A House in Provence, Chapter 18

French Whirlwinds

The time I had dreaded came. It was the 10 days we were to take care of Maurice’s grandchildren at our house in Provence. They are fraternal twins named Tom and Lola and are age 7. And, of course, they only speak French. Usually I do very well with children, especially if they speak English, but I wasn’t as sure with these two. When I am at their home in Paris they are forced to kiss me and say Bonjour and after that pretty much ignore me. When they were much younger they would hold my hand as we walked down the street and do their French chattering. They have grown up in a world of adults with constant attention and they travel a great deal and I was just one more face among many and not a very interesting one at that. At least that was my feeling. Sometimes when they had a friend at their house I would get more attention as the friend would want to practice a few English words with me. I was the token American.
So, I wasn’t expecting much. But from the start at their arrival at our house they seemed happy to see me, friendly and open, interested in everything. I’m not sure where this came from but they became, to me, normal kids more easy to handle. Of course, I often had to take them to Maurice for translation saying, “Tell me what they are trying to tell me,” but we rubbed along pretty well.
Many French don’t like the really sweet desserts Americans do so I wasn’t sure what to bake wondering if things would remain uneaten. I made a good old batch of American brownies thinking I would eat the darn things myself if no one was interested. At first Lola sort of turned her nose up at them because they weren’t dark chocolate and ate some French cookies instead. Tom dived right in after the first bite and ate three with a glass of milk. The next day I walked over and the whole pan was empty. I ended up having to make a dessert of some sort, usually brownies, every day. Well actually, I didn’t have to but it was something I could do that they enjoyed that didn’t involve my speaking French.
Luckily we have a pool and the two spent most of every day in it swimming, jumping and floating on rafts just like my American grandkids. A little neighbor boy came over one day and they had a ball. They kept getting cold though as a breeze was blowing and dressed and undressed four times, alternating going down to a little area under a tree where they are building a fort of some sort or, unable to resist the blue water, jumping back in the pool.
Lola undressed right in front of this little boy. I started trying to remember when I was made to undress in private, getting that puritanical side of me deeply ingrained. Lola was totally unselfconscious, used to being naked in front of Tom and they still often took baths together. I wondered when that would stop. I imagined sometime around the age of puberty. The little boy was an only child and I noticed that he did get a good look at Lola but she didn’t care. Maurice told me this is just how they raise their young. I’m sure this is where the topless swimming starts as well. I still remember being horrified when we caught my daughter at about age 5 or so playing “doctor” with a little neighbor boy. We were sure this would lead to some kind of perversion or something. It is just interesting seeing the differences in how children are raised and what is instilled in them.
I don’t know if it is because Tom and Lola travel so much or because their parents travel alot and they are either left with relatives or a baby sitter or with just one parent but they are very good at entertaining themselves. They never beg to watch TV although they will sit and watch cartoons or a movie if we turn on the TV. They never say, “We’re bored,” as I have heard my grandkids or my kids growing up whining. I remember saying it to my mother as well. In their home in Paris they would often escape for hours at a time to play in their rooms. Here in Provence they just keep busy every minute. I never have to find something for them to do. I had bought to huge boxes of Crayons for them to use and I have never seen such huge looks of surprise and pleasure as when I gave each of them one. They colored for hours. They had brought a few small toys and sometimes quietly played in their room upstairs.
Of course they got into tiffs being normal children. If they sat together in the back seat one or the other of them would start touching the other or put their foot in the other’s lap. I usually separated them and ended up sitting in the back myself just to prevent minor scrimages. Basically, they seemed like really good friends with each other not needing time alone like I did when growing up with my sister. I have noticed if Lola gets tired and, although she doesn’t say it, maybe a little bored, that she starts picking on Tom. At first I didn’t notice that Tom was doing the same thing. He was more sneaky about it. Maurice didn’t do anything when they started fighting. He has major explosions becoming a drill sargent when they are eating wanting them to sit still, eat all of their food, just being really picky at all that is going on around eating but when they hit or kick each other he doesn’t do anything saying that they can learn to handle it on their own. I can’t stand doing that. Lola pushed Tom down some steps and then hit him in spite of my many “arretes” so I finally had a meltdown and spanked her. She looked at me with her big blue eyes full of tears and I felt like an ogre but Maurice said that now she would respect me and mind me when I said no. I think spanking wouldn’t be necessary if she would just stop when I said so. She has a very strong will, that girl.
I don’t know if they packed their own clothing or not but Tom only came with the pair of shoes he was wearing, hightop red tennis shoes now back in fashion, as well as a few summer clothes. Lola came with four pairs of shoes, all in hues of pink, a pair of flip flops, some walking sandals, some tennis shoes and a pair of slippers for bedtime, and four pairs of pajamas as well. She had all sorts of cute clothes that she wore with flair, a different outfit each day, and bought a plastic zip up container with many clips and rubber rings for her hair. She requested a different style every morning and I did brades, two loose pony tails on each side-but low, as requested- right behind each ear, or half pony tails. She was growing her bangs out and it drove me nuts when she ate with pieces of food ending up in her hair so I was constantly pinning them back. Tom was easy with a wash and go hair style and he also had some cute clothes which he wore with what I saw as style.
