France, the third day

There seems to be something for toddlers about the third day in a new place that means everyone is happier, more easy going, and settled. Yesterday, although beautiful, was also rough with skinned knees, grumpiness, weepiness, and then finally falling asleep at 9 p.m. I felt discouraged and exhausted, and tired of being the only parent to deal with all of the emotions. But today was new, and the children seemed much more settled into the new place and with our friends, even though they weren’t offered afternoon naps and we did a good bit of driving.

Late this morning, we headed west and south to the coast, to Sète, a beautiful town on the Mediterranean, where Axelle’s parents live. My family members have all been there, together for a wedding, and then some of us again at different times, so it is a home that holds many memories for all of us, and I felt not only a connection with the family, but with my own family through all the different experiences we have had there. EA and I lived at this home in Sète for six weeks many years ago, and so in a small way it is like home.

First, here is what noon in the car on an hour-long drive looks like when you woke up at 6:20 a.m.:

The terrace faces north, so although the view of the Mediterranean Sea would be behind the house, this view isn’t too bad. All the way on the horizon, you can see the Massif Central, the highland region in France.

This home has so many “postcard windows” with stunning views and many beautiful reflections around them. When we arrived, Madam had already begun her spread, a very familiar sight as I am pretty sure that every meal she has ever given me has been this detailed, full, and beautiful.

And more of the view, because I can’t help myself. I also don’t have a computer with me this week and I have to post from my phone app, so I don’t have the option of doing the photo “mosaics” that I usually have to share multiple photos.

Preparing for the visit, I felt pretty sure that Edith and John Henry would love having a new playmate for the week, but it has been so sweet watching nine-year-old Alina being so sweet with the kids, and seeing them take to her almost immediately. If she walks out of the room, they ask about her. First thing in the morning, they ask about her. I’m sure they will be disappointed to discover in the morning that she had to go to school. This morning, I found Alina taking Edith out on her first scooter ride in the neighborhood. Watching Alina scooter has really prompted Edith to figure out the scooter, something she had little motivation to do back in South Bend. She also started imitating Alina singing along to songs and Edith has started to sing a French classic children’s song. Hearing her in the back of the car saying “bonbon” is just too cute. This photo isn’t the greatest, but they had the time of their lives playing hide-and-seek in the curtains.

In my mind, this is how all of the French people celebrate birthdays. With many colors and cakes and candles, and a sparkler on top of everything. It might just be the Affouard family, but whatever it is, this view is true to my understanding of them.

It really has been so special to have my children be with our friends. I was six when we first met Axelle, and fifteen when I first came here. These people are so kind and generous, always so true to my memories of them. Françoise is such a kind hostess. She had souvenir cups from Sète for the children to bring home, and she had special regional chocolates for me. Whenever one of my children spilled or dropped something or wanted more, she immediately said “pas problème!” and was there to help or offer a third, or fourth, or fifth serving. There were two little baskets on top of the strawberry and raspberry tart and Edith was absolutely delighted with being given one of them. She took all of the berries off of her tart and put them in the basket before eating them. As the basket was pretty sticky and chewy, she didn’t end up eating it, but of course Françoise saved it and produced fresh raspberries from the garden in the same basket for an after-pool snack. Such thoughtfulness.

Edith has taken to the pool very quickly and for the first five minutes of the swim, literally shrieked and squealed in delight as she paddled around. She is very good at kicking herself anywhere she wants to go in the pool. I’m thinking swimming lessons are in her near future.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and we already have plans to go back in a few days for things like boats, markets, and picnics by the Mediterranean. Not too bad, if you ask me.

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