“It all started with the van not starting. Fully loaded with anticipation, two anxious adults, a teething baby, one fidgety dog and mountains of badly packed furniture; key in ignition…nothing. A flat battery meant everyone out and a two-hour delay while it charged enough to take us to the channel tunnel. Broken windscreen wipers and heavy rain as soon as we crossed the channel nearly finished us off – literally. Looking back it was the perfect prediction of how our new life in France was to be, full of non-starters, disappointment and danger. There has been some joy on the way, but generally the bad has out weighed the good. Four years have passed since my ex- partner, son and I moved to the Tarn and Garonne in the south west of France. We are still here, but as the ‘ex’ implies, no longer together. Underlying problems in our relationship before we left made our eventual separation a possibility; the stresses that came with living in France made it inevitable. This is not a cautionary tale to anyone thinking about moving abroad in an attempt to solve problems in their relationship. Perhaps if we had made some wiser decisions, or even had a bit more luck, the outcome would have been very different. Who is to say? But there are lessons to be learned from mistakes and out of hardship comes an appreciation for the truer things in life, like health, love, family and friendship. Thankfully, I still have these and treasure them more than anything financial – though a bit more money would be nice. I think my parents would agree!” Nov 2005
I wrote that when things were pretty tough. I had just left my partner, moved into a new flat with my 4-year-old son and been told the job I was due to start at the local crèche (my lifeline) was no longer available – apparently there had been an ‘oversight’ in the contract. This news arrived on the morning I was moving. I was stunned. I had plucked up the courage to leave my partner, changed my son’s school and chosen to live in a village I didn’t know for this job. It felt like some kind of bad joke. Things couldn’t get any worse. I had suddenly found myself alone in a strange village, with no reason to be there. I was 40 minutes from the nearest big town and the chances of getting another job (especially one where I wouldn’t have to travel or rely on childcare), were slim. The days were long, money was tight and the opportunity to converse (in either language) was scarce. I needed to vent my feelings and writing became the perfect outlet – along with some very, very long walks. A lot of people have since asked me why, at this time, I didn’t just up-sticks and move back to the UK. It may have seemed the easier option, but the reason I chose to stay then still applies now: I just can’t bring myself to separate my son from his father – he lives nearby, they spend a lot of time together and they adore each other. For me, there was no other option.
Luckily, the job at the crèche came good in the end! The Directrice and my social worker wrote some very angry letters to a government official (it was a state funded post), and the decision was overturned. I had to wait 4 long weeks to hear the outcome, but it was worth it in the end. My new role as ‘Aide Maternelle’ gave me a sense of purpose and belonging and the confidence to start again on my own. In the past, I had always relied on my ex (who spoke fluent French) to take the lead when it came to sorting anything that required a good command of the language. Assuming we would be together forever, I didn’t feel the pressure to become ‘fluent’ straight away. I knew if I immersed myself in the local community it would come with time, but didn’t feel the need for any formal lessons. Consequently, when my relationship broke down, I had only ‘mother-and-baby group,’ conversational French to rely on. It was far from perfect, but evidently enough to get me financial help from the state and through a 2hr job interview!
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