Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The good, the bad, the ex-pat life

Many of my Facebook friends have been filling my newsfeed with their wonderful Love Lists. These lists are a great way to live in the moment, a record of the beautiful and wonderful things that surround us each day. A great way to keep a positive, optimistic outlook on life.

And, though I have made a New Years resolution to try remember how lucky and blessed I am, let's face it, I'm a Jewish girl from New York. Complaining is in my blood.

So, in an effort to be more positive while, at the same time, staying true to my "realistic" self, I am following in the steps of my wonderful friend Jen, another American blogging about life in Bordeaux. This post will be about the things that I love about life in France. I'll post separately about those things I could do without.

Love List
1) The number one thing on my love list has to be my family. And, especially, our adorable French-born Zachary. Though he does not automatically get French citizenship so, technically, he is not French. And our soon to be Frenchified Owen who comes home from school with new French vocabulary and corrects my accent.

Even though there are days when I think I'll explode if I hear "Mommy!" one more time, I really am blessed to be able to watch these two munchkins enjoy life. To paraphrase Carole King, they are teaching me that you don't have to look behind.

And my amazing husband who truly deserves a Father of the Year Nomination. He has taken so much time off of work to watch the kids so I can have some me-time. He has made countless phone calls to doctors' offices, administrators, banks, even a literary club that I signed up for without knowing what I was signing up for (just to get the guy to stop talking to me so I could shop in peace). Because, yes, I could make those calls myself but it would take a thousand times longer and I probably would end up more confused than before.

2) My friend is always talking about how our house at the Observatoire is paradise and, I have to admit, some days it does feel that way. Especially on days when I don't need anything from the outside world and I can sit and watch the deer graze in the backyard or a double rainbow fill the sky.

3) My group of ex-pat friends who continue to remind me that I'm not alone on this adventure and laugh right along with me as we encounter, almost daily, WTF (Welcome To France) moments. So thank you to you all!

4) No love list of France would be complete without a shout-out to the delicious food. And, here in Bordeaux we have our fair share of tasty treats. Of course, there is the wonderful wine. Though, I must admit, I am by no means an oenophile. We have a few favorite local wineries that we like. Chateau Carignan is about a 10 minute drive from our house and has a delicious 2005 Prima for special occasions or the L'Orangerie for everyday. There is also Domaine de Merlet (I would give you a link to their blog but it is terrible and outdated!) in Pessac-Leognan. Not only is the wine delicious but they are super friendly and Owen had a fantastic time splashing through the mud and making a new friend when we went there in December 2010.

And, within a 30 minute drive, we can get to St. Emilion or Sauternes. Two well-known and beautiful appelations in the Bordeaux region. St. Emilion is known for its vibrant reds while Sauternes is known for its sweet whites (which, we've been assured can be paired with any course).

And Arcachon, a beach town, known for huitres (oysters) is about a 45 minute drive. We've spent many a sunny (and rainy) day there hanging out at the beach or at the nearby Dunes du Pyla.

And Bordeaux is known for fois gras (liver paté, usually from a goose), cepes (porcini mushrooms), and magret de canard (duck). And, of course, CHEESE. All different kinds of ooey, gooey, stinky cheese. YUM YUM!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Good-bye 2011. Part 2.

Photo highlights of 2011 from the Raymond family.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2012 filled with laughter and love!

Good-bye 2011. Part 1.

I feel like I am constantly apologizing for not posting more regularly. I'll be 35 in a week and maybe age will bring time management skills so I will make more time to write. One can only hope. :)

Wow! I can't believe that 2011 is almost over! It feels like it went by faster than usual. Must be the sleep deprivation! But, seriously, we have had so many things to be grateful for this past year. Zack is a beautiful, happy, and energetic new addition to the family. Owen is a smart, funny, creative soul and settling into the routine of school and even speaking a bit of French. It has been truly amazing (though often exhausting!) watching them grow and I look forward to seeing what 2012 has in store for us.

In 2011, we lost Sean's grandmother. Her name was Rita but she was known to her family as Mim.