They both ate very well. I notice that alot of American children seem to have eating problems refusing to eat this or that. I’ve been with families where the child wasn’t required to eat vegetables or meat and only had bread and butter for the meal followed by ice cream for dessert. Some meals become real battlegrounds with the parents begging the kids to eat. Tom and Lola aren’t big on vegetables but will eat tomatoes and most kinds of potatoes. Their mother gives them vegetable soup, pureed, often to get them to eat them. If they like what is served, such as fish or steak, they eat very well. Lola loves cheese and saucisson and always has some goat cheese at the end of meals. Tom doesn’t like the smell of cheese and seldom touches it. They love fruit and consume large amounts of peaches and apricots for dessert. Lola must have her peaches peeled but Tom doesn’t care. About 4 PM they want a tea and this is when they have something sweet, such as my brownies, with milk. Breakfast is usually toast or crepes with jam and they require bowls, not glasses, of milk to dip them in like I used to do with Oreos. Their toast has to be cut into three pieces too, as I found out the first morning. They also use Nutrella on their toast, something made of hazel nuts but tasting like chocolate. It tastes pretty good but it is a really strange consistency clinging to spoons, plates, hands and faces with a stubborness of industrial glue.
So, I felt like I was doing fairly well with Maurice’s grandchildren when I got the bad news. Maurice has to go to a funeral out of town and I would be left with Tom and Lola, by myself, for hours. One thing I always said to Maurice was that he could never leave me alone with them. I just can’t understand most of what they say and they sure don’t understand my bad French or English. That which I feared had come upon me. It was a long 6 hours but, at the end, exhausted though I was, I think we did fairly well together. First I let them help me bake some brownies. The only problem with this was that they got to lick the bowl, not me.
Tom found a piece of tile left in our yard that wasn’t cleaned up after construction of our house and was very excited which got Lola excited too so I went out with them out into the yard and we became archeologists looking for pieces of tile and interesting rocks. I had found a couple of fossils in some hills nearby and showed them to the kids and then Lola found a similar one in our yard. I’ve always had an interest in rocks and fossils so we had a great time. Then I turned the hose on so they could wash their treasures, provided plastic sacks to keep them in and it was time for lunch. They did some swimming and then started getting a little restless so I did a horrible thing. I turned on the TV and let them watch cartoons for over an hour. I thought about teaching them a card game but thought it might to hard for me to explain and for them to understand. I survived-I need a T-shirt saying that.
The next morning we took them to a vide grenier, a sort of large flea market, that occur all over Provence in the summer. We found some junk, old toys that had been played with, and for less than 5 Euros they had something to play with that was new to them. Tom was especially impressed with the market loving looking through the junk.
Early one morning Maurice and I drove with the kids to a hill that can be seen from our house and from which, with binoculars, we can see our house nestled near our little village. At night from our back yard you can see headlights of cars as they go over the top of the hill and head down. We had gone once to locate the road and when we got out to walk to the top of a little hill I found some fossils, mostly the ones made by shells. It was intriguing, and a little creepy, to me to envision the entire valley covered with ocean water. There is only one place on this hill where I have found fossils and Tom and Lola had a ball finding their own. They both brought back big sacks of them. I’m not sure if they will be able to take them all with them in their suitcases, but maybe a few.
I found that housework multiplied when they came. Toys were all over the place, clothes left where they were removed to put on bathing suits and floors were crunchy with debris left over from snacks. I was sweeping the floor twice a day because I can’t stand to walk on a floor that is dirty but I gave up on our sliding glass door out to the pool. It is really heavy and hard to open and they had to put their hands on the glass to get it open. I love having clean windows especially when looking out at a view but it is hard work to keep them that way. I decided it wasn’t worth the energy of cleaning the door everyday and let it go until they left. I felt like all I did, besides referee fights, was cook and wash dishes. I couldn’t just open a can of ravioli like I used to with my kids for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t an option, so I was always making full meals like fish and rice or lasagna. The easiest thing I found to cook was spaghetti but I couldn’t fix that every day. They were too young to make their own meals and- this makes me mad- I was the one who ended up cooking all of the meals. Maurice did most of their breakfasts-big deal-but I was the designated cook the rest of the time.
Finally, the ten days were up and we drove the twins down to Cannes to stay with the next set of Grandparents. The house was tidy, the floor not sticky or crunchy, my windows were free of hand prints, I was cooking and cleaning less-peace reigned. But, you know what, I missed the little buggers. They had endeared themselves to me. I plan to have more activities available next summer as I’m sure we will be taking care of them again for a while in the summer. I also plan to find some new sources of fossils as that was so much fun for all of us. And, maybe, this time when I show up at their apartment in Paris I will get a more natural and loving welcome.

One thought to “A House in Provence, Chapter 18”

  1. Yes, that is the thing about children, isn’t it? Like their secret weapon. It’s quite hard not to end up liking kids you take care of!

    They do sound like very nice children, though. It’s nice they don’t say “I’m bored.” In my family, we never had the nerve to say that to my mother. She would always give us a list of chores if we did!

Comments are closed.