Monday, May 13, 2013

My Life in French, Part Two . . .


       If you've been reading here for a while, you might remember that I began writing about my history with the French language, inspired by a book sculpture we brought back from Paris two years ago, one that reminded me of my French-Canadian grandmother's catechism book. I ended that post by wondering how it happened that, on the verge of acquiring fluency in my grandmother's langue maternelle, I allowed that possibility to slip away. Quite simply, and without spending much time on the details, my life went sideways in my second-year of university. Easy to see now that, brought up very strictly, I lacked the experience and confidence to manage the social life I now had access to, got distracted by a relationship that wasn't good for me, and ended up dropping out of school. I found clerical work that interested me and settled in to life in a different rhythm, and was lucky enough to meet a very good man and begin to build a future with him.

A photo of me, early 20s, a newlywed office worker, not yet realizing how long it would take to get back to my French roots. . . .

Although my family had already lost the French fluency my grandmother was born into, I grew up with much more support for learning the language than my future husband did, not so many miles away, only a couple of years earlier. His childhood included none of the French records, children’s television programs, or basic vocabulary instruction that mine did. Nor did his elementary schooling include any French classes, even less any exposure to Francophone teachers.  Without coming out and calling his neighbourhood anti-intellectual, which might be a generalizing too far, it didn’t boast the library, theatres, or other cultural attributes that my still-provincial city was rather smug about.  He studied French in high school as a university-entrance language pre-requisite, doing well enough with memorizing grammar and vocabulary, but never with any sense of conviction. The approach was the same as what I found when I reached Senior High in the public school I eventually attended: strict, boring, and punitive.

No wonder, then, that when we met, Paul was easily impressed when he learned I had some facility with language.  Or perhaps that should be a source of wonder, that his rather blue-collar community hadn’t stomped out an appreciation for knowledge and skills beyond the strictly practical. In fact, his openness to new ideas was part of his attraction for me, and I was chuffed that he believed my ability to play a Debussy prelude, Bach fugue, or Mozart sonata, my prodigious if undisciplined reading habits, and my facility with languages, stamped me with some seal of merit.  Our mutual admiration developed quickly – we were married less than a year after we began dating.  And as I’d dropped out of university in favour of full-time work a year earlier, the plan was that I would keep working while Paul accelerated completion of his B.Sc – he’d detoured from it after 2nd year to take a 2-year Diploma program, but soon recognized that he’d need both qualifications to build the career he hoped for. Meanwhile,  I did manage to resume my piano and music theory lessons, even take a few courses toward picking up my own BA completion, but French courses at the level I needed were too tough to fit in, given the extra hours needed for language labs; they simply weren’t offered in the hours I wasn’t working.

But the drive to acquire fluency didn’t go away, especially when I thought about children we might have, children I wanted to imagine as bilingual.  I must have fretted about this at some point to my friend Anna, who pointed out that while I wouldn’t get university credit at L’Alliance Francaise, we could certainly study French there.   By the time Paul had finished his last eighteen rather intense  months of Organic Chemistry and Molecular Biology, etc., he was surprisingly open to the notion of studying French with me.  Again, though, circumstances frustrated, and we couldn’t find courses at our respective levels in a schedule compatible to the long drive in from suburb to city. I vaguely remember that Paul began a session, but I don’t think either of us completed one.  Soon I was pregnant, then not much longer and I was leaning over an intently alert baby, cooing French phrases as I changed her diaper, hoping to repeat my mother’s success in at least planting the seeds for future linguistic adventures.

