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Premier Jour d’Ecole


The big Bug outside of the Ecole Maternelle.

Jim, Maggie, Emma, and I walked toward the Ecole Maternelle on Friday morning in nervous silence.  Silence is unusual for my family as there is always someone whining for a snack/book/toy, or tripping and erupting in tears, or chatting my ear off about dijets, detectors, and data sets.  Come to think of it, I am usually silent, it is the people that surround me that are the noisemakers.  But, on this particular morning we were all reserved because we were tingling with the anticipation of Emma’s adventure in French school.  Jim and I were struggling with thoughts of our tiny baby girl (only 5 and 1/2 pounds when she was born, the little Bug) suddenly being old enough to wield a backpack and navigate a classroom all on her own.  Emma was wide-eyed and serious, but not at all scared of starting school.  She looked as if she would burst with excitement as we waited for the school doors to open.  And Maggie, poor little sister, was panicked.  She bounced back and forth between Emma and me, unsure of which person to attach herself to.  She did not want to leave her beloved sister, but she was not quite ready to forgo Mama’s arms in favor of an unfamiliar classroom.

We waited amidst a crowd of parents and children, all buzzing with first day of school excitement.  I strained my ears, searching out some English speakers in the native crowd, and was pleasantly surprised to hear a few families conversing in English.  In fact, the more I listened the more English I heard, along with a little German and Italian sprinkled in with the French.  Thanks to its close proximity to CERN and Geneva, our tiny town is really very international.  It calmed my nerves a bit to know that my baby would not be the only non-native speaker at the Ecole Maternelle.

When the gate to the school was finally unlocked, we followed the crowd through the playground (temporarily losing Maggie to the brightly colored climbing structure) and into the school.  Aided by our incomprehensible, yet visually informative tour that we took earlier in the summer, I was able to locate Emma’s classroom without any problems.  We found her coat hook and shoe cubby and stood there for a few minutes unsure of what to do next.  It was then that I remembered the advice of a very wise woman, who said that when navigating the first few days of school it is best to simply look around and do what everyone else is doing.  Emma and I glanced at the families in our vicinity (Jim was wrestling with an increasingly more frantic Maggie) and noticed that all the children were sitting on benches and changing into their school slippers.  (In France, children are required to bring slippers to wear in the classroom.  When I first heard this I was panicked about where in the world I would find slippers, but then I stumbled across the endlessly long slipper aisle at Migros.)  So we sat down and put on Emma’s brand new, purple flowered, velcro chausonns.  Maggie escaped from Jim’s clutches and began tearing off her own shoes, still not knowing where exactly Emma was headed, but positive that she must be shoeless if she was to join in the fun.

Chausonns clad, with beloved backpack hung carefully upon her very own hook, Emma confidently approached her classroom door.  We waited in line to speak to her teacher, Madame Doubroff, a gentle, gray-haired woman with a smiling face and brightly flowered dress.  She greeted us warmly, and her smile did not waver when we answered her initial questions with distressed, blank stares.  We explained that we did not speak French (I am becoming masterful at brandishing my “Je ne parle pas Francais”) and she was able to speak to us in broken, but much appreciated English.  Emma, exasperated with her bumbling parents, slipped past us and immediately took up residence in the pretend play center in her classroom.  We had to call her back to us to administer our goodbye hugs and kisses.  I felt the tears welling up in my throat as I held her close, but she wiggled free, anxious to get back to the food and kitchen toys.  She did not give us a second glance as we bade Madame Doubroff farewell, and wrestled Maggie away from the classroom where she was crying and clutching the door frame.

Our diminished family walked back to the car, peering into the window to ensure that Emma was happy and settled in her classroom.  We spotted her firmly entrenched in the pretend play center, unaware that her overly emotional, voyeuristic parents were watching her with watery eyes.  Maggie was making no pretenses of hiding her dismay at having left her sister behind.  She was alternately collapsing onto the sidewalk in anguish, and making mad dashes back to the school in an attempt to infiltrate the doors and join her sister in the Shangri-la that was the preschool classroom.  We made it back to the car where Maggie was easily distracted by raisins and the opportunity to read the Cinderella book that Emma usually commandeers on car trips.  We dropped Jim off at work and spent a relaxing morning running errands and playing with friends at toddler group.

