Play Outside – go on!

A friend shared an article on Facebook about The Disease of Being Busy. It’s one that’s been around a few times – but also one that bears re-reading every time it comes.
A particular quote struck me as I read it late in March:

“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.”

It reminded me of an early experience when I was first travelling in New Zealand – something that stuck with me, and something that made me want to live there. I noticed, very quickly, that people asked you how you were – and expected a proper answer. And if you asked them – you got one back. And so a conversation ensued, and two people who may not have known each other a few minutes ago became friends. Even if just for the duration of a bus ride, or the time it took them to put your shopping through the til.


And it made contemplate on how my heart was feeling. I missed friends and family. But I was also relishing my immediate family.  Because we had taken a leap. We had grasped time. We took our time. We spent our time – wisely and in a new way.


On Wednesdays French schools is out – the children have a half day.  One Wednesday in March we had an enormous crépe lunch and then walked it off by taking the route home on foot across the frozen lake. It took forever.
Frozen lake walk_IMG_7366

Walking across the frozen lake

We watched the dog sled. We found footprints. And more footprints.  We stopped to look at things closely.  When we finally got to the other side Daisy stepped to her thighs in an old snowdrift and got properly stuck. I didn’t rush to help but waited. I gave her time to figure it out for herself. She managed to get even more stuck.  Isla went to dig her out. Somehow she got more stuck again and so I made my leisurely way to her and showed her what she’d done wrong (‘Jabbing at the snow around your stuck foot with a stick, darling? What do you think was happening there?!’)
photo of small bird footprints in snow

We took time to stop and really look

Then they played by the wobbly bridge and paddled in the stream, failing to heed my warnings about going deeper than the rubber bits on their snow boots.
Two girls play on a wobbly wooden bridge over a stream in a snowy landscape, with snow covered mountains around and a town in the distance

What’s not to love about a wobbly bridge?!

By the time we got home with soggy cold feet (not me!) it was just about tea time and Isla’s fresh-from-the-launderette clothes were filthy, their boots were soaked & we were all shattered.
“Well that was a bit of an adventure,” said Daisy.


It wasn’t long before April was fast approaching along with that trip to Milan – the four-days-and-three-nights one the school were taking our seven year old on.  And, it turned out, the year below her too!  Good luck those teachers.


April might have been fast approaching, but we were still getting some pretty hefty dumps of snow!

Isla was excited and nervous in turns, and as a consequence (in my opinion) put on a growth spurt that meant suddenly nothing I’d brought (having carefully tried it all on as I packed in the UK) fit her.  And the things that did were those I’d bought a size or two up, in a bit of a hurry, just before we left the UK.  I’d gone for stretchy skinny jeans – she’s not much of a trousers girl but she’d liked the look of them.  Maybe the age 10 was a bit excessive – she’s a larger age 7, but no monster.  ‘They scrunkle and tickle me,’ she complained. I had to concede that they were a bit over-roomy.

Nothing a not-so-quick trip to the big town at the bottom of the mountain couldn’t fix. (Bus to the next village across the lake, another bus to the car parked for free 300m down the mountain, car drive 50 winding minutes down to the town). Plus a quick on-line shop  of like soft and comfy leggings from tried and tested UK shops. Thank heavens my sister-in-law was about to arrive. Just in the nick of time to receive my orders & deliver them!  Yes – I’m sure I could buy online in France, but I was running out of time to do the research and post up the mountain isn’t always terribly speedy.

I packed the bag carefully, going over the ‘trousseau’ list we’d been given (i.e. what to pack), and naming everything as requested.  I found a ‘serviette de table’ (table napkin – how gorgeous!) and a ‘serviette de toilette’ (flannel – bear with me linguaphiles).  Satisfied she had everything she needed and not much more (as requested) I took her to school for the 6.45am rendezvous and only cried when I was safely on my own again.

While the younger one was gone, it was lovely to be able to focus on Daisy for a while. Just hanging out and chatting. Playing games together. Walking slowly from school to the bus stop, with a stop to play on the Playstations in the tourist office. I suggested, confident and independent as she was, that she might like to bring herself home one day. She was keen. As I was working near school that day we agreed that she’d walk from school and meet me outside the building, to catch the bus together. Done.

By 4pm, on a small lunch, my stomach was growling and my mouth watering at the thought of all the savoury goodies in the patisserie just along the road.  Past where Daisy would appear down the hill from school. She’d be cross, I thought, if she met me here and then I dragged her back along the street where she’d come from. So I waited at the bottom of the hill.  There she came, tripping along happily.

