The Quandary; A Bad Case of Head VS Heart - What Do You Think?
So, today is the day of Summer's 4th birthday party. She has been looking forward to it for so long now and has been talking about her school friends coming over for a party, well, since the day after her 3rd birthday!
Nana and Grampsie (My mum and Simon) are going to be coming over to share the exitement and there is going to be lots of yummy food, music, dancing, games, presents and lots of fun!
We have a bubble machine at the ready and a pirate treasure hunt organised - it is going to be great!
Summer's actual birthday was the 7th, when again my Mum and Simon came over for dinner. She opened all her presents from us and the rest of the family, which had been sent by post and it was really lovely for her.
Although I was extremely happy for her, I was secretly feeling very sad. In our family, birthdays are of great importance and is a day where, no matter what age you are, you should always feel special and be totally spoilt. All the family always get together to celebrate and make sure of this. It is a celebration of the day you were born - why shouldn't you celebrate and be spoilt? I know some don't like to make a big event of their birthday and say "it is just another day", but that just makes me feel sad and is not how I was brought up to be.
It is not that I am spoilt (OK, maybe a teency weeny bit, maybe!), but I feel extremely lucky to have so many people in our lives who care so much and go out of their way to make sure that each and every important milestone is celebrated, if possible, with everyone together.
As the week before had progressed and the birthday cards and packages started to arrive in the letterbox, I could see from each person's hand writing who it was from, which made me smile, but also feel a little empty at the thought that all these people so special to us and Summer, and who are such huge parts of our lives, would not be able to be there with her in person to celebrate. It made me feel sad for everyone, especially Summer as I know how much she loves her family and would have loved them to be there.
She would constantly run through the names of her friends that would be going to her party and then go on to list her family in England, who we would have to tell her would not be there in person, but she could speak to on the phone or skype and that we would see soon on our next visit (which was already booked for November, in just a month, for reasons which you will discover as you read on).
The non flexibility and lack of freedom to see her family when she chooses and on special occassions like birthdays is the hardest thing - how do we know if we are making the right choice for her?? Sure, there are many huge benefits of her growing up at our beautiful home here in France and I am certain she will have some amazing memories of it. It has all been just one big adventure to her and she has adapted so naturally and fitted in with such ease, always with a big smile on her face. Her Nana and Grampsie even have a house near us. But they are not there all the time and are often in England. Even when we lived in England, we saw them very regularly, as we could all her grandparents and extended family.
She had a great day in the October sunshine, running around with her friends and did not stop smiling. Hearing her talk and play with them so confidently in french is amazing and fills us both with such overwhelming pride! But although she was having fun, we couldn't help but think of the people she was missing and who were missing her.
When I really think about what is most important to me personally, there is no question - it is without a doubt family. The people who raised me and I share my life with. The people who have always loved and supported me no matter what and taught me all the lessons and morals in life which I constantly reflect upon, feel very poud to be able to teach on to Summer and wouldn't be the person I am today without. Whenever I hit a problem, I always think of the relevant family member who I would turn to (depending on the subject) for advice and think "what would they do?" as, being privileged enough to have so many different members of family who excel in so many different things and will always give the best advice possible, I know whatever the answer is would be the right one.
Two family members I would think to in a lot of situations are unfortunately no longer with us. The first person would be my extremely inspiring and very special aunt, who founded the lettings company I used to work for. She was also a very experienced and successful property developer and I feel has been sat on my shoulder throughout this process, especially the difficult building stages at the very beginning where we'd be working on into the early hours. It was as though I could feel her presence somehow, giving me the motivation to power on. "Go on that girl!!" Is something she would say a lot, which would give you an immense sense of proudness and will to keep going. She was very much a "the job won't get done by itself" kind of person, "just get on and do it and it'll be over and done with before you know it!".
She was one of the most clever, influential, straight talking people I have ever known - topped off with elegance, style and flare with the most presence a person could have and the biggest, most caring heart. She cared about everyone and everything and if she could ever help, she would. She was taken from us way too early and before she should have been - something that majorly affected the whole family and still does.
My amazing Grampsie was wonderful in every way. He was the head of the family and one of the most respected gentlemen I have ever known, so I again feel extremely privileged to have had him as my Grampsie and role model. Every Sunday that I can remember during my upbringing, myself and my sister would visit my granddad with our Mum and Dad and meet there with our aunties, uncles and cousins. Because of the close upbringing we had, I would say that the relationship we have with our cousins is more like that of a best friend or sibling. This means a lot to me and would not be that way if it wasn't for our families bringing us up the way they did with the regular contact we had.
