It’s a sunny Fall afternoon and I’m fortunate to be walking my four boys home from school. Ahead of us, the rolling hills of the Beaujolais cascade into the distance, topped with a medieval church steeple.
Three of the four bound around me like hopped up gazelles just freed from their cages: chattering non-stop, skipping through fields of tall grass, launching themselves off the centuries-old rock wall leading us down the hill, it’s a non-stop cycle of non-stop.
I’m taking advantage of post-school parental banter with the calmest of my offspring: Sammy. Sammy is known by many names at home (Samma-jam, Samma-jamma, Samma pajama, Samwise Gambo, Sam the Man) but was officially baptized “Isamu” by the French public school system as of two weeks ago.
It’s not entirely random. Isamu is his given name, which, it turns out, is the only version the French school authorities are allowed to use, undoubtedly thanks to a healthy strata of bureaucracy and a general mistrust of individualism and imaginative thinking.
“How was school today buddy?” I ask without having to think.
“Okay,” Sammy responds in a half-intelligible mumble, the telltale sign of trouble in his nine-year-old existence.
“What happened?” Now thinking, I quickly pick up my parental sledgehammer and start swinging into his fragile web of emotions.
This is after all, only his second week of French schooling. He’s been in country a total of 45 days, speaks eight phrases of French, and is now biding his time away in a tiny village school reminiscent of something from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (only homesteading has been replaced by winebibbing).
“Well, first off I had a lot of mucus,” Sammy begins.
I know Sammy well enough to know whatever starts with mucus ramps quickly to code-red vomiting.
“So I went to the bathroom to vomit.”
Sammy and vomit have a long history together, like Bonnie & Clyde (only much less criminal) or Ben & Jerry’s (only much less appetizing). Whenever he’s too sad, too stressed, too much of anything really, vomit shows up. Thankfully, they always meet up in the bathroom.
“Oh buddy,” I respond in my best sad and sincere Dad-tone, “I’m really sorry. It sounds like a rough day. What else happened?”
“Well… later… when I was in the bathroom,” Sammy continues. “The teacher came in and asked if I was okay, so I said ‘ça va” (#2 of his eight phrases).
I wonder, thankfully without blurting it out, “Buddy, did you spend all day in the school bathroom?”
I can’t help but conjure an image of my sweet little Samma-jam (turned Isamu), hanging out in the comfort of a 19th century school bathroom stall with nothing but a toilet that’s guaranteed to not ask him to do or say anything in French.
Adults haven’t a clue (and know it)
As adults, we enjoy making generalized statements about kids as a subculture:
“Kids are resilient.”
“Kids adapt quickly.”
“Kids pick up things fast.”
Prefaced most often by a “Don’t worry,” statements like these are made popular because, as parents, we have nothing better to say as we helplessly watch our kids struggle towards adulthood.
Instead, we whip out one of these catch phrases in hopes of magically alleviating our burdens. It’s bogus and entirely ineffective, but it doesn’t stop us from continually kidding ourselves.
Struggle is real. It’s real for children of all ages, even those of us driving the minivans and paying the mortgage.
Kids know it all (without knowing it)
Watching my four boys struggle to adapt in a new culture has taught me more about life than any graduate degree program. I know because I’ve done both simultaneously.
Here are the top lessons relearned from my little instructors:
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed with your life, don’t freak out — just go cool down in a friendly bathroom stall.
- When you don’t understand what someone’s trying to tell you, just play with them for a while and everything will work out.
- Until you really care about someone or something, you’ll never take the time to learn about what makes them special.
- Learning a new skill takes time and perseverance, but it always goes faster once you’ve made a friend or two.
- Don’t ever forget where you come from. It’s what makes you special today and will help chart your tomorrow.
- The best things in life are tied to the best people in life and it’s impossible to dissect one from the other.
- People that are hard to get along with are still people. Even if they don’t look or talk like you do, they still like to laugh at stupid jokes.
- Hard times make the best times, in a weird kinda way.
- You don’t have to “fake it ’til you make it.” Just make it ’til you make it.
- It’s okay to miss the things that matter most, like family and Root Beer. It keeps them mattering the most and makes life sweeter when you’re with them.
- When the world around you is talking gibberish, don’t give up. Eventually you’ll get the hang of things.
Thank you, boys.