Three hours later we rejoined the families at the gates of the Ecole Martenelle and waited with bated breath to see Emma’s smiling face.  Madame Doubroff greeted us again at the classroom door, and as I waited for other parents to claim their children I peeked inside and saw my little Bug sitting patiently on the floor (criss-cross, applesauce) in line of other children.  I have never seen her be so still, so serene, and so quiet.  It was then and there that I determined Madame Doubroff to be some sort of mystical preschool whisperer, able to silence whiny children with a nod of her head, and to quell fidgety bodies with the twinkle in her eye.  When Madame Doubroff called her name, Emma flew from the ground and dashed into my arms.  She had a huge smile on her face and had clearly had a wonderful morning, but I could tell from the way she clutched my legs, that she had missed me, just a little bit.  Maggie greeted her long-lost sister with a joyful hug, that was (surprisingly) returned with equal love.  Maybe this time apart will be good for my normally feuding daughters.

Reunited, we returned to CERN to have lunch with Jim and get the full report on Emma’s first day of school, which was unsurprisingly, but unfortunately vague.  I found myself wishing that I had slipped a tape recorder in her pocket, or attached a nanny cam to her hair clip, in hopes of catching some glimpse of what had transpired at school that morning.  She emphatically stated that the day had been “fine” and “fun” and had admitted to loving the play kitchen and dolls.  She told us that Madame Doubroff had sung some songs, and that most of the kids had joined in, but that she just listened because “I don’t speak French, Mommy.”  (Duh-uh, Mommy.)  I felt a little nervous when she told us that she had not made any new friends, or talked to any children because (once again) “I don’t speak French, Mommy.”  But then I realized that Emma is only three, and most three-year olds I know do not have stimulating, deeply intimate conversations with their peers, or with anyone for that matter.  She will make friends, she will begin to understand the language, we just need to give it time.  For now I am grateful that she enjoyed school and is anxious to return on Monday.

On a side note, on my trips to and from the school I noticed some very positive signs that led me to believe that our neighborhood school will be a perfect fit for Emma.  One, was that on a clear day, which it was on Friday, Mont Blanc is visible from the playground.  Imagine a bunch of maniacal preschoolers running rampant in a playground and pausing for just a moment to look up and gaze upon the snowy peak of Mont Blanc.  It is quite a pastoral scene in the background of a lively and often chaotic place.  Adding to this sense of calm and peace is the official name of the school “Les Tourterelles” which means “the doves” in French.  What could go wrong in a school with such a beautiful, poetic name?

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Today we ventured over to the pool in the Swiss town of Meyrin.  After an almost two-week hiatus, summer has returned to the Geneva area.  The temperature was finally warm enough for a pool trip, so we grabbed our towels, loaded up the pool bag with necessary supplies (sunscreen, pink Disney princess cups, without which a pool trip would be disastrous, hats, safari sunglasses courtesy of James’ fourth birthday party, and lunch.  A moment of silence, please, for the cute, brown, J.Crew cover-up, still missing in action.)  The Meyrin pool is gigantic, with lovely green space for picnicking, play structures, and three different sized toddler pools.  Emma, normally the slowest walker on the planet, sprinted ahead of me into the pool area in a water-induced frenzy and promptly tripped and skinned her knee.  We made quite an entrance; frumpy mom, laden with three different overstuffed bags, wailing child clutching a slightly skinned knee, and a straggling toddler, wandering off to pillage the nearest open picnic basket.  As quick as a fish, I whipped off Emma’s pink terry-cloth beach dress, and shoved her into the ankle-deep water, muttering something about the healing powers of chlorine and telling her to soak her skinned knee.  It was all I could do to restrain Maggie and wrestle her into a swim diaper while she watched her sister frolic in the wading pool.  As evidenced by her screams, I am quite sure that until the moment I let her go, Maggie was convinced I was going to stick her in a trash bin and force her to watch our water merriment from behind grimy steel bars.  Of course, once her bottom was carefully swaddled in plastic I set her free and she barreled into the water to join Emma.