Each Sunday, we would spend the whole afternoon together catching up on the past week - Grampsie keeping tabs on the snooker score on the TV in the background and providing a constant supply of tea (Red Label and no other), singing away whilst the tea was brewing and entertaining us by giving a rendition of a Frank Sinatra or Louis Armstrong number in his beautiful velvety voice, which was always a pleasure to hear and I would pay money to listen to all day long if I could.
Being the head of the family, he was also the person who made our yearly family holidays happen. Each Sunday, all the adults would pay their share into the holiday kitty, which Grampse would keep a record of in his special holiday kitty book. By the time the holiday came around, it would be paid for, with money saved up for us all to relax, enjoy ourselves and have meals together on.
Always full of fun, humour and smiles, we - the grandchildren were completely in awe of our Grampse. We would gather around him, wanting to learn every joke and card trick he had to offer and hear every story he had to tell (I don't think there was ever enough time in the world to hear them all!), hanging on his every word. He was full of one-liners that would have us all in fits of giggles whilst trying our best to retain it all in our litte memories to pass on to others - never quite having the same impact as it did when Grampsie told it. He taught us all so much and with his wealth of knowledge, experience and wiseness, none of us would be the people we are today if it wasn't for our Grampsie - a fact I know for certain.
The reason I am telling you all of this is because I know that without really explaining to you what our family is about, our "quandary", doesn't really seem so difficult from the outside. These are memories I hold very dear and mean the world to me.
Summer knows her family well and loves them all very much - they mean a lot to her. But she does not get to see them as much as she would like. Of course she sees them on skype from time to time, but it is not the same as physically being there - laughing with them, learning from them, hearing their stories, being able to have cuddles and kisses and play with her cousins. I feel that by living in France, although she has so many benefits, she is being deprived of the thing that was most important to Scott and I whilst growing up and still now - family.
The first time since moving here that I really felt my heart sink was when I had the call from my sister to say that she was 3 months pregnant. Of course, I was totally over the moon for her and overwhelmed with joy, but my mind immediately turned to the realisation that I could not be there for her to support her during pregancy and hold her hand if she needed me when the time came. I have been very close to my niece, Tallulah since she was born and couldn't think of anything worse than missing out on all of those special, all important moments which I had with her when her little brother or sister came along. Although I was happy, I couldn't help but cry out of sadness at the same time.
I know that if I was living in England at the time and it had been a face to face conversation, I would have probably still been crying, being the emotional case that I am, but it would have been in absolute elatedness whilst whipping her off the ground and twirling her round the room before heading off to buy her a celebratory Sara Lee chocolate gateau (her favourite) and bottle of shloer to celebrate with. But, unfortunately, I could not get to her as we had only just made a visit to England and had a time limit to getting the gite done to earn some money back and follow our business plan.
One thing was for sure and that was that we would be booking our trip to England when the baby was due so we would be there for my sister if she needed us and could meet our new little member of the family. I could not wait! He (which we found out a bit later), was due on 16th November, so we booked our trip to arrive a few days before, in case it all happened earlier than expected.
Unfortunately, due to the French school holidays, we were limited on the amount of time we could spend there and so were forced to book for just a 1 week visit. With Summer only being 4 and French schooling not being obligatory until the age of 6, we currently have the slight flexibilty to take her out of school if needed when we make visits to the UK, but try not to do this if it can be avoided. As from the age of 6, we will no longer have this flexibility, which is another thing I cannot bare the thought of as it would mean missing my nephew's birthdays and possibly my niece's too. I have already missed out on my sister's birthday every year since we have been here. Of course, we see her the month after when we celebrate together at the "birthday bonanza" (we have many family birthdays during the summer period and celebrate together every year) here in France, but it is not the same, I would much prefer to see her on her actual day and feel terrible every time I can't.
Although our trip was booked earlier than the planned birth date, our nephew decided to arrive early, so we were unable to visit my sister and the baby in hospital and had to wait until he was a week old before we were able to meet him. For me, that was hard.
So, for his 1st birthday, we would make sure we would be there and had booked our trip. His birthday is 4th November, a day after my cousin's, who was due to be 30, so it was great that we would see him on such a special milestone too.
