Le Retour

     If you’ve stuck around this long, you will have noticed I have been absent for a while on here. Many things have happened since I left you to open Les Petites Merveilles. We had a second son, our Little Pocket Rocket, now 18 months old. We got married in the backyard of a lovely house with both our French and Australian families. My little business was chugging along. Then, last year happened…


     Our whole world was turned upside down with a phone call.

     Mister T., my now-hubby, had several days of severe stomach pains which brought him into hospital in June. After a few days of observation, many tests & scans, we got sent home with a possible diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He was starting to feel better, so we simply started looking into adapting our diet, and for that, consulting experts in Melbourne. The specialists ordered more tests.
These happened mid-week. By Friday, the doctor called. It was cancer.

     Stage 4 bowel cancer. At 26 years of age.

     He got rushed to surgery the very next week. The boys and I came along (we live 4 hours away from Melbourne). Followed a long series of quick decisions (should we consider freezing sperm?), hospital visits, packing suitcases, messaging everyone, organising child-minding…


     In six months, he went through massive bowel surgery, six rounds of chemo, liver surgery. We have been lucky though: it got caught ‘early enough’ and Mister T even felt well enough to work 9 out of 10 days throughout chemo.
We thought 2018 was turning a new leaf. He would finish chemo and hopefully be cured, or at least get a break from it all. Now we are dealt with another blow.

      There is a lesion on his lungs.

     We are yet to know if it is cancerous, or if he will need surgery before restarting chemo. All we know is that it is small enough, and was probably there from the start. These are all good things but I can tell you it did not sound like it on Tuesday, when chemo was cancelled as it was found out.

     So I decided to get back into writing. Publicly. I don’t know that it will help anyone beside me, but I figured this could be enough.

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Franco-Aussie

     As you must know by now, we are a bicultural family. My husband is Australian, speaks a bit of German and tried to learn a little bit of Spanish at uni. I am French, having lived in Oz for almost 10 years, I speak English, used to speak Spanish and have learnt bits of Polish, German, Italian, Ancient Greek and Latin. Needless to say that we basically only communicate in English.

      It was never an issue for me (although it can get frustrating to never be able to win at any word games…). Until we had kids.

     My main academic training is in linguistics. I am truly passionate about language & languages and believe whole-heartedly in the benefits of being multilingual. For me, learning a new language was hard work, as it is for most French people. What I mean by that is, while things have changed – and are changing – since I left France, in majority, we are very much a monolingual people.
We do all have to learn English from the age of 5 but most of us have not reached great proficiency by the time we leave school. We also have to learn what we call “a second foreign language”, which also only gives us a very basic communicative level. It is a great thing but, in my opinion, not good enough. Especially when you consider that most of the world’s population is at least bilingual.
But I am diverging!

      Now, I had studied the theories being bilingualism, particularly in children, but it is a complete different ballgame applying it to my own children & daily life.
So I thought I would discuss a few different aspects of bilingual family life, to share our insight & gain from all of your experiences in return.


  • The key is being consistent.

     I knew from the start that we would have to choose a ‘technique’ and stick with it. We decided that I would solely speak French to our kids while hubby would only speak English. No matter what.

     In theory, this was a great idea. In practice, there are a few instances where I do end up switching to English… For example, at the park, when the boys are playing with friends, I do speak English as I do not want to frighten their little mates. (We live in a small country town, where there are only about 10 of us speaking a language other than English. It is not a common sight for them!) As the boys are getting older & playing with the same friends over & over, I do try and switch back to French as much as possible but I still use English when I know that I will be mentioning their name.
Most people react well to it or ignore it; I have had a couple of people still acting as if we were “playing it snob”. Some also think that it is confusing for little people to learn several languages at once (believe me, it is not! many studies have proven this already; let me know if you’re interested to read more about this).