We are pool novices.  Last summer we spent the majority of the hot, sticky days at a magical place called a “spray-ground.”  The wonderful thing about a spray-ground is that it consists solely of sprinklers and there are no pools of water for clumsy children to fall head first into and flounder around in until their mothers yank them to safety.  Emma,  though she is three and tall enough to comfortably stand in the wading pools, managed to lose her footing and disappear under the water on three different occasions today.  Luckily, I was always within arm’s reach of my graceful daughter, and easily rescued her from the murky depths of the two foot pool.  I couldn’t help but marvel at her incredible non-swimming abilities, and in a fit of curiosity I googled “animals that cannot swim” in hopes of finding a nick-name for my un-amphibious child.  On straightdope.com I found an informative tidbit that shed light on her inability to stay afloat.  Tom Silva, the mammal curator from the Rio Grande Zoo in New Mexico claims that “most large primates such as gorillas and orangutans cannot swim, partly because their centers of gravity are in their necks and sternums. ‘They sink like stones,’ says Tom.”  Interesting.  Ever since she was an infant Emma has had impressive head measurements, topping the charts in the 98th percentile even though her height and weight hovered somewhere in the 30s and 40s.  My poor child cannot help her swimming deficiency, it is all in her head.

Big head aside, Emma was a trooper at the pool.  After her third dunking she declared a moratorium on “the deep water” (i.e. the only wading pool where the water came above her knees), but found plenty of ways to entertain herself in the shallower spots.  I really enjoy watching Emma and Maggie interact with French-speaking children.  It is remarkable how they manage to work out games (I pour water from the watering can, while you hold the bucket), take turns, and share, all without common language.  The children are usually yammering on in their native tongue, not caring or noticing that their playmates are not responding with understandable words.  There are no corrections, no attempts to teach appropriate pronunciation, or scolding for improper sentence structure.  They are able to relate to each other solely through shared play.  Remarkably, I found that less fighting broke out between playmates using differing languages.  There is the usual stealing of toys, but the squabbling that often accompanies the grabbing is absent.  It is almost as if they recognize that fighting is fruitless, so they solve their problems in other ways, like by trading for coveted toys, or moving on to another activity.  At least this is what I observed at the pool yesterday, but pools generally put children in very good moods so that may be the reason for the utopian-like interactions.

Another thing I noticed at the Meyrin pool was that I was one of the few women wearing a one-piece suit.  The French/Swiss sure are fond of teeny bikinis.  Again, how this is possible with their carb heavy, cheese rich diet is beyond me.  We also saw a few women who opted to forgo their tops altogether (prompting Emma to ask “Is that lady going to feed her baby?  Where is her baby, Mommy?”) which people had warned me we would see, but was shocking nonetheless as this was a public pool, not a sandy beach on the French Riviera.  In many ways the Meyrin pool felt like any other community pool in the United States with giggling, shrieking children splashing in the water, life guards patrolling the deck, issuing stern warnings to walk, not run, long lines for the twisty slide, serious swimmers dodging the crowds on their way to the lap pool.  But then out of the corner of my eye I would catch a glimpse of a topless, espresso drinking lady, puffing on a cigarette between sips and chatting with a Speedo clad man and I would remember that I am, indeed, not in the Midwest anymore.

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That is pretty much what Emma expected to see when we went to visit her new school yesterday.  Madeline is on her ever-growing list of literary heroes (currently she has fallen behind Brother and Sister Bear, but is holding steady above Olivia) and she has been looking forward to going to a school like Madeline’s ever since we told her we were moving to France.  There are days when the idea of shipping Emma off to a Parisian boarding school to be looked after by an energetic nun is extremely tempting.  (On closer inspection of the Madeline series, however, I have begun to question Miss Clavel’s competency as a child care provider.  While in her charge Madeline has been hospitalized with appendicitis, fallen into the Seine, kidnapped by Gypsies, gone on a trippy magic carpet ride with a door-to-door rug salesmen, and come very close to be eaten by the tiger at the zoo.)  But, I would miss my Bug-hugs far too much, and am very grateful for the beautiful, welcoming public school that is within walking distance of our apartment.

