Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Note on Courage from a Hopeful Sling Diarist

I used to think we were courageous. But oh Oswin, I never knew courage until I met you.

In the summer of 2008, tall, dark and handsome walked into my life. (Hint hint: That was your Papa.) Little did I know that night at the karaoke bar on a tiny street in Philadelphia, that within a year and a half we'd be married and moving abroad to France. Me, the Philly girl who had been previously content with the idea of spending the rest of her life working in the health care industry in the city of Brotherly love. Living the city life. Maybe one day finding the man I was meant to marry. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be so lucky as to have your Papa so magically come into my life.

And never did I ever dream we'd move to a small French village along the French-Swiss border. With more cows than people. Surrounded by vineyards. Shopping at a tiny weekly market. And a beautiful mountain as our backyard.

I thought at the time that Papa and I were courageous. We packed up our lives, together. We said goodbye to our family and friends, together. Papa taught me how to say "Je suis désolée, mais je ne parle pas français" on our plane ride over. I kept the airplane blanket because, being my first trip to Europe, I couldn't believe they gave you a blanket. Papa humored me. We held hands as we landed in a grey Geneva, Switzerland.

I thought we were courageous. But no Oswin, I've never known courage until I met you.

You were born on a cold and grey day in Switzerland. You had trouble breathing at first, and the doctor's had to help you get started. Papa stayed by your side the entire time. You were so brave my sweet girl, they said you fought them the entire time. 

Now you are a big girl, six and half months old to be exact. I'm amazed day in and day out at how fearless you are. You are limited only by your current physical stature and rate of development. You don't care what something is, if it catches your eye, you want to touch it. Be near it. Experience it with all of your senses (for better or for worse). You stare right into a person's soul when you meet them. Right to the heart of the object, taking it all in. Courage is embracing the new, the unknown, and you've been showing us how courageous you are since day one. Much like when Papa and I moved to France, you are seeing and experiencing things for the first time. You inspire me beyond compare. To go closer to things. To not be afraid to look longer. To follow the path that interests me. Your little face pushes me out the door each day, despite my insecurities of being a stranger in a strange land, because I want to show you everything. You push me to try harder, and you push me to become the best version of myself. You help me find my inner courage on a daily basis.

It's not just a physical courage that you possess either, you are courageous in the unconditional love that you show to Papa and me. It is incredibly brave to trust two people as wholly as you trust us. To trust someone else to attend to your each and every need. And even more courageous to forgive us when we're not at our best. Sometimes we might miss the mark. We're still learning. I know we'll spend our entire lives learning. But to wake up each and every morning with a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts, that says "It's ok Mama, today we're going to have a great day," well, that is a courageous love you share with us my dear. Your courage teaches Papa and I so much - patience, unconditional love, and how to listen. I can't wait to see what other things you teach us.

Your courage has been contagious for Papa and me, and we often find ourselves embarking on spur of the moment day trips to places like Annecy, France, Geneva, Switzerland, and nearby towns in what we like to call the "SwitzerFrance" region. Or to take bigger chances on longer road trips to places like Basel, Switzerland, Mulhouse, France, and Freiburg, Germany. And then there was that three week trip back to the United States for you to meet your extended family for the first time. We've learned so much from all of those experiences, despite the initial nervousness that traveling with an infant can bring. Your courage in new situations has been impressive beyond belief. New sounds, new time zones, strangers who come to meet you and want to pinch your cheek - you've been fearless in all environments. We hope that these sorts of trips will give you the continued courage to go out on your own and see new places as you get older. To truly follow your wanderlust takes courage, and this is something we want to instill in you from the get go, almost like a second nature. I think we're off to a good start.

One day my dear, I hate to say, there may be people who cause you to question your courage. Events in your life may cause you to doubt how brave you truly are. Remember that having courage doesn't mean that it's always there just waiting for an adventure, it must be worked on like everything else in our lives. Courage can get lazy. Courage can spend a few weeks in its pajamas hiding under the covers with a hot cocoa. Sometimes we have to rip the covers off, get out of our comfort zone, and kick courage out onto the street. Or the mountain trail. Or a train to somewhere, anywhere. To the destination, be it place or person, that our heart desires. I hope you remember in those times just how courageous you truly are, and if you forget, know that Papa and I will be here to remind you, no matter how old you are.

But having courage isn't just about getting out of your comfort zone, it's also about respecting yourself. Having the courage to let go of that which does not serve you - be it acquaintances, or situations - can be a difficult brand of courage to come by. You are so worth loving, and we hope that you choose to surround yourself with positive, loving, inspiring people. Life is too short to be surrounded by anything but loving, genuous and inspiring individuals. Be courageous with your heart, and know when a situation or person is not healthy for you. 

That being said my dear, having courage also means learning to cut yourself some slack. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you're wrong. It also takes a lot of courage to forgive yourself for mistakes. You may be perfect to us, but believe it or not, you will make mistakes. Having the courage to face those mistakes head on, and learn from them, is where true growth comes from. We hope that you'll learn to love the choices you'll make, because they will help mold the amazing woman you'll become. Regret nothing. Feel no shame, for you are a wonderful and loving little girl that is learning who she is in this big ole world. Learn to laugh at yourself when you do something silly. Have the courage to own it, rather than run (even though you may want to). Courage isn't all about planting flags on mountain tops, it's also about lifting yourself out of the mud from time to time, and hopefully, with a smile.

