Archive for the ‘lesbian mothers’ Category

Relics

December 16, 2009

In Saint Sernin in Toulouse are hundreds of Christian relics, including what is said to be a thorn from Christ’s crown at the crucifixion, the skull of Saint Edmund, and a fragment of Saint Jeanne of Toulouse’s pelvic bone. Henry James describes being shown the head of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Saint Sernin’s crypt (Chapter 21 of A Little Tour in France), and in Saint Bertrand de Commiges, the body of Saint Bertrand is contained in a walk-through reliquary the size of a small house, illustrated with events from his life and death. The Monastery of Cluny houses both a finger of Saint Stephan and a tooth from Saint John. For the pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostella, visiting these churches and viewing the relics housed there was a chance to be closer to God and the saints, a brush with miracles and the divine which might just, with a little luck, rub off. The little casks or caskets (or other holders) in which these holy items are stored are gorgeous too, gold and velvet, carved ivory, marble, and these reliquaries are often all there is to see, the sacred bits locked within. As we visit church after church around southern France, I think a lot about relics, about the things we bring along to mark our pasts, to remember miracles, to bring a little magic into our lives.

For Isabelle, my daughter who is six, the little bracelet made of green yarn gleaned from her baby blanket, “Greenie,” who went missing last April, is the most important of relics. She tears up sometimes when remembering Greenie, and she wears the little fragment of the sainted security blanket when she needs comfort… though it’s not the real thing but a memory of it. Maybe it’s the memory of that time in her life that she is keeping. A touch of divinity in the assurance of safety the object seems to provide.

Izzy also brought with her to France a fragment of a blue robin’s egg shell, carefully stored in a small plastic spice bottle on a bed of Kleenex. She found the robin’s egg on a walk with Ingrid, our next-door neighbor, shortly before we left Vermont. She says it reminds her of home, of the day she found it, that it’s special. What does that mean? The hatching of the creature from the egg, perhaps, the magic of our eternal rebirth into the world.

For James, my son (Izzy’s twin), relics are important in a different way. He wears these days the scar from a dog bite incurred last summer, and it bothers him that his face is not perfect any more. When he sees himself in the mirror he says that he’s ugly. He is not exactly afraid of the dogs we live with here—very sweet Border collies—but he avoids the front door when we arrive home, knowing that they will rush out barking, excited to see us. The scar is a reminder, a warning, maybe something like the bone of a martyr or a grail miraculously survived.

James has been on a binge of collecting “stuffties,” stuffed animals, since we arrived in France, but we’re not sure why. He is six now, an age at which children usually move on to other interests. He buys these stuffties at the many vide greniers (empty-attic sales) we go to on weekends with birthday gift money or money he earns for doing special chores, a Euro here or there. He names each one of the new additions to his family—a puppy named Joe, a lion named Leo, a Tiger named Jessie (also the name of our recently deceased old dog). James brought two bears and an Ugly Doll named Igor from home, but it’s these “new” second-hand creatures to whom he seems most attached. I doubt he will feel the same way about them when we return home, but there is something magic about their place in his world just now, as if he is invoking a circle of friends or children to offset his isolation in this new place. Or maybe they are relics of a future, a way of imagining something elusive or intangible, a matter of faith. James talks to them about their “Poppy,” referring to himself as their father. Maybe he’s preparing himself in the only way he can in this fatherless family for his own future fatherhood.

James did bring his map of the solar system with him from home. When we make Christmas ornaments for our little tree in the chateau, he paints the Styrofoam balls as planets, just as he did in Vermont. The solar system has been an obsession for the last year. He learned all of the planets—and many facts about each—and collected artifacts—models, maps, books—about space. Is he mapping his past, marking the place he left off when we left Vermont? Is he keeping track of his place in the universe, France being—really—just next door to Vermont in the grand scheme of things?

