TWO WHOLE YEARS OF FRANCE
Spring this year has been a collection of storms and showers, swollen rivers and lush green. Everyone is waiting for summer’s heat to burst from the sky and the perpetual damp to steam heavenward. The house is filled with wet washing and waterproofs and wellies stuffed with newspaper after over enthusiastic river wading or splashing in the streams that race down our road when a thunder storm hits.
This month Little I turned three. Our funny, happy, loving, energetic baby girl. I carry her less and less, more and more I find myself holding the hands of two little girls walking by my sides with no one in my arms, listening to the chatter reaching upwards. It’s a new phase of motherhood and all at once it is liberating and yet it feels as if time has slipped through my fingers and in the blink of an eye my babies are big.
We bought ingredients for Little I’s birthday cake, lots of chocolate, and as we walked back along the road we looked up to see somebody Florent sometimes works with, working on a roof, high above us. He wears a tricorne hat and looks like a pirate and the girls love him. He was listening to classical piano music, chiming out across the rooftops. He saw the girls and began to waltz across the roof, dancing in small circles. The girls looked up wide eyed and smiling. Their hero. Then we turned off the road and took a path. An elderly man was standing under a Lime tree, reaching up with long handled secateurs to the lowest branches, he clipped, but missed and didn’t severe the branch and the effort and weight of the secateurs sent them to the ground. He tried again and this time cut clean through the branch. He was harvesting the flowers for ‘tisane’ (herbal tea). The girls watched. Endless observation and then endless questions. ‘Mummy, isn’t it dangerous to dance on a roof?’ (yes) and ‘Why do old mens steal flowers?’. ‘You can do anything you want in this world but not stealing’ adds Little L firmly.
Every so often I discover somewhere that feels perfect. A place that for the short time spent there it feels as if you have discovered some slice of heavenly landscape. One of these places is a meadow that leads down from a small single track road to the edge of a lake a few miles from our house. The meadow stretches down to the water and then up over a perfect hill topped with two pear trees. The meadow is full of orchids, buttercups, cow parsley, red clover, white campion… Behind the pear trees and over the small road lie two ruined buildings hidden behind crumbling walls and hedges. Along the road large lime trees tower above the hedge. The scent is heavy, thousands of flowers hang down from the branches. There is the smell of honey in the air and the sound of hundreds of bees buzzing, invisible, high above our heads hidden amongst the yellow white flowers.
Little L managed a six hour trek* without one request for a shoulder carry. We achieved this by going at Little L’s pace, stopping for regular breaks and having her back pack filled with the kind of snacks she’s not usually allowed like chocolate biscuits… We were all speechless and very proud of her by the end. Little I was poorly, however, and spent most of the day in our arms and by the end we were all exhausted.
We have been here two years now. Living here has been both finding a deep peace and confronting real tests of endurance. We’ve experienced loneliness and frustration and felt grounded and peaceful. Living integrated and alongside a village culture that is at once insular and warm. Some days I struggle with the same quiet that brings me peace. I struggle with the choice to remain ‘at home’ and that all my time is dedicated to child raising. I think I should drink this up, these precious years with my young children and some days I do and others I sit with the idea that I should be doing something bigger, something more to contribute to an ailing world. It’s a subject that makes me feel vulnerable, a woman is told she can’t make a choice without letting someone down. Other days I sit up at the hilltop chapel which overlooks the village. The girls are playing, shouting out each time a darting lizard catches their eye, fighting over sticks, spotting buzzards. A bird calls, ‘That’s a crow Mummy’ Little I tells me. These are the days which make it feel like a good thing to be doing. And no one has everything at once. And that’s the lesson we’re learning, one of compromise, sacrifice but also great reward.
The house feels like its progressing although for the moment there is no first floor which definitely adds to the sense of living in a building site. The floor was on a very big slope and the floorboards needed to be replaced so we’re levelling the joists and replacing some before relaying the floor with new boards. Then just some plastering, a kitchen to build and fit, a wood burner to install, plumbing and electricity and we’ll have a new floor to live on… To think that we thought we’d already be finished. Things are much slower these days as Florent works elsewhere more and more but we definitely envisage cosying up to the woodburner once the cold arrives in Autumn. Then again, who knows?
Everything goes so slowly that the brand new bedroom walls already have grubby hand marks and a couple of pencil drawings Little I decided to add.
We’ll get there though. Through Florent’s hard work (and sometimes frustratingly perfectionist approach) and some swearing and my occasional few hours here and there when the girls are otherwise occupied we’ll make it and that will feel so, so good.