We bought a house, had another child, I worked on my Piano Performer’s Diploma and reconciled myself to putting off university until childcare became more accessible. But as my eldest approached preschool age, I started learning about French immersion programs. In fact, I even began thinking that perhaps this might be the answer to the grand question, “What should I be when I grow up?” I’d actually begun to research what path I’d have to take for that, sorting out pre-requisites I’d have to pick up, talking to a counsellor at SFU and getting my transcripts together, when we found we had to relocate for Paul’s work.  In the long run, there would be much about this move that was good for us as a family, but being able to pick up a French degree wasn’t part of the deal. I used the time to add two more children to the family, finish the written/theory portion of my Music diploma, take a few correspondence courses that would count as electives toward a BA, and build a satisfying first career as a music teacher.  Meanwhile, though, the small northern town’s other disappointment was that it offered no French Immersion program when my eldest was ready for kindergarten. And when one was finally offered in time for my second daughter, I couldn’t bear the idea of driving to and from two different schools.  The dream of bringing French back to my family was sacrificed in the name of balance and sanity.

Same sort of story when we finally moved closer to a larger (but still small) city whose college offered a fuller range of courses.  Again, the French classes were only occasionally offered, seldom at the level  I needed for my transcript, and always tougher to schedule than other possibilities. The school that offered the Grade 6 French Immersion was a 20-minute drive, required my daughter to be out of our neighbourhood in a city she didn’t know. And besides a daughter who’d be in Grade 3 at the neighbourhood school (but then have to move, should we go the late-immersion route for her as well later), I had a five-year old whose introduction-to-kindergarten schedule was going to be challenging enough, especially since I’d be working around the two-year-old’s naptimes.  So reality pushed French to the backburner again, although I did manage to take a correspondence course, with Dictees and oral conversations over the phone each week, as part of the BA I finally completed, some 21 years and 5 institutions after I’d started it.

And the timing of that correspondence course was brilliant, coinciding with our decision to take the family to Europe on a house-exchange vacation.  Although I claimed to be open to any of the possibilities, thrilled to see a variety of postage stamps and foreign return addresses on the envelopes that poured into our mailbox, France really was the foregone conclusion.  Contemplating a temporary home in sunny Spain or in rural Germany, daydreaming over a Swiss chalet or an Austrian villa, nothing tugged nearly as forcefully as any place name I could imagine pronounced with a French accent.  Next instalment, I’ll tell you about the weeks we spent in a beautiful family home in the Loire valley, traveling from there all over France, and the week we saw Paris for the first time.  A wonderful trip that re-kindled my nascent French, although there would be a few more bumps in the road and several more years before I got back to French lessons again. But that’s another post. . . .


Meanwhile, thanks if you've read right through -- that's a lot of words for one post, I know.

And thanks to those of you who are now following me on Bloglovin'. I'm finding this resource a very easy, low-commitment replacement for when Google Reader is yanked from us. I had a peek at both Old Reader and at Feedly, but they take a bit more work and just a bit more puzzling to set up. I admit that I do find Bloglovin' a bit more unwieldy when it comes to actually reading through a list of saved posts, but so far, it's working for me. If you'd like to try it out, you can click on the link I've popped into the top of the column on the right.

20 comments:

  1. As I was reading this post, I was thinking not only of French lessons diverted, but the many detours and roadblocks people take in their lives while having an intent on a goal. Isn't that what life, parenthood and being a partner is all about? Flexibility, little regret and keeping an eye on a goal for the long term can make life enjoyable and less frustrating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love this perspective, Stacy. It's true that adapting to my husband's needs (and he to mine) and to my children's as they grew helped me become who I am now, even if that might be a different person than I once thought I'd be.

      Delete
  2. Of course I read all the way through. I see so many parallels in our lives - many compromises and changes of course that in the end have added up to a very satisfying life. I am convinced that this satisfying time wouldn't have been possible without the detours and small disappointments. I look forward to reading about that first experience of life in France.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As above! Stacy's and your perspectives overlap and enrich mine -- thanks!