I have been trying to get in touch with administrators at the Ecole Maternelle for almost a week now.  As you may remember, I left the town hall, after a slightly difficult registration process, with strict instructions to call the director of the school the following morning.  Over the past week I have found that it is nearly impossible to conduct a successful phone conversation when neither party speaks the same language.  I called the school three times, always armed with a carefully crafted google-translated transcript.  Every time I called I spoke to the same secretary, and every call ended with me incorrectly assuming that I was patiently waiting for the secretary to connect me with the director, only to be surprised by the condescending drone of the dial tone.  Essentially, I was continually hung up on, but not in a rude manner.  I can only assume that the secretary told me that the director was not in, and she may have even instructed me on a more appropriate time to call.  It is quite possible that she asked me to leave a message and I just sat on the other end of the line in silence, because, of course, I could not understand her.  She most likely thought I was rude, or incredibly dim, probably both.

No offense to Alexander Graham Bell, but the telephone is an extremely ineffective form of communication for me in France.  I have mad charades skills (as anyone who has every played Cranium with me can attest), and they serve me well in face-to-face interactions.  So, after my third miserable attempt on the phone, I decided to take my pantomiming prowess straight to the school.  As luck would have it, the very first person I ran into as we walked through the doors of the Ecole Maternelle was Mr. James Olivier himself, the much sought-after director.  I began gesticulating and repeating the words “ecole, fille” until Mr. Olivier supressed a smile and kindly said, “Would you rather speak in English?”  I had to stop myself from embracing him, and sheepishly nodded and said “Oui.  Merci.”  I made a rendezvous (I am obsessed with the fact that a normal appointment in France is called a rendezvous.  It just sounds so much more exciting than appointment) for 1:45 that day and was given a list of documents to bring back to the school.  Mr. Olivier also told me that there was a tour for new students and families that very afternoon.  What a happy coincidence, the very day I finally gathered my courage and braved the gates of the Ecole Maternelle was also an orientation day for new families.

There were fifteen families on our tour, and despite Mr. Olivier’s prediction that there would be other English speaking students, we were the only non-French speakers.  (Which Mr. Olivier kindly pointed out to the whole group when he asked “Is there anyone here who does not understand French?  No?  Only you Mrs. Hirschauer?  You are the only one?”)  Emma and I stuck to the back of the group.  We did not understand any of the information that Mr. Olivier was spewing forth, but enjoyed the tour all the same.  Emma was fascinated with the child-sized cubbies, coat hooks, sinks, water fountains, and toilets.  Finally, she had stumbled into a world that was tailor-made for her.  We were both overwhelmed by the gymnastics room, a large gymnasium with equipment that would make Mary Lou Retton proud.  I assumed that gymnastics was a term for gym class, but the different sized beams, rings, bars, tumbling mats, and vaults clearly proved that the French take their gymnastics seriously.

We also got to visit Emma’s future classroom, where Emma was enthralled with the play-house/kitchen area, and I was impressed with the learning centers and calendar corner.  I had heard that French schools are structured and disciplined and was fearful that there would not be enough emphasis on learning through play.  Visions of teeny-tiny desks in neat little rows had plagued my dreams since the day I registered Emma for school.  All my fears dissolved, however, when I entered the brightly colored classroom and saw toys, play centers, and art supplies.  There was the aforementioned pretend play area with a house-like structure, kitchen, grocery store, and doctor’s office.  A science corner set up against the windows boasted a dirt/mud filled sensory table, magnifying glasses, sticks, leaves, and bug boxes.  There were rows and rows of manipulatives, puzzles, books, and art supplies.  And, not a desk to be found, only tiny tables, and a significant rug/circle area.  I felt the stress rolling off my shoulders as I walked around the room.  We may not speak the same language, but the teacher and I definitely shared similar points of view on preschool education.  I felt as at home in Emma’s new classroom as she did (as evidenced by the fact that she had to be dragged, kicking and screaming out of the playhouse when our tour was through).

Emma and I were extremely excited about school after our serendipitous experience at the Ecole Maternelle yesterday.  I feel confident that the school is  familiar with the needs of non-French speaking students, and am looking forward to the day in the not so distant future when Emma returns home from school spewing French words and sentences.  Emma is bursting to get back into her classroom and get her hands on all the new toys and books.  Yesterday was a perfect,  positive, stress-free inauguration to Emma’s French school adventure.