Although I knew we were seeing the family in a month, I found on the run up to Summer's birthday party that I was becoming more and more upset and emotional - crying sometimes when I had the chance to get it all out and was on my own. I could not bring myself to tell Scott how I was feeling as we had made this choice together, had adjusted, were settled and loved what we were doing. We were well into our adventure together, have worked so hard all the way and have a plan to follow which, if we could get there, would give us our dream home, working lifestyle and idyllic family lifestyle that we have been dreaming of. We would also be much better off moneywise and would not have to worry as much or work as hard as we are having to now, or would in England.
It was becoming too hard to hide my emotions and Scott was aware that I was not happy, so it was time that I told him how I was feeling. I think he had already guessed the reasons and what was coming as it did not come as much of a shock.
Scott too was missing his family, especially his Nan, who we used to take out for lunch regularly on a Sunday. I am very lucky that he could be so understanding and was feeling the same way as he absolutely adores our lifestyle out here - we have come so far and he would be happy to continue as we are, but has said that he would be happy wherever he is, as long as we are happy.
I feel truly blessed to have such a kind and caring husband. I know that he is of the minority who would react so calmly to such a massive thing. One of his biggest qualities is his calmness and ability to stand back and look at the big picture. Although we have had major ups and downs (and believe me, they really were downs!) since taking on this project, this whole process has made his qualities as a person really shine and highlighted to me just how selfless he really is, as well as an array of other things which had we not of taken the path we have, may have gone unnoticed and been taken for granted. It is no easy feat to suddenly have to be working and living 24/7 together, let alone with the extra stress and small time frames we have had to work to, added with constant fatigue, but I feel the result is that we are a stronger team now than we ever have been.
We have since been talking a great deal about options, feelings and factors that would contribute towards a definitive decision. Pros and cons lists once again have been made. There are many other things as well as family that we both miss in England also, some of which may seem rather insignificant, but it's not until they are no longer within reach that you really find out how much you valued them before. As Joni Mitchell said, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone". Some of these things include (please be aware that this typically applies to rural France - you would not find the majority of the below issues if you lived in a large town or city, like Paris!):
English heritage (neither of us knew quite how proudly British we were until now)
English Education System and Schooling - teaching the traditional English way within regular, more appropriate hours for children. Summer's schooling currently runs from 8.50am - 3.45pm (reduced recently from 16.30pm as they have now introduced a half day on Wedsnesdays to compensate, which they did not have before) with an hour and a half lunch break in the middle. Sounds silly really, but the school uniforms (always dreamed of Summer having a little gingham dress and cardie uniform), nativity plays and sports days are part of what I miss. Summer's school here in France is really great, but we feel the hours are too much and the long lunch period is unnecessary. The hours become even longer in secondary school ("Collège"), with periods for homework included into the school working day. The first lesson of the day generally begins at around 8.15 am and the the last lesson of the day finishing at around 5pm! A long day for an 11 to 15 year old we feel!
Certain foods - for us specifically these include cheddar, smokey bacon and baked beans. These are available in France but at extremely high prices which I refuse to pay, so we often buy it up and bring it back when we make a visit!
Freedom of choice/ Flexibility. With this, I am mainly referring to the way in which you chose to construct your daily routine, or non routine if that is how it works for you. I miss being able to eat what I want, when I want and it not being dictated to me. The French tend to take lunch between 12pm and 2pm, therefore the restaurants only open at this time where we are. They will then not re-open again for dinner until 7.30/7pm if lucky, which is difficult when you have a child who is used to going to bed at that time. There are also certain things which would only be eaten at certain times and therefore not avalable all day. So, if you are an all day breafast type of person, this would not suit you!
The majority of companies tend to shut for lunch, which is something that we really had to get used to and messed up on a few times when we first moved here, having to wait in the van for 2 hours when we had driven a long distance to get materials, bank meetings etc.
Cost of living - food especially
The NHS healthcare system - in France, you pay directly for healthcare with a percentage being covered by the government if you are a registered worker with a health card. Some medications and specialist treatment would not be covered under this scheme and so you would need to pay a separate insurance ("assurance") to cover you for this. It is not cheap.