     The one thing I think could help strengthen their French would be for me to speak French to their dad as well. Unfortunately, kids are smart and work out really quickly that if you can speak English at home with Dad, you could with them too…
Hubby is not yet that proficient in French, and although he could probably end up understanding most things I would tell him, it just comes more naturally for me to speak English to him.

      If you can, I think the best strategy is to have one language at home and one outside of home. It makes it consistent & easy to follow for your kids. They also see more of a value for the ‘home’ language.

  • It can be tough on the extended family, particularly when they live abroad.

     None of my family really speaks English. None of hubby’s really speak French. This means that whichever language the kids choose to speak at one point in time, there will always be one side of the family that will not know what they mean.

     It might not seem like such a big deal but when your kids are just learning to speak and it’s all exciting to decipher their first few words and sentences, it makes for some very frustrated grandparents.
Let alone, once your 3 year old decides he does not want to speak French anymore… I thought we had at least a couple more years before it happened! It is slowly getting better but for about six months, Master C refused to even say “bonjour” on Skype to his “grands-parents”.
I see the difference now that Master M is a real chatterbox and loves translating words (he’s only 18 months old, so not quite to the point of sentences yet). Their excitement when he comes to the screen shouting out all kinds of words at them is quite obvious!

     We try to Skype as often as possible, as our closest family is about 900 km away (and that is the English speaking side, my family is over 17,000 km away). Ideally, I think the boys’ language skills would be helped if they could see their French family more regularly. That is the ongoing curse of expat families…

  • In the end, children are the master of their own mind…

      As mentioned, Master C decided he wasn’t into French at the tender age of 3. And sincerely, it broke my heart a little bit.
We were reading French books every day, watching movies in French regularly. He even knew the French alphabet while I had never taught him explicitly. He was still understanding everything I was telling him too. Yet, somehow, he started refusing to utter a single word of French, pretexting he didn’t know it.

   I was expecting this phase to come when he was going to start school or even preschool, but his only contact with kids thus far had been through playgroup and playdates at the park. It was too early!

     It did worry me a bit but I soon realised that he was not forgetting the words (when by himself, he would point to things in French books and say aloud all the technical terms we had read together). Pushing him would only make things worse.
I am hopeful that he comes back to it; he’s already started making more of an effort on Skype.


     What are your methods to get your kids speaking in the “minority” language in your family? Do you use any particular games or tricks? I would love to hear from other multilingual families!

     I also realised that two cultures meant two fairly different parenting styles, but I will touch on that in another article.

Be present.

     Finding time for yourself is not easy when you’re a mum. When even going to the bathroom includes tiny footsteps following you. When nap time also means laundry & dusting time.
When I started Les Petites Merveilles, it was a way to do something I loved while contributing ever-so slightly to the household finances. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much enjoying it, but I cannot say it really is ME time. It keeps my hands busy and enables me to create so many of the things that go through my mind. Yet, I don’t exactly get to relax, or read without a purpose, or watch a movie attentively.

     I didn’t think I was missing out on anything. I was enjoying crafting. I was watching most shows friends were raving about. I was scrolling through Instagram ‘for business purposes’… I was pretty happy with our little routine. Even after hubby’s diagnosis, first surgery & the start of chemo.
Then one day, Anxiety arose.

     Suddenly, I needed time & space to clear my head and settle my mind. I know I am repeating myself there but I do believe that if you have not experienced anxiety, it is quite hard to fully comprehend from an outsider’s point of view. I would have had no idea only a few months ago. So I thought I would share the main lesson I gained from a couple of months of meditation & self-reflection.

     There is no point in trying to stop your mind from racing through your thoughts. It will only make you think harder & faster, increasing all feelings of anxiety. Instead, you should simply observe these thoughts, acknowledge them, even give them credit for what they are. And move on.

     Once I truly understood this and managed to take the time each day to “note” (as Headspace phrases it) my thought process, I suddenly started to feel much lighter. Thoughts were still there. I still worried about my husband, my boys, the house, but the simple fact of acknowledging this somehow made me feel more peaceful.