      Delete
  3. You sound like my long lost twin sister. I dropped out in second year, worked in an office, got married, took French Literature courses part-time, had a baby, took more courses part-time and on it goes...I meet people who did everything (it seems) in the right order but I guess how you do things is the right order for you. I even did correspondence Art History with slides when my daughter was a baby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And now there you are, taking extended independent trips to Europe and enjoying the possibilities of retirement after what sounds like a rewarding career. Something to be said for doing things "wrong" ;-)
      (Curious to know what institution you did that Art History course through -- back in the day, Athabasca filled the gap for me)

      Delete
  4. I'm impressed by not only your persistence re French, but also by the many other achievements along the way; each requires so much energy and hard work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They did take a lot of work and energy, but I always loved learning something new -- and the discipline of motherhood, the escape to something that was just for me, cast the work in such a different light. I really notice this now in the mature students I get in my classes.

      Delete
  5. I came to my French degree only recently, after spending 20 years studying and speaking Spanish. I worried that my high school and very early college French would totally disappear. It didn't. Now, I'm fearful of losing the fluency I gained since I use it so rarely. I'm teaching my granddaughter a little of both languages and she can differentiate amazingly. The rest of the family speaks Spanish, too, so I concentrate on the French with her. Language acquisition is such an interesting process.

    Achieving your Piano Performance is no small thing either. You've constantly challenged yourself. Love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay, so we need to have regular gatherings of you, me, and Madame Là-bas so that we can keep our French fresh! I'm envious that you've managed to raise a bilingual family and may even manage a trilingual granddaughter, if she continues to emulate her grandmother.
      I am actually still quite proud of my ARCT -- it was more work, in many ways, than some of the more academic accomplishments, and it helped pay for many extras through the years while I stayed home with the kids.

      Delete
  6. Il n'est jamais trop tard Mater! Continuez votre parcourt et bon courage.



    Orane

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Orane. On essaye . . .

      Delete
  7. Mater, you have done a splendid job managing the challenges of life as a late 20th/early 21st century woman. It boggles the mind thinking of all of what you have achieved over the years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd have to say the same of you, Susan. In fact, every commenter here has a story that would impress, should we all be lucky enough to sit down together. . .

      Delete
  8. I so enjoyed reading your journey (Part I?)...what a life it has been so far! It is wonderful that you have stayed true to your dreams and have made them happen. It is true when they say 'never say never', I truly believe that all is possible if we stay true to our dreams. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jeanne. You've certainly put a big dream in motion yourself!

      Delete
  9. As always, it seems currently, posting and running, but just wanted to express my appreciation of your candour. It really helps me, a little younger than you (but not by much, still old enough to have made a hell of a lot of wrong turns by now in my life) to see that the 'success' that I perceive you as (a proper, balanced success, professionally and personally) did not drop fully formed out of the sky but has been forged by dint of great perseverance, planning, energy and focus. It inspires me not to give up and write myself off as one of life's failures but to pick myself up and carry on. If I am blessed, I may reach sixty, and who knows what I might have achived by then or how different my personal landscape may seem by then. Must be optimistic, and your post enables me to be just that.
    Hester

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you're sweet to say this. I definitely spent time wondering why the road had kept me from achieving some of the "success" expected of me (by others and by myself) based on early promise. And frustrated at trying to figure out what I was going to "be when I grew up" . . .
      Even now, having pulled off a grad. education, an academic career, I'm well aware of my shortcomings in the field (small teaching uni, no time for research, not so much inclined to it anymore anyway!) and have some frustrations about compromises to my social life (I don't have any friends, I sometimes wail to my husband -- and then he patiently enumerates. . . ). But if the examined life is the one worth life, you and I live very worthy lives, right? I think you're going to be pretty amazing at 60! ;-)

      Delete
  10. Dear MF, I couldn't have stopped reading your post if I'd tried! There are a few parallels in our lives, including the love of the French language and time spent in France, and I am already looking forward to reading your next post.

    Thank YOU for sharing these memories with all of us!
    Teresa in Ontario

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmmm, what happened to the response I thought I'd left here?! I thanked you for your comment, Teresa, but it seems not to have shown up. I'm so pleased that this post resonated with you. Something about the French language and culture really gets its hooks in, doesn't it?!

      Delete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...