which brings us back to driving...

Come to think of it, my sister Heidi and I, pint-sized Thelma and Louises at the age of thirteen and nine, used to careen across the dusty desert floor, in Grandpa's Jeep, tumbleweeds spinning in our wake. With Heidi at the wheel, we killed time (something Mom might've approved of)—this after a breakfast of burritos and beer, coffee being bad for a kid. My grandfather made the turkey burritos and shared the Budweiser. We only had a few sips of it—though Grandpa's poodle, "Poo-Poo," got a generous splash in her bowl each morning. The beer cans were then strung by the tab along my grandmother's clothesline. BB guns poised, we'd spend the afternoon shooting at the cans from the deck where my grandparents' singlewide trailer was set in cement. The year was 1977. We were in Bouse, Arizona.

I am a long way from the desert now and just a tumbleweed's trot from the French Drôme* as I clutch the phone, feeling iffy about my mom's suggestion.

"Well, tell Jean-Marc about my idea, Honey, and see what he thinks," Mom says, trying to sell me on the idea. "So much safer than a motorcycle!" she argues. "Braise* could ride in the back and Jackie or mom or dad next to Max. Max would learn all about mechanics...I would suggest finding a garage where Max could meet a mechanic and learn how to keep his truck running."

By the time I hang up the phone I am spinning with anxiety. Then, I recall our neighbor's "garage." Monsieur Delhome has at least four tractors in that massive steel hangar,* the walls of which are covered with tools. One entire wall is a veritable tools-n-parts museum. He could probably build a camionnette* with all that metal....

Bingo! Max can build his own car! (And, I reckon, by the time he's figured out how to assemble the monster he'll be old enough to drive it). Off to Feu Vert* now...to buy my son a wrench and the French equivalent Kit Car magazine. I can afford that (and this mother's nerves could afford a break now).

.....................................................................................................................
References: French Drôme = a department in southeastern France, where the towns Nyons and Valence are located as well as the charming town of Grignan. The Drôme is located north of the Vaucluse department; Braise = our one-year-old Golden Retriever; le hangar (m) = shed; la camionnette (f) = pick-up truck; Feu Vert (Green Light) = French auto parts store

:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word and quote: Download wav
La camionnette démarre avec fracas et la jeune fille ferme derrière elle la lourde porte, relique de temps moins sûrs.

 Also: camionnette de livraison = delivery truck

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Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


épuiser

Coquelicots  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Max, some time ago... 

Epuiser

(ay-pwee-zay)

to exhaust, to wear out


Max has paired an orange-and-blue T-shirt with red sweat pants. I gaze at my son, thinking about how I need to explain to him the basics of fashion. For one, he needs to learn the rule on colors that clash: "No wearing orange with red!" 

On second thought, forget about the color wheel! Precious few years remain in which I'll be able to witness daily this wake-up-and-dress-with-abandon innocence. Besides, my mission this morning is not to critique Max's wardrobe, but to find him a project.

Earlier, at the breakfast table, when I could no longer eat in peace after the kids began bouncing off the walls, I realized I might channel some of that energy... into home improvement! 

"You know those baseball cards of yours?" I ask Max.

My son looks lost.

"I mean, the basketball cartes..."

"Quoi?"

"Oh... I'm talking about the cartes de foot—the ones you like to trade with your friends!"

"Ah, oui..."

"Well, if you sweep the back patio—really well—for, say, one-half hour and not five seconds—then I will buy you a pack of those cards. How much do they cost, by the way?"

"Quarante centimes," Max answers, grinning from ear to ear.

"O.K., that'll work!"

Max begins his chore with gusto, sweeping, swooping, and swiveling that brush-on-a-stick. Occasionally he stops to admire his reflection in the porte-fenêtre....

He turns the broom sideways... and heaves up the make-believe ten-ton barbell. When the champion weight lifter is satisfied with his world record, he returns the barbell/broom to its vertical position and resumes sweeping the patio.

Noticing him push the broom hard against the ground, making great exaggerated swoops, I intervene:

"Max, you are going to wear yourself out if you continue like that! Watch me," I suggest, taking the broom. Accomplishing a few feather-light sweeps across the patio, I begin to sing:

Il ne faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...

I sing as only a mother can, before her child and no other, belting out the make-it-up-as-you-go tune.

Il faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...


I stop the broom in its tracks, to experience a flashback of a similar scene. I am at my mom's cabin, near Saguaro Lake, back home in Arizona. I am pushing a three-ton broom around the living room.

"Here, give me that!" my mom says, stubbing out her cigarette. She proceeds, light on her feet, to sweep the hardwood floor of her salon. She is in full make-up, though we are an hour's drive from civilization, and her hair is gathered into a French twist and secured by a battalion of bobby pins. She is wearing cowboy boots, the ones with the spurs. Instead of singing, she's humming. "Don't struggle so," is her message. "Lighten up and the job will be easier."

"Watch this," she says, sailing across the room, with the broom in her hands. In the background, televangelist Freddy Price is spreading the Word, causing us to pause now and again to shout "Amen!"

Mom's got that broom and she is fluttering across the wood floor, with the lightness of a butterfly.

"I used to sweep like you," she says, "until I learned to sweep like this!" As I watch her, an overwhelming urge is building in me to sweep! I want that broom just as I want to try on a new pair of roller skates. My mom hands me the broom and returns to her desk to paint her nails copper. Behind her, there is a wall of books. I recognize the hardbound editions; I can still see them perfectly in my mind, just as they were placed on the bookshelves of my childhood.

There were, among others, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, James Michener's The Source, and My Mother/Myself by Nancy Friday. And there was Mom's treasure: William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armour, the epic masterpiece written between 1655-1662. She had the giant red leather three-volume set.

Her library aside... the image of my mom sweeping returns to me whenever I find myself making a brick wall out of any hard-to-begin activity, whether it be writing or washing floors or rearing children. The more I push, the more I struggle, the more I wear myself out and despair.

I hand the broom back to Max and return to the breakfast table to observe him from the window. He pushes the broom, stopping to pass it between his legs, then sweeps, sweeps, sweeps, to stop again and make another pass. Only a kid could make a basketball out of a balai. Only a mother-in-spurs could tame a two-ton broom into becoming a butterfly.

As for me, I'll quit building brick walls today and remember to flutter instead of fluster, to pass or dribble instead of pound and tremble, to lighten up like the papillons that fly across the soon-to-bloom poppy fields outside my door.

Il faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...



French Vocabulary

le petit déjeuner = breakfast
la carte = card
les cartes de foot = soccer (trading) cards 
quoi? = what?
quarante centimes = forty French cents
la porte-fenêtre = French door
il ne faut pas t'épuiser = you mustn't wear yourself out, no... don't wear yourself out
le salon = living room
le balai = broom
le papillon = butterfly

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