     It is not always straight-forward but it definitely becomes easier with practice. In time, not spending so much energy in the empty exercise of ruminating your thoughts, means you can finally be PRESENT.

     Leaving your worries aside once acknowledged, you can finally devote yourself to the NOW. It might sound quite abstract but it is really quite simple. In time, you can appreciate little moments happening right in front of your eyes. It creates the good kind of ‘vicious circle’: the more you ease your thoughts, the easier it is to enjoy the present, the quieter these thoughts (and anxiety) appear…

      Now, in my (very little but intense) experience, you will still have triggers, which are likely to set off that creeping feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach. For me, it is anything to do with the remote possibility of anyone in my surroundings getting the mildest cold symptom (yes, I suddenly appear to have become hypochondriac).
I am hoping that with regular practice, including when I feel perfectly fine, these will become fewer & far between.

     I am in no way trying to preach or say that I have all the answers, but I still remember how confused I felt when I started feeling like I lost control of all my thoughts and emotions for the first time. If this can help even just one person feel less “alone” in all of this, it is enough for me.
Feel free to message/email if you’d like to chat anonymously. I am more than happy to be the listening ear that might help you along.

Anxiety

     If you have read what happened to us last year, you will have guessed that the mood in the family has not always been that cheerful lately. We tend be pretty positive people, always smiling and globally quite optimistic & realistic when we look at how lucky we are in our daily life.
We have two beautiful and healthy boys. We live a comfortable life in a lovely community, where we have everything we need. However, it is easy to loose this perspective when such an unexpected blow occurs.


     I thought I was on top of it. We had gone through Mister T’s first surgery, a few rounds of chemo, and we had got into a bit of a routine. Playgroup, chemo, playdates, Kinder… I honestly felt fine.

     One day, my youngest broke into a fever. Nothing serious but he ended up spending 5 days on my chest in a nappy 24/7. By the end of the week, I went into a complete panic attack. I suddenly felt like I could not look after my own children.
I had been looking after littles since I was about 10. It was the one thing I was pretty confident about. My best quality. And by all accounts, my boys are reasonably ‘easy’. Yet, all of a sudden, I was incapable of making any decisions for them, playing with them, enjoying any little moments with them… It was a nightmare.

     This was the start of a very long road. It took me a few more months to realise it. I have had ups & downs since then, triggered by various and sometimes random thoughts. I have become a bit of an hypochondriac, worried about the slightest stomach complaint or warm forehead.


     I realised that I had to do something. Not only for myself, but for my family. I cannot make them endure my mood swings and apathy. So I went to see a GP.
I started talking about it. To everyone (as I said, we live in a very small community). I started writing again. Most of all, I started meditating. This is not something I had ever done, nor did I think much of it beforehand. However, I was ready to try anything.

     Personally, I really enjoy Headspace. Nothing too esoteric or eerie-fairy, just down-to-earth speech helping you see things in a different perspective. I can only recommend it!

(I had planned on writing a lot more about I am feeling at the moment, but the Littlest one woke up, then the Little one needed a snack… You know how it goes!)

     Have you experienced anything like that? Where you felt you lost control over your own personality? Do you have any ways to cope with it? I’d love to hear everyone’s story.

Les Petites Merveilles – new business on its way…

Once again, I failed miserably at keeping up my promises of keeping this blog up to date…

I’ve got a new plan of attack though: time tabling all things that need to get done
– writing here,
– crafting for Les Petites Merveilles,
– editing photos & keep making photobooks,
– cooking ahead of time,
– cleaning sneaky corners of the house, etc.
Without forgetting to play with my gorgeous toddler & relaxing a little bit, maybe by practising the ukulele (that I have just started, because I didn’t have enough on my plate already…). Oh, and planning a wedding too…almost forgot!