English banter. We do have banter with our friends here in France, but not quite in the same way. The humour is somehow on a slightly different slant. Although we have shared many a laugh with our French friends here, some of it can often be lost in translation. Banter is something that develops with an in depth knowledge and capability of a language - including slang words and phrases; most of which are not directly translatable from language to language. We were both brought up on endless "dad jokes" and miss the "pub culture" assosciated humour, which brings me nicely onto the next subject:
PUBS! My goodness do we miss a good British country pub! The banter (as mentioned above), the social aspect, the food, the welcome atmosohere... It is somewhere the whole family can enjoy a meal in, or you can go with friends or as a couple of an evening. Add to the list a duke box/live band and the perfect freshly poured pint and there you have it - perfection! ;o) Of course there are public places you can go and have a drink and a meal here, but it is generally a café/restaurant type place and so does not have quite the same atmosphere. A British pub is also more likely to be open!
Night life - "Sorties en soirée". We often get a little top up on this when we visit the UK. We did not think it would be a problem here and knew being in the sticks there are less options, but there are still some very nice bars that we could go to within our local area - even the odd club if we wanted to have a dance. We have a couple of friends near us who would be happy to babysit Summer for us from time to time, but they are just as busy as we are, so it is difficult to arrange between us. We have on the odd occasion gone into Niort for the evening, which is a lovely, cosmoplitan town which we really love nearer to where my mother's house in France. My mother and Simon have kindly babysat and we have stayed at her house the night. Unfortunately, with them staying for longer periods in the UK, we do not have that choice. Thinking about it, due to our work commitments and logisitics of things, I think we have only had the opportunity to go out in Niort once during night time - definitely something we would like to do again. Most of our friends either have grown children, or no children at all, so they do not have the restriction of having to plan logistics of babysitting if they are going out. It is not a massive issue to us, but we know that in England there are just so many members of family who miss Summer incredibly and would offer to babysit like a shot - therefore giving Summer quality time with them and freeing up more opportunity for us to let our hair down once in a while. We often go to or hold dinner parties with both our English and French friends, which is really nice and great for the kids as they can go to bed when needed.
Something we have had to get used to is that the French tend to eat later and children are included in all dinner events without question, which is lovely, but changes the dynamics. We always feel very bad for Summer as although she gets to play with her friends and always has a brilliant time, they all tend to stay up very late and she is normally asleep by the very late time that we leave. It makes us feel very guilty. This would not very often be the case in England unless it was a special occasion suchas a wedding, family birthday party or something along those lines. Generally in England, the children are either in bed before the dinner party begins, or childcare is arranged. We must admit that if given the choice, we would prefer it that way, but understand the French way and respect it.
Diversity of shops, different restaurants & foods, pubs, all year round social activities for all the family available and the knowledge that they are always open.
In France, you are not entited to any child benefit contributions unless you have 2 or more children. This is not ever anything that we depended on, but I have noticed since we have not had it that it did actually help us more than we thought each month. As they say, ever penny counts and for us at the moment, it really does (well, every centime anywway!). At the moment we do not have any financial help at all. If we were to have another child here, the financial help we would be entitled to would be far more than that offered in UK.
Being able to jump in the car and drive to see whoever you want, whenever you want, without there being a huge sea in the middle and the added pain of having to organise and pay for ferries/planes in advance - If you can afford it and have the flexibility to take the time out!
We have British friends here in France who have lived here for years, have had children out here and don't miss a thing. When I have spoken to them about family and it becoming an issue to us them being so far away, they could not really relate to my issue, as they were not anything like as close to their families as we are. It is not until I explain the closeness we both have with our families in England that they suddenly understand.
Which brings me on to the next issue which is probably the biggest factor to our predicament. We want to have another baby. Summer needs a sibling and we always planned to have another child when Summer is at the age she is now.
I obviously cannot be a pregnant builder, so until we have the next stage of the process complete and the barn is to a clean, liveable standard, this is something we will need to put on hold. We do not think it will be very long before the barn is to this standard, but when I really think about having another little member of the family here and depriving both our little one and our families of their right to freely see eachother, get to know one and other and bond, I realise that having a baby here may not be possible for me.
My sister was a second birthing partner to me and was with us at the hospital for Summer's birth. Although Scott was amazing, I needed her there and was so appreciative that she was and could share such a special thing with me. How could I have my next child in another country with her not even being able to visit the day we get home? We both feel it so important for all the family to have a bond with our children and have the opportunity to visit regularly. We obviously knew all of this before we made the move, but believed there would be more flexibilty than there is in reality.
With all of that said (and my goodness that is a lot!), there really are so many things that we love about being here, as you will read in my "Why move to France" feature.
