Over the last couple of years, Julie and I have wanted to take our family on an adventure of some sort - to get away from the everyday, to do something different. We've been fortunate enough to go on all sorts of vacations and see wonderful places, but we wanted to be able to go somewhere long enough to truly experience the people and the culture. Julie, in particular, has wanted to brush up on her French, so France seemed like a perfect fit. Besides, we both love France (o.k., I border on infatuated, but Julie likes it too).
At first, the plan was to go for 6 months, maybe a year, and possibly teach English and practice our French. But this plan now seems a bit ambitious, and possibly cruel to some very engaged grandparents.
So our hope for the past year has been to spend a few months of parental leave - once our second baby arrived, in the south of France. Knowing that we would be living on only one parental leave salary (mine), we started to save up for this trip quite some time ago (the old pleather couch in the living room and the pink family room downstairs tell the story of our frugality).
Well, the last week and a half have been insanely busy. Besides getting everything confirmed for the trip (we leave January 21 and come back April 21), I found myself with two job exams to write and one interview to sit.
But everything is done. We're booked in Nice - 4 people and a dog, in the heart of the French Riviera - pricier than we wanted, but everything's there. Julie will be able to go to activities, classes, etc. in the evening and between naps. I'll be able to take Chloe on fabulous day trips, and the family outings should be unforgettable. I've done some research, and museums are generally free, transit both in Nice and in the region is 1 Euro a trip, and we'll be surrounded by both Mediterranean and mountain towns. It's the perfect spot for a family that won't be too mobile. I may even take some cooking lessons, if we have any money left.
This is important to me... and I think to Julie too. It's also quite scary, and I'm not just talking about the plane trip!
It's funny, but what's scaring me most is what I presume others might think. Bad enough that a father's not at work, he's taking the family on a holiday for three months.
I have to admit it, it's sometimes hard not to be "working" everyday. Even though I know I work much harder here right now than I ever did managing imaginary crises at work, this is just not the type of work that men do. Every bone in my body hates that kind of stereotype, but still... I can't help but feel somewhat emasculated in my current role. If only I could say, I'm going to be teaching in France, or taking classes at the University. That would be more acceptable, I'm sure. It would demonstrate some sort of productivity? Heaven help a man who isn't being "productive."
No matter. This is part of the experience, part of the learning for me. I never would have thought of myself as being bound by such silly conventions and expectations, yet here I am struggling with them, constantly haunted by my Grandfather's words, "a man shouldn't take that kind of time off." And I know the words wouldn't haunt me so if I didn't respect his opinion so much.
So what grounds me? What brings me clarity? Every experience that I'm sharing with my children, and my wife. "Seize the day." That's what I'm doing, that's what I'm teaching, I hope.
I want to show Chloe and Emily that there is virtue in taking risks, exploring life, geography, culture - seeing everything and everyone from a new perspective, in this case a French one. And there is definitely virtue in striking a different course than others. My parents taught me that, and I thank them for it.
When faced with seemingly difficult choices, I usually find it helpful to project myself 10 or 20 years into the future, looking back on the choice. What would I have wished I had done. It's amazing how easy some decisions become when you do this. It helped me decide to take parental leave to be with my family, to go to France with two kids and a dog when we "should" be paying down the mortgage, and to write this blog.
A new couch will have to wait.