In the beginning it was just a solution to having children in the States. What possible occupation could make me not regret leaving France before having my babies? France! The country where they essentially pay you to procreate! Up to two years maternity leave, five weeks paid vacation every year, free education; these are just a few of the many benefits to being a maman in France. So with our decision to move to the U.S. to found a family, what job could I have that would give me some of these benefits?
Although it obviously wouldn't be paid, with a little planning, popping a kid out at the end of the school year gives me a few months "maternity leave". Though the day starts earlier, it also ends earlier; I'd be able to make dinner and possibly be there afternoons. I'd be home on weekends. I'd have the same vacations as they do. I'd have summers off to go travel and explore with them. I hate teaching English, but French would be teaching something I don't loathe, so it's a compromise, I told myself. You can do this, I thought. Do it for your children.
Then I started looking at prospective schools and the excitement grew a little. I found a university that actually has a masters program in teaching French in secondary school, even though it's in Arizona, and for the first time in my life considered moving south. Arid & hot with no canopy of green is not generally my cup of tea. What did this desire mean? Nothing, I told myself. Just an exaggeration.
Then came the perusing of the flea markets. Old posters, children's books and encyclopedias in French, old black & white pictures of Paris. The pile grew. Not to decorate my home here in France, oh no. And not as decor for a future house in the States, either. I realized with a gasp! that all this collecting is for my future classroom.
Suddenly ideas and images come flooding in. I start making a list of things to buy before leaving the country. A magnetic map of the regions of France; a cloth calendar with seasons and weather and months and days of the week; a pop-up version of Le Petit Prince. I catch myself doing calculations - would it be cheaper to order thirty copies of Les Mis now and ship it with me, or to order them from the FNAC later from the States? I ask my French friends about their favorite French movies & books & muscial groups & tv shows, not because I want to know what they like but because I want ideas for potential classroom material.
Then come the questions. Is Le Père Noel est une Ordure appropriate cinema for high school students? If I expose them to popular French artists, do I need to censor the bad words? How does one put together a classroom trip to Europe? Will my students think I'm French?
Then the fantasies. My classroom walls are covered with old posters of regions of France. There are postcards with witty word games on the podium. On my desk there's a picture of Rémy & me in front of the Eiffel Tower. My calendar is pictures I've taken in Auvergne. There are plants everywhere, labeled in French (fougère, buis, pensée, oeillet). It's the end of the school year and my students are having a fête; they've made French specialties (crêpes & cheese & croissants, most likely) and are watching Amélie (subtitled in French, of course). The bell rings and my kids smile & laugh as they walk out of the classroom. "Bonnes vacances, Madame Coutarel!" they tell me as they leave. I smile as the door closes behind them, walk over to the chalkboard and start erasing another year's memories.
a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...
oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.
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