The main positives of being here for all of us are as follows:
The enjoyment and freedom of our working lifestyle and what it entails. Even though it can be really tough going, there is nothing like being your own boss, working together and being able to stand back and say "I did that!". We are still learning all the time and enjoy the diversity of what we do so much. This is the first time I have ever truy enjoyed my job.
The climate - not only do we both really enjoy a hotter climate, but we both benefit health wise from it. There is nothing like being out in the open air and having the beautiful warm sun shining down on you whilst you work for the majority of 8 months in a year! This also gives the family so much more chance to do outdoor activities together.
The space and sense of freedom
The warmth of the people we meet on a daily basis. Everyone says hello and people always do their best to help eachother.
Learning a new language and Summer being raised bi-lingually - possibly opening up further opportunities for her in the future. I would hate for her to loose her Frenh language and if we ever did go back, I would ensure we do our best for her to keep it - speaking in French together when we can, keeping in contact with our French freinds and paying for lessons.
If we were to stay and follow our plans through, we would be more comfortable financially.
Once we have the barn to a more liveable standard and are able to live more comfortably, we will be able to take the focus off the barn so much and earn more, meaning that we should be able to visit England more. I though am not sure that we would have the time to visit more. Life is always so busy and there are still the gite lets and school terms that we are committed to be here for, giving less fexibility.
The family lifestyle at home with our chidren - we have the ability to have so much more quality time with them here.
To live in our beautiful dream house that we built together.
If we hang onto the property, we will be mortgage free within 18 years.
We took a loan to purchase the house which can be affordably paid back if we continue with our plans here, whereas if we were to go back to the UK, we would have to try and find other means, which is possible, but will mean that we will need to work extremely hard and miss out on quality time with our children.
Here, we can live the organic lifestyle and more or less become self sufficient through growing our own produce through the year. It is a real satisfying feeling to eat your own home grown food and not only is it tasty, but it teaches our chidren, who can get involved (Summer loves it!). It is a way of life which requires a lot of time and effort. The climate here helps a lot. Although you can produce your own vegetables in England, we would not have the time to invest in it with the lifestye we wold have there.
Friends. We have made some truly special friends here (Summer included) - both French and English. They are all a real support network to us, are loyal and genuine. One of the reasons which made it less difficult for us to make the move over here from England was that for one reason or other, we did not feel part of a very strong friend network. Yes, we had a friend network, but it didn't feel to us that we would be hugely missed by our friends if we were to leave. We would all be extremely upset to have to leave the friends we have made here within the 2 years we have been here. We just seem to have so much in common with all of them and have shared such special moments together, laughing and enjoying eachother's company.
Our surroundings. The area where we live is truly beautiful with lots of opportunity for outdoor family activity. The view from our drive is priceless and never something we take for granted. Within a 10 minute drive, the landscape will change from rolling countryside of fields and farmland to sunflower fields (at the right time of year), forests, lakes, rivers and man made beaches. Just an hour away is La Rochelle with it's sandy beaches. We can't argue with that - it is totally gorgeous and so idyllic!
Space, land and privacy
The general attitude of the French people in our local area. Wherever we go, people will look you in the eye and greet you with a frindly "Bonjour". We found more and more whilst we were living in England that you would be lucky to get eye contact from a passer by on the street, let alone a hello. Most people tend to just look at the ground as they walk along and not acknowledge you at all.
The cost of property! We could never afford this house in England - I would guess it would be valued at at least £1m there, whereas the actual cost we paid to purchase it here was less than the cost of our 2 bed flat in England!!
So now you know! Our dilemma in a rather large, hard cased nutshell! This is most probably the longest feature story I will write (I hope so anyway!).
It may well be on the cards that we do make the choice to move back and it is certainly the way we are swaying at the moment. This by no means means that we wish to give up on the dream, sell up and forget about it. If we do decide to move back, we would like to hold on to it and continue with our plans, but at a different pace. We have the idea that we would continue with the gite lets and would hope to stay self emplyed in the UK, meaning that we can spend the school summer holidays here, carry out the changeovers, catch up with our friends and make further, non noisy, improvements to the barn.
This is not however a decision that has been set in stone and we are forever falling in love with the place all over again, again making us question ourselves.
All we know for the time of being is that whatever our decision is, we need to get on with the barn so we can live in it during the lets this summer.
No matter what, I will be continuing indefinitely with my blog.
So, the question is, what would you do if you were in our shoes?