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Today, while driving into the town of Ferney-Voltaire, we passed a smartly dressed man carrying a briefcase, hitchhiking on the side of the road.  He was wearing trousers, a v-neck sweater with a collared shirt underneath, and a tweed blazer.  He was definitely not your run of the mill, Kerouac loving hitchhiker.  He looked more like a professor than a beatnik.  He was so neatly pressed and harmless looking that I thought about pulling over.  Of course, my stereo was blasting the best of Disney Princesses, and my children were strapped in the backseat playing tug-o-war with a Fancy Nancy book, so it is quite possible that the well-groomed wayfarer would have taken one look in my fingerprint smeared windows and declined my offer.  Also, every slumber party I ever attended featured a flashlight lit tale about a maniacal, murderous hitchhiker.  Although the spooky stories rarely involved a tweed jacket wearing traveler, I still could not be sure that his innocuous briefcase was not a handy caddy for his knife collection.

So I passed on the hitchhiker, but it got me thinking that this was not the first roadside traveler I have seen in France.  He is certainly the oldest and wins the award for snazziest dresser, but he seems to be part of a large society of pilgrims who roam the countryside looking for free rides.  It turns out that hitchhiking is a much more accepted form of transportation here than in the United States.  Actually, in some areas, like Augsburg, Germany, it is considered a sport.  In just two days (I found out through some quick googling) the illustrious Abgefahren hitchhiking race will kick off.  It is a two-day thumbing extravaganza beginning in Augsburg, Germany and ending at an undisclosed location in Slovenia.  People compete in teams of two, and the team who makes it to the secret destination in the shortest amount of time wins.

It sounds like a low-budget Amazing Race.  No cameras, no glamorous flight attendant/lingerie model duos, no plane tickets.  I’ve often thought that Jim and I would make a really great Amazing Race team.  He is a first-rate map reader, listens intently when people give directions, and can decipher any and all public transportation routes, and I am highly emotional, cry easily, and have a tendency to trip and fall when I am in a rush.  Basically, he would be the brains of the operation, but I would provide comic relief/good t.v.  Perhaps we should do an Amazing Race dry run and give the Abgefahren a try.  I wonder if we could find a babysitter for the girls on such short notice.  Better yet, they could come along and be their own team.  They’re so cute, they are sure to be picked up by the first car that passes.  Who could resist those two little thumbs?

Future winners of the Abgefahren

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Rainy Day Blues


Though taken months ago, this is an exact replica of the face that dominated my day. Her sister's was not much better. Also, pink hair is so hot right now.

We are having one of those days.  You know, one of those days where it feels like you can’t do anything right, or more precisely your kids think you can’t do anything right.  I served the wrong flavored yogurt in the wrong colored bowls at breakfast this morning.  (Blueberry yogurt!  Green bowls!  How dare I?)  I peeled a banana when (obviously) the recipient wanted to hold a half-peeled banana and peel the rest on her own.  These indiscretions would be much more manageable if the tiny people around me could communicate their dismay in something other than ear-splitting shrieks.  On days like this, when the natives roll out of bed already restless, I find it best to get out of the house as quickly as possible, and have perfected the art of emergency apartment evacuation.  This morning, however, mother nature squashed my dreams of taking the girls up to a mountain pasture and leaving them to caterwaul with the cows.  The rain kept us inside all morning, and no amount of play-dough, postcard writing, and library book reading could quell our cabin fever.

We managed to escape the house to mail our postcards, raid the Boulanger (furthering my belief that Palmiers make everything better), and meet Jim for lunch at CERN.  A cafeteria filled with noshing physicists surprisingly serves as an excellent distraction for ornery children.  There was one woman in particular who caught the attention of the girls.  Her bright pink hair was cut in a stylish bob, similar to Emma’s, and she was wearing brilliant green pants.  I had to remind Emma more than once to stop staring, and I half expected her to venture over to the woman’s table and start petting her head.  I will have to keep a close eye on our art supplies for the next few days in an effort to thwart any copy cat, hair-dying attempts.  Although, a pink coiffed knight, performing a complex interpretive dance with a long wooden sword at the playground may be just the spectacle we need to make new friends.