Mim and Sean, Nov 1977

Mim and Sean, June 2002

Mim, Sean, and Owen, May 2009

We went to Massachusetts in October to celebrate Mim's life. It was so special to be together in Williamstown with the entire Raymond clan. As you can see, it was quite a multigenerational turnout. We hope to all get together again soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

La Rentree (The Return)

It has been three weeks now since "la rentrée". That time of year when all the French return from their month-long vacations and school starts again. This year was different for us in two major ways: 1) because of the new baby, we hung around town and did not partake in the August exodus. And 2) Owen joined the ranks of the school children who flooded the streets, backpacks in hand, on September 5th with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Owen started in the PS-MS class at Ecole Maternelle Leon Blum in Floirac. Ecole Maternelle is the French equivalent of preschool and is attended to by nearly kids in France starting at age 3. "PS" stands for "petit section", the littlest kids, who were born in 2008. Since Owen is a New Years baby, he was placed in PS-MS (petit section/moyen section), which is a mixture of the oldest 3 year olds and the youngest of the 4 year olds. There are 25 kids in Owen's class. The interesting thing about the first day of school in France is that you do not receive any information about school prior to that first day. Including, which day is the first day. You see, in Ecole Maternelle, there are 2 start days - Monday or Tuesday - so that the kids (and probably the teachers too) are not so overwhelmed by the new class and new classmates. So, all we knew was that Owen was supposed to start school on one of these days. So Sean called the directrice the week before and was told that Owen should be there on Monday. But that was all we knew. Not which class he was in, not where the classroom was. Nothing. And that made my own anxieties about that day even more extreme because how do you prepare your child for that separation when you can't give them more information other than, "On Monday you're going to go to big boy school"?

But the first day went off pretty well. A sign posted by the entrance gate to the school listed the kids by classroom. So, at 8:25am, the four of us walked to the school and learned that Owen was going to be in the PS/MS class and that the teacher's name was Maryse. Then we found his classroom through the "sheep method" of following everyone else. Along the hallway of the school, were coat hangers with kids names taped above them. We found Owen's name about halfway down the long hallway and, thus, found his classroom. Owen was so proud when he saw his name and he hung his backpack on the hook and took off his shoes like the other kids. Then we went inside the classroom and, right away, Owen's cardar (that is, his radar for any car toy) kicked in and he was off. Sean and I signed him in with the teacher and said goodbye. No tears from Owen. Plenty from me (though I managed to hold them in until we were outside).

French school goes from 8:30-11:30 then 1:30-4:30. During the 2 hours lunch break, the kids can either go home or they can stay at the school and eat in the cantine. The first morning, Owen only stayed until the lunch break at 11:30. Our plan had been that Owen would only go in the mornings until he was adjusted and then, around November or so, would start going full days. But since things went so well on that Monday, we decided that on Thursday (the other half of his class started on Tuesday and then French schools are closed on Wedsnesdays so Owen only had 3 days of school that first week), Owen would start going full days. This will help Owen pick up the language faster and make friends more quickly, we believe. Plus, we hope that by eating in the cantine 4 days a week, Owen will start eating more variety of foods (the rule is that the kids have to take one bite of everything at the cantine).

So, fingers crossed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

French healthcare experience #5: Re-education

One major difference between post-partum care in the US and France has been the post-partum care for my lady parts. Note: while I tried not to be too graphic with this post, there are somethings I couldn't help so read with caution if you are sensitive to these kinds of things. And, no, there are no pictures.

Starting during my pregnancy, several of my friends told me that the French are quite interested in making sure women get their parts back in shape after birth. And the way they do this is through "re-education" therapy (yes, that it actually what it is called). Jokingly, my friends said it was because of the French obsession with beauty and sex. And, in fact, the mid-wives at the hospital told me that it would be ok to resume sex as soon as the stitches healed - in about 2 weeks - but that I should not do cardiovascular exercise until after finishing my re-education. Which is definitely different than the medical advice I got in the US which said to wait at least 6-weeks before doing either. As for the official reasoning I was given behind re-educations, the doctors and midwives told me it's to prevent incontinence. Either way, both sounded like good reasons. But, oh boy, I knew this was going to be an experience.

Re-education is basically electro-stimulation therapy for your vaginal muscles. When I saw my OB for my 6-week post-partum appointment, she even said, "the stitches healed nicely, now lets get you a prescription for the re-education. And you will want to start that soon." Maybe I should have vajazzled before going in to see her. She made me feel a bit self-conscious (more self-conscious then usual, anyway). So, my first session was last week with my mid-wife, 9-weeks post-partum. For twenty minutes, I was made to lay down on an exam table with a vibrator-like instrument inserted between my legs that is then attached by wire to a computer. I was given a prescription for the thing so it is mine to carry around with me to and from the mid-wife's office for each of the 10 sessions that I was prescribed.