Til I called out her name.

‘What are you doing HERE?’  I explained my hunger and plan to hit the patisserie. ‘But you were supposed to be THERE. I was supposed to go on my own. I was looking forward to it.’

PARENTAL FAIL! I felt so silly – of course those extra twenty feet were important. Really important. They were part of the plan, which she’d probably been thinking about on and off all day. What a dunce.  I was sorry, Very sorry. I was silly and had made a mistake that I wouldn’t make again.  Luckily she’s as rubbish at sulking as I am.  A promise of a choice at the patisserie (huge meringue, obvs) went part way, then assurance that she could come ALL the way home on her own the following day put the bounce back in her walk.

Honestly. One in Milan and the other making her own way about town? Little bit more awesome (sniff).

They were late back from Milan.  Seven became eight became nine. The car was back in its free parking spot so I was on the bus. If I’d known how late they were likely to be I’d have fetched it. It was gone nine by the time Isla’s bus arrived, then we had a speech from a teacher about various logistics to wait through before another mother begged her to please, let the little ones off the bus. Then my traveller was stepping down and rushing to bury her face in my jacket. No tears. Thank heavens.

Whoever broke the lift from the lower levels of our village right near the bus stop to the higher levels where we live that night – thanks a lot. And thanks to the holiday reps who were just in front of us and muttered ‘Eighty steps up – groan.’ Because my weary seven-year-old needed all that at almost ten o’clock at night after a long trip back from Milan! And I couldn’t carry her – even without her bag that would have been pretty tough. Eighty steps?

We made it. She survived it. I think she had some fun.

Even though her silly mum packed a flannel instead of a towel.

The first few weeks

There’s school, with it’s ‘unimaginative’ playground. A concrete oblong. I think about the parents in the UK who’d complained about the playground at the girls’ school there. That it was boring. It was actually pretty great. But the French playground? A blank canvas. Into which the children bring imagination, skipping ropes, clap hand games, diablos and hop scotch. Just like we did as children. Nowt wrong with it.  I happily knot two curtain tie backs together for the girls to use as a skipping rope until a real one arrives in the post (we traipse all over town but no skipping rope can be found). I wish I’d known – there are two lovely almost unused wooden-handled skipping ropes somewhere in our storage unit back in the UK…

Within a week the girls know that their after-class activities are called TAP. Daisy is understanding every time her teacher mentions a ‘régle’ and Isla is uttering frequent ‘oui’s. I’m hopeful.


Thursday morning of week two Isla has a huge meltdown. Like – enormous. I suppose it’s to be expected. It’s a doozy. The ‘I’ll scream and scream and scream until I make myself sick,’ kind of meltdown. She is, literally, retching. I feel horrible. But she’s done it before – she has a gift of theatrics…

When I pick her up later her teacher is almost unbearably kind. She’d talked to Isla, discovered that Isla was really nervous about eating in the school canteen for the first time that day, and the fact that it would mean not seeing me all day long. So she’d organised it that the girls could eat together. And all was well. I feel incredibly grateful and fortunate that Isla has been gifted such a teacher.

On the way home I ask Daisy how lunch was. She begins, “Well, for our starter….”  Need I say more?!

The next day it’s Daisy’s turn for a meltdown. Totally different style. Moochy in the morning but okay by the time we reach school. But at lunchtime (I’m not plunging them into canteen lunches every day – I’m soft, me) her teacher tells me she’s not been herself, and at our usual indoor picnic spot she doesn’t eat much at all. I fear taking her home for the afternoon – what kind of a fit is Isla going to throw when she sees that happening? But she’s calm today and doesn’t bat an eyelid . Phew. Daisy spends the afternoon mooching and resting, and rallies.


Then there’s the first time since our arrival that we take the girls out skiing. It’s the Saturday before Isla starts a week of morning lessons with school so we’re keen to get them out there for a warm-up session. The weather isn’t great. Three quarters of the way up a long chairlift it becomes clear it’s a lot worse than that.

Driving sleet. Pretty much a white-out. Yuck.

Suffice it to say we don’t make it down en famille. It takes forever to get down this one blustery, bumpy, dastardly blue run – with a distinctly red ending.

James gets Isla down by hook, crook and portage, and she throws in a dose of awesome girliness to pull herself together and get back on her skis. I get Daisy down with patience, cajoling, being yelled at, shutting up, letting her sort herself out and find her strength and amaze the heck out of me.

Then we jump on the bus two stops and go home to eat chocolate.

Chocolate is already becoming too big a feature of my life in France…