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Back where she belongs

Oh, the sweet sound of success (currently it is the sound of soft, gentle turning of pages as the girls eagerly flip through coveted new library books).  Today the stars aligned and we were able to locate a library in the Swiss city of Meyrin (in a relatively stress free manner, four roundabouts and only 2 curse words uttered).  We found English children’s books, procured a library card, and took home 10, count em’, 10 new-to-us books.  Never mind, that I had to lie to obtain the library card.  The literary future of my children hung in the balance and to save them from certain, fatal Berenstain Bear withdrawal, I was forced to use a fake Geneva address.  We do not live in the canton of Geneva, as a matter of fact, we do not even technically live in the country of Switzerland.  But, should my poor, helpless, French country-side-dwelling children be punished because of their zip code?  I think not.  So I lied and gave the very nice librarian the address of one of Jim’s coworkers.  My hands were sweating as I filled out the paperwork, but I plan to hide behind my own French illiteracy if our cover is ever blown.

The Meyrin library was very lovely.  It was brand new, light and open, with a decent selection of English books.  The girls enjoyed poking around the book bins and shelves, flopping on the bean bags, and terrorizing the gang of pre-teen boys who were attempting to relax in the comic book section.  Those poor boys were not prepared for two small American children peering over their shoulders and crawling under their table and between their feet.  (I forgot that it was a Wednesday, which means no school here.  No real reason, just no school on Wednesdays.  Maybe I should try to get a French teaching license, I could really get used to that schedule.)  We spent a good hour exploring the children’s room and narrowing our towering pile of books down to the allotted ten.  Then we left the building and ran smack into a gaudy, blinking, Disney themed carousel.  Because I was on a high from our heavenly library experience, the sun had emerged from the clouds, and I had a 5 Franc coin burning a hole in my pocket, I let the girls take a spin on the carousel.  I really am going to have to get used to all these coins.  To me, a coin feels like a small amount of money, even if it is roughly worth 5 dollars.  I do not even want to think about the number of coins I have misplaced since I have been here.  I am just not used to keeping track of change, and now that I have to account for two different types of currency on a daily basis, it is a lost cause.  Anyway, the girls really enjoyed their carousel ride.  With no prompting from me they chose to ride in the same fire truck, even though they had the run of the ride.  Coincidently, the fire truck they chose had a Chicago license plate, and a snazzy picture of a Chicago firefighter on the side.  Imagine, two girls from the Chicago suburbs riding a (loose) replica of a Chicago fire truck in Meyrin, Switzerland.

All the way from the Windy City to Meyrin, Switzerland.

Chicago's finest.

After the thrilling carousel ride we headed out to find a park for a picnic lunch.  This was easier said than done for the odd reason that once we turned the corner of the library there were three different playgrounds, each a stones throw away from the other.  Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, we tried out all three play areas before we decided on the perfect one.  My favorite park was the “Espace Intergenerationnel.”  It was an ingenious park designed for young and old alike.  There were benches equipped with bike pedals so you could essentially ride a stationary recumbent bike while watching your children play.  Why has this not been thought of before?  A park where you can burn calories while your kids run around like crazy people, just may be the greatest idea since the inception of the Jane Austen Festival.  All I needed was a chart delineating how many minutes I would have to pedal to work off the calories in a “pain au chocolat.”  There were also brain teaser type games in one area of the park, that were completely incomprehensible to me.  My definition of a brain teaser is figuring out which remote to use to turn on the tv, so you can imagine that puzzles with instructions written in French were miles out of my league.

Emma, genuinely puzzled by the "bike feet things" at the park.

It was a perfect day.  We were home in time for the girls to take afternoon naps, and for me to clean the bathroom.  Apparently, things like laundry and dirty bathtubs don’t disappear just because I have been “Freshly Pressed.”  Ah, well, back to the reality of housework, but the celebrity of “Freshly Pressed” was a much welcomed break from my real life.  Thank you to all who read the blog yesterday, and for all of you who kept reading today!