If anyone has ever had electro-stim therapy as part of rehab for an injury, you can imagine what this is like. Once the contraption is hooked up to the computer, the mid-wife starts one of several different programs of electric impulses. The programs vary on intensity and duration of the pulses. The purpose being to cause the muscles to contract and, therefore, strengthen. And all of this with both kids in the room. Owen was eating his snack and playing with cars. Zack was nursing during the first session and hanging out in his carseat during the second, smiling at me as I made faces with each shock. Let me state for the record, I have now had 2 sessions and I would not call this an enjoyable experience. In fact, I would actually describe the second session as painful. And 4 days later, I am still a bit sore. But, since I am not the most dedicated kegel-ist and the alternative, according to my mid-wife, is that I risk peeing my pants every time I sneeze, I will continue the rest of my sessions.

One funny thing was that my mid-wife seemed genuinely shocked that they don't do this therapy in the US. And, she seemed sort of proud that the French were "more advanced" than the Americans in taking care of women after childbirth. I do have to say that this is just another example that I have come across of the French being much more supportive of preventive care and, especially, in regards to women's health. Which sort of amazes me given how paternalistic French society still is.

Monday, August 15, 2011

2 months old!

August 14, 2011

Growth parameters measured on August 10:
weight: 4,390kg (9lbs, 10oz)
height: 56cm (22 inches)
head circumference: 39cm (15.4 inches)

French Healthcare Experience #4: Vaccines

Zachary is now 2 months old! So, hard to believe. In addition to the developmental milestones that this age brings - smiles, coos, a little more head control - this is also the age for his first set of shots. And so, with a little bit of hesitation, I brought him to the doctor (Owen came along too as Sean was at work) last week for his shots.

Now, the first thing to know about getting vaccines in France is that you have to bring the meds to the doctor's office yourself. So, before the day of the appointment, you must get a prescription for the vaccines and go pick them up at the pharmacy. Since pharmacy's may run out of their supplies, it is always recommended to go several days in advance. So, for the past week we have had the vaccines in our refrigerator - a reminder each time we would go get some food of the upcoming event.

The other thing to know is that drugs are significantly cheaper in France than in the US. On average, our co-pay is less than 1 euro for our drugs and the total cost of the drugs themselves have never been over 20 euros as far as I can remember. This is for drugs such as antibiotics, pain meds (the tylenol and advil equivalents for kids are by prescription only here), cough syrups, etc. So, we were a bit surprised to see that the cost of the vaccines was over 100 euros though it was completely covered by our insurance.

But, other than that, the appointment was very similar to those we had in the US. Since August is the month of vacations in France, our appointment for Zack's 2 month well-child check was with the substitute doctor and not our regular physician. In France, substitute doctor (medecin remplaçant) is a profession, like substitute teachers. At our last appointment with our PCP, she assured me that her replacement this time was wonderful so I wasn't too concerned when I got to the office. Of course, I'm always a little anxious about seeing a new professional because of the language issue. I'm always a bit insecure about whether I will understand let alone be understood. But, in general, this physician was fine. She answered my questions with patience and even made a little small talk as she was preparing the needles (Zack had 2 shots). And, much to my surprise, despite her coldish demeanor towards Owen (who, after waiting for an hour at this point wanting me to play with him and was interrupting my conversation with the doctor to ask me questions), she even patted Zachary on the back a few times after I picked him up following the shots and offered a few words of reassurance to him, "C'est tout. C'est fini. Ça va." (That's all. It's finished. You're ok.)

For those interested to know, the vaccines are mostly but not entirely the same regimen as in the US. For children at risk, they give a vaccine for tuberculous at birth along with Hepatitis B. I'm positive that Zack did not get tuberculosis because I remember having a conversation with the sage-femme about it but I can't remember whether he had Hep B. The vaccines that Zachary got at 2 months are known in France as Prevenar 13 (for pneumonococcus) and Infanrix hexa (covers diptheria, polio, tetanus, Hib, pertussis, and Hep B) which I think is primarily the same as in the US though I remember in the US that Owen was also rotavirus too. Another difference is that here, as I handed over my check and carte vitale (health insurance card) to the doctor for payment, she handed me back a prescription for the next round of shots - to be given in 1 month. This surprised me because in the US shots are normally given in 2 month intervals. But, as I am repeatedly reminded, we are NOT in the US anymore.