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Monday Memories – Holidays

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

Christmas tradition in our family changed radically from the central focus of home and family to travel and adventure. We now lived in Paris France and were comfortable with our new routines and apartment living. We observed the understated preparations of our neighbors for the holiday season, and remembered our American neighbors’ lights and outdoor decorations. There were wreaths on the doors, pine boughs in planters near the gates and ornaments hung from the lamp posts on the streets but no lights or grand displays in public places. We began to discuss how the family would celebrate our first Christmas in Europe and my parents’ twenty fifth wedding anniversary. My mother wanted to travel and so it was decided, we would travel through France to the Mediterranean Sea and spend our holiday in the French towns of Cannes and Nice, on the Riviera.

A trip at Christmas was a departure from the family oriented, small town celebration I knew for the past decade. Christmas Eve was my parents’ anniversary and always spent with my mother’s extended family. Christmas morning was at home and later, a trip to my father’s family for another celebration. That all changed in 1966, as my mother researched our route and planned the many chateaus and cathedrals we would stop and visit along the way south. The excitement began to build as we planned gifts to pack, ideas of silver anniversary celebrations were discussed and the maps appeared outlining our route. We would stop in Rouen, Avignon and explore Chenenceaux, Chambord and the perfume farms in coastal France. Cathedrals attended by Joan of Arc were on the list as well as the renowned bridge in Avignon. We shimmered with anticipation.

Disaster struck the day we were to leave on our 10 day adventure. Due to a delayed departure, my father discovered a change in plans with his job. De Gaulle had withdrawn his agreement for American forces, NATO and SHAPE headquarters were no longer to be in Paris but moved to Belgium and Germany. Many of the employees were being sent back to the US and that day, my father was included in those to return to the States.  The trip that had been long anticipated was now a diversion from the inevitable move back to America. Reluctantly, we left our apartment and set off to savor our one and only trip through France before packing our belongings for another move. We were disappointed but resigned. The car was packed, the excitement diminished but not gone and we set off.

The change in plans added a new quality to our visits en route to Provence. The chateaus were magnificent and free of the summer tourists that crowd each one in the Loire valley. We walked the paths of the French aristocracy, viewed the portrait galleries in each home and walked through the maze of the cathedral in Rouen. Arriving in Nice, we were weary tourists ready to share the holiday with US sailors in port for Christmas. My brothers and I went in search of a memorable anniversary gift while my mother planned our Christmas Eve adventure. Of course it included a “short walk to the top of a mountain for the table of orientation” which would highlight the distant landmarks. We discovered a centuries old silversmith while my mother read the Michelin guide to glean the area’s history.

After a “petite dejeuner” of croissants and black coffee, we set out for our morning walk. The path was rocky, through dense undergrowth and poorly marked. We wandered off course and three long hours later discovered a cement marker, the table of orientation, at the top of a goat field. The goats were our only companions as rain began to fall and we wearily set off down the mountain. This was not the Christmas Eve tradition of our past, but a test of our endurance. The quick thirty minute climb had turned into a multi hour-long hike. When we finally found our car, we discovered my father had carried a pine branch found on the ground near the top. It became our Christmas tree when wound through the chandelier in the hotel room and decorated with jewelry.

Later that evening, my mother asked about Christmas Eve services at a local church. Yes, she was told, there is an English church within walking distance but you must hurry. We hurriedly gathered our coats and walked the short two blocks to a small church tucked between shops near the waterfront. Entering the old stone building, we heard the familiar carols played and saw the many sailors scattered in the congregation. My memory of the service centers on the sound of “Silent Night” sung by so many Americans far from home, yet celebrating a beloved holiday together.  We were all Americans sharing our traditions in a small church in France, a true congregation.

The remainder of the trip was less eventful, a trip to Cannes, to Italy and then the long trip back to Paris. Our return was somber as the move to the states in January returned to our conversations. We returned to school and work determined to enjoy whatever time was left. Imagine our surprise when my father announced the sudden change of plans he had learned that day. “Pack your bags, but not for the US, ” he said, “We will be moving to Germany.” And so, the adventure would continue.

 

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Parenting + 3.7

Blog posts about parenting typically discuss issues for infants, toddlers, and the pre-school years. Whether to breast feed, toilet train at 18 months or join established play groups are issues young parents discuss at length. Recent posts discussed sleep-training and whether there is merit to the family bed or use of the crib lovingly purchased by doting grandparents. There are several blogs that discuss the value of organized sports for adolescents or the rising problem of bullying in elementary schools. These are dilemmas for all parents in the early years. I, however, am long past those discussions, my children have reached their late teen years and early adult status, they sleep through the night, prepare their own meals and have mastered group activities. No longer are my issues easily resolved with a simple one step solution or a support group. We are now into the college years, the newly wed years, the stages of parenting when less is more and it’s time to let them fly.

 

Calliope Hummingbird / Stellula calliope - fem...

Calliope Hummingbird / Stellula calliope – female feeding two chicks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The wings are strong, their sense of direction is keen, and yet, my heart is high in my throat as my fledglings take flight. Decisions made have more serious consequences now. The college of choice determines future career opportunities, the new job is more than a funding source for video games and nights out on the town. The discussions revolve around mortgage payments vs. rent, in-laws and extended families, holiday sharing and long-term career goals. There are college applications to complete, essays to write and maintenance of the GPA. My birds are flying, stretching their wings yet still eager to return to the nest for additional flight training.

 

I stand at the observation deck and watch them flutter into their own flight patterns. I watch them struggle through prioritizing medical appointments, school work and friends’ party invitations. Car payment or family visit, the gym or the paper due in two days, they sort through each question now as carefully as I weighed the merits of family reunion or soccer, ballet lessons or group project. I know they are prepared to make choices, I taught them well. I find I am the one at a loss, the observer not the decision maker with the stakes so much higher today than when they were small. I am a source of advice, not the risk taker these days. I am asked for my editorial opinion, yet don’t wield the editing pencil. I am on the sideline, watching their flight, still cheering madly and hoping that all those decisions made in the early years will illuminate their path, put air under those wings and lift them to the next tree.

 

 

Parenting decisions grow in direct proportion with the child. Although I wouldn’t trade a moment of their growth, those days of bed vs crib, play dates vs team sports  don’t seem all that bad in retrospect. I do have to admit, I’m looking forward to the grandparenting days.  I can observe them with wings wide-spread, soaring into full flight from their own nests while I watch the hatchlings among the branches. The lessons of parenting 3.7 complete with honors.

 

Bird In Flight

Bird In Flight (Photo credit: Queen Roly)

 

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