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Emma’s love of all things medieval hit a crescendo today as we attended the Grandes Medievales d’Andilly, an enormous Medieval festival in a nearby village in France.  Though I love a good castle, am fond of princesses, and think that knights are pretty cool, I am not a connoisseur of Medieval Festivals, and perhaps not a fan of the actual Middle Ages.  Medieval times were dark, dirty, and smelly.  Today as I tramped through fields, past sweaty men in chainmail I thought, why can’t somebody put on a Jane Austen Festival?  Wouldn’t those men, heaving heavy swords around and sweating in their metal hats, rather be comfortably sitting in a drawing-room at some large country estate, watching an accomplished young woman play the piano forte?  I know that I would enjoy a reenactment of the ball at Netherfield infinitely more than I enjoyed watching grown men pretend to sword fight each other in a hot and dusty sand pit.

Emma, on the other hand LOVED everything about the Medieval festival.  From the moment we got out of the car and she laid eyes on her first costumed monk, she was in heaven.  (Mommy, it’s FRIAR TUCK!)  For the duration of the day her eyes were in a permanent saucer-like state.  The place was teeming with knights.  Maggie was in constant danger of having an eye poked out as men sauntered past her with swords hanging from their waists, the sharp tips bouncing along dangerously at toddler eye-level.  There were good knights (gallant, shiny, silver sheathed) and bad (black cloaked, and frightening).  Emma really enjoyed the reenactment where we watched knights of all shapes and sizes fight each other in battle (after battle, after battle).  There was a commentator and a story to go along with the reenactment, but we could not understand a darned thing.  The girls did not care, they cheered right along with the crowd, but it drove me nuts.  I kept leaning over and asking Jim “which one are the bad guys?”

Faun on stilts

After a day filled with Medieval observations I came to the conclusion that folks in the Middle Ages were wild about stilts.  Everywhere I looked today I saw a person (I use that term loosely because most people were dressed like fairies, centaurs, or a host of other weird creatures) walking on stilts.  Our first sighting was an exciting event.  (Look at that half-man, half horse on stilts!)  But after our umpteenth stilt spotting we grew weary of the giants.  (Oh look, another absurdly tall fairy.)  Even the girls seem unfazed by the behemoths clomping up and down the wooded paths.

The festival was really quite impressive.  There were throngs of people participating in the reenactment aspect of the weekend, and everyone stayed eerily in character.  Once in a while you would catch a peasant checking a text message, or spy a page grabbing a smoke, but on the whole everyone stayed firmly in character.  I am insanely curious about these festival people.  How do they choose what role they are going to play?  I assume the roles are doled out.  How else can you explain the poor (no pun intended) people who were forced to play Medieval peasants?  No one would choose to rub mud on their faces, black out their teeth, wear tattered clothes, and roll around in the dust and dirt for a weekend, would they?  You can bet that I would object to any role other than the queen who rode regally around the ring on a white horse in between battle reenactments.

Sword-fighting Bug

The highlight of the day for Emma was the trip to the Medieval tchotchke tent, where she was permitted to pick out her very own sword.  All day she had looked longingly at the lucky children brandishing wooden blades but had not whined or complained once.  She had merely sought out a suitable stick and tried, in vain, to battle with the other swordsmen.  The sword and shield crowd is tough to break into, especially if you do not have the proper equipment, and our poor Bug was shunned.  Once she got hold of the coveted wooden sword, however, she immediately found a group of knights to do battle with.   She is a tough Bug, and held her own with a gaggle of boys that were easily twice her age.  We watched from a (close) distance, as she knocked swords with these boys, and gamely played dead whenever they poked her in the belly.  I was amazed at my little Emma and the tenacity she showed in engaging in sword fight play with a group of older, unknown, French-speaking children.  I’m not sure where she gets her bravery, but I am grateful for her willingness to leap head-first into foreign situations.  Maybe her adventurous spirit will rub off on me, after all we do spend every waking hour of every day together.

Emma dominates the boy with the water bottle as Maggie attempts to join in the action.

Emma battles the (incredibly kind and gentle) black knight.

Oh look, another crazy man on stilts.

Next weekend we are going wine tasting.  No knights, no castles, and no half horse, half men on stilts allowed.

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