For now, I am getting the Little Wonders ready for our Playgroup Shopping Night, next Friday. I’m really excited about it, but it is also pretty scary to start something from scratch by yourself. I will have created and own Les Petites Merveilles entirely from top to bottom.

PETITES_MERVEILLES_2

I have been sewing sock toys, soft balls, and baby accessories. Although the cold season is almost truly over, I couldn’t help but add knitted accessories to the collection. I just missed knitting too much.
At the moment, I have more ideas than time. Who am I kidding? This is actually the case ALL THE TIME, but with Les Petites Merveilles, it’s even more frustrating because I want to bring these ideas to the world and see how they work out.

I am working out slowly how I am going to present my creations on my stall. I plan on having a few items to sell on the night, but mainly to start taking orders that I can customise and make little by little.

I will be asking for your opinion as to which items should make it into the collection, but for now, I will, once more, postpone more updates for a few days…

(At the top, you can see our first trial at a ‘promotional’ photoshoot for my knitted accessories. Exceptionally, I decided to use the gorgeous face of my Little Man, and I’m pretty pleased with it :D)

The Little Man’s First Birthday

      Our baby boy turned one in June… I know we all say it, but I can’t believe a whole year has passed! I have enjoyed every minute of it. Even the late night feedings, the scary falls, the loud tantrums & all the joys in between. In reflection, so much has happened throughout this year, I cannot exactly say that it has gone in a flash. Staying home with him (how lucky am I!) 24/7 since he was born, I have been able to appreciate every little thing. Even though, I can barely remember my gorgeous boy as a newborn…

       That’s it for the reminiscing! Now, I thought I would share a little bit from his hot air balloon party. I spent a fair bit of time preparing it all, but I think it was worth it. If only because I thoroughly enjoy the process! 🙂

       I have decided to start a tradition for my child(ren): I have knitted the Little Man a crown for him to wear every year on his special day. A nice photo prop, helping us see how much he grows between birthdays.
This first birthday also signed the end of the monthly undergarments I have designed for him. It was the opportunity to make it a special one, adding sewn in fabric and felt (as you can see on this top picture).

Birthday 2

    I kept the decoration quite simple in the shades of blue and grey. I displayed a timeframe of milestones with pictures and cards (Milestone Baby Cards. I adore them, haven’t missed one!) along the walls. At first, the plan was to hang some on the photos (I have A LOT) on helium balloons, just like little hot air balloons floating about the room BUT I had not considered their weight… As you can see, some photos needed 3 balloons! I only ended up doing a handful like these. So, on the wall they go!

Birthday 3

   I had set a few tables on one side of the room with a buffet style of treats. All the ones I made were prepared with 2 things in mind: babies should be able to eat everything fairly easily AND it should try to some extent to follow the party’s theme.
The only things worth a notice are the homemade lollies in the shape of “1” (made of fruit juice, gelatine and glucose syrup; thanks Pinterest!) and the parmesan, rosemary & thyme crusted biscuits cut with my awesome hot air balloon cookie cutter!

     This wonderful cake (on the right) was a gift from the Little Man’s best friend’s mum, an amazing cake maker. She personalised it to my liking with our Ouistiti’s name, our colours and a little fox, just like his Mr Fox softie.

Birthday 4

    Finally, I had set up a photo booth, symbolising a hot air balloon (again, I know) where I got a picture with each of the kids with my Little Man and, if I may say so myself, they are extremely cute!

     Let me know what you think! Did you have a theme for your littlies’ first birthday? Did you go for the handmade or professionally planned party?

Aside

More apologies…

Hi everyone,

I have to apologise once more for my lack of presence on this blog. I have a few – more or less – legitimate excuses.

  1. I went back to France for a month with my Little Man (article to follow on travelling long-distance with a baby/toddler in tow).
  2. I planned a first birthday party. Cooking & handmade decorations included (might share a few pics of that too).
  3. I started planning our wedding, for December 2016…
  4. Last but not least, I launched myself into a new & exciting business venture!!!

More on that very VERY soon…