I thought we were courageous Oswin. Living the expat life isn't an easy one. Saying abiento to everyone you know and love is a tremendously difficult thing to do. But with you in our lives, you've given us the courage to tackle any new challenge, because we'll be doing it together, for the three of us. We used to think we were courageous. With all the love, joy and fun that you have already brought to our life, I now know that we are. Thank you in advance for the adventure.



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Annual Fenieres Paques Parade

There was no rest for the weary on Paques this year, as we had a parade to attend following the Easter Egg hunt at Chateau Voltaire. Fenieres, a commune of Thoiry, has an annual Paques Parade that is the event of the year in our little town, and we made it just in time.

The parade route is about a third of a mile long...

{The America Float. It's funny to see stereotypes thrown back in your face. Apparently America is seen as the land of skyscrapers, McDonald's, the Statue of Liberty, and M & M's that don't do mornings...}

...with about 7 or 8 floats...

{The Ambulance Float...with a bar on it....tended by teenagers...slinging jungle juice...}

...and takes about 2 hours to finish.

There's always a float that breaks down...

(Spoiler alert: It was the Shrek float this year.)

...and being a small town, the floats stop at pretty much every house...

...because how else could the teenagers driving the floats have time to hand out jungle juice to the parade watchers and catch up with their neighbors?

The parade ends with a tent party in a field, complete with an oompa band, cerdon, frites, cerdon, a DJ, shenanigans, cerdon, costumes, a raffle, cerdon..

....did I mention the cerdon?

It's good fun and goes on well into the night. We can often hear the DJ from our house. We never make it much past the oompa band though. A few jungle juices, some frites and cerdon at the tent, and we're usually ready to head home, put on a baseball game, and Skype with family and friends back in the US. This was Oswin's first Fenieres Paques Parade (well, that's kind of a lie, I was pregnant and feeling horrible at last year's parade), and she loved it. Again, like the egg hunt, SO. MANY. PEOPLE. So many noises! So many colorful floats! (Seven is a really big number when you're only six months old.)

The funniest part to me? As you guys know, we call Oswin's alter ego Smaug the Inconsolable. Ever since then, dragons have been a big theme for us. Dragon stuffed animals have been go-to presents for her, and we (and she) love them. Her current favorite is a pink dragon in a tutu that we have affectionately named "Lady Smaug," and low and behold, Lady Smaug turned up on a float at the parade.


We here at the House of Hadron hope you all had a great Passover, Paques, or whatever Spring holiday you celebrate. Here's to another year of jungle juice and tubas from our small french village!

A la prochaine friends...


Monday, April 21, 2014

Chasse à l'oeuf: Chateau Voltaire

Every Easter, at the marvelous Chateau Voltaire in Ferney-Voltaire, France, there is an egg hunt...

...and like the Chateau itself, the egg hunt is pretty fabulous.

Longtime readers know that when we first moved to France, we spent the first few months in Ferney, and I quickly became a bit obsessed with the Chateau. I'd run or walk past it everyday, peering through the bars surrounding it, wishing that one day we could go and walk the grounds.

And then that first year, back in 2010, on Easter, while walking after a run across the border through some Swiss vineyards, we saw hordes of people at the Chateau.

As we neared the gates that I had so often looked through, we saw that these people were all walking around the grounds of the estate!

{Oswin finding her first egg}

And then we realized it was an Easter egg hunt for les enfants...

...and that we were, at the time, sans les enfants.

And for a moment I got a little sad, because I so wanted to frolic around the Chateau and take a million pictures.

And then we said, eh, let's just try to get in.

And they let us in!

It was amazing. It was the best Easter I had ever had. They even jokingly gave Doc a bag of candy and asked if he had found any eggs.

Well, this year, we have an enfant.

As you all know.

And there was no way we were missing the chance to go back to the Chateau, especially since now we would not be the creepers sans les enfants.

Oswin was tired and not quite as excited about it (at first) as we were, but we promised her it would be worth it for such a fabulous first Easter egg hunt, and into the car we went.

It took her a bit to wake up and get into it, but by the time we were looking for eggs in the small forest behind the Chateau with all of the other families, little miss was awake and staring at everything in awe.

Not because of the splendor of the Chateau, or the gardens or the pony rides off in the distance, but because of the people!

So many people! (At least to her!)

No cows! (There were lambs...)

Big people! Little people! Running! Playing! She loved it.And although she is too little to partake in the running and playing, she loved watching all of the bigger kids get their hunt on. And thanks to Papa, Oswin actually "found" 5 eggs on her own (and by "on her own" I mean, not).

And sidenote: if you've never seen a physicist at an Easter egg hunt before, I highly recommend it. They are unable to turn off the analytical parts of their brain and get really into it. At least in my sample of one physicist, this was the case...

But I digress.

The egg hunt was a smashing success, and what little girl wouldn't love the Chateau as her first egg hunt? I can't wait for her to be old enough to remember coming to the Chateau (if we're here long enough), or to marvel at the pictures like we do. One of these days we'll go in for the real tour and I can drool all over the gilded gold and velvet everything that you can see inside the Chateau, that is, if you push your face up to the glass windows...not like I would know...

Ok I do know. It's all kinds of gilded gold and velvety in there.

If you're ever in our area for Easter, or Paques as it's known in France, definitely check out the Easter Egg hunt at the Chateau. For the cost of 3 euro you too can lurk around the grounds and pretend you live there!

Hope everyone had a great Passover or Paques, whatever you celebrate. Up next are highlights from this year's Paques Parade!

A la prochaine friends...