My partner, Susan, brought her art supplies, paints, brushes, pastels, paper, and books. Of course, she buys more books here—at markets, vide greniers, junk stores. These are more obvious objects for working magic—she transforms ideas into art. And they seem to be security for Susan as much as Greenie was for Izzy. Her running things—her shoes, her Walkman, her books on tape—are Susan’s other essential supplies for travel. Susan needs her every-other-day run like the rest of us need air. When she runs, she can leave her body even as she inhabits it fully. Susan’s sneakers and audio-to-go are sacred objects, things she must have to be herself wherever she goes.

I too have brought a few special things with me from home as well—a favorite photo of the children; a stone—black with a magic white circle—from the brook behind our house in Newfane; a few of my favorite brand of pen; my journal. I also packed the Christmas stockings Susan made for each of us over the years, and we unpacked them and have them hanging by the fireplace now. I thought they would remind us of home, that they would help us feel settled—still at home in our own lives even so far away from home.

What does it mean to attach significance to objects? For the pilgrims, these teeth and locks of hair and bits of bone and splinters of the true cross reinforced faith. They were tangible evidence of something that is actually unknowable, intangible, abstract. God exists, these objects said. Miracles happen if you believe.

Home, perhaps, is the abstract unknowable intangible thing for which each of us needs reassurance. Even here on the edge of our universe, out in rural southern France, magic exists, miracles happen. We touch our little talismans and they help us conjure up strength and faith for the rest of the journey. Maybe home is something to do with faith, with believing and knowing that wherever we go—from security blanket out of the nest, leaving the egg behind; from a blue-green planet to the mysteries of fatherhood, the dangers of the world worn on one’s skin; from a paintbrush wand to the comfort of one’s own body moving through space and time; from a little house beside a brook in green mountains to a thousand-year-old château atop a French hill, stockings hung by a chimney with care—we house home in the reliquary of our souls, our imaginations. We take the objects to remember, to believe, to work a little magic. But the things we take are not nearly so important as the box we build to keep them safe.

L’Ecole: Part Two

October 23, 2009

Today is Tuesday, James and Izzy’s fourth day of school. Already everything is better. As Madame P said, “mieux et  mieux, petite à petite”; “Better and better, little by little.”

On the weekend, we tried harder to speak French at home, and it seems to have helped some. We play French Scrabble Junior and French Monopoly Junior. I model for the children, asking Susan, in front of the children, how to say almost everything in French: Qu’est-ce que c’est? I ask the children to speak to me in French, to help me learn French. Poor old Mom is a little slow, you know. I need you to help me. I buck up my courage and ask for help from the cranky woman at the gas station while the children watch. I practice my most important phrases aloud: S’il vous plait. Pardon. Je ne compre pas. Parlez vous English? Je ne parle Francais. I try to read road signs and advertisements and children’s books aloud in French, talking through the ways I try to decipher the language. Susan makes more flashcards. She asks the children what they need to be able to say and tries to help them remember the phrases.  James wants a turn on the scooters at recess, but we cannot find the French word for scooter in our dictionary. He says he does not want to play soccer, but that the kids follow him around at recess asking him to play. This seems to make him angry. He is intimidated. But by the end of Friday, he reports that he’s been making faces and snoring sounds with a blond boy named Louis, and he laughs hysterically in the re-telling of this. Louis might be a friend. Izzy says that she went with a group of girls for a little while and watched them twirling and lifting each other. She smiles and laughs.

On Monday, we had another small scene at the after-lunch drop-off. The children don’t want to go to a new class. They like Madame P. They don’t want to be with the littler kids. “I’m embarrassed,” James wails. But we leave them, and Madame C. shepherds them off, and by the end of the day at 5:00, they report that it was fun. They get to have a whole third recess, and they both got to ride the scooters as much as they wanted—no competition from the big kids. They sang songs, including “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in English. Plus there was a snack time and Madame C. gave them each two containers of applesauce.  James’ notebook includes completed worksheets on the “ou” sound, on which Madame P. has written Très bien! Izzy reports that she now has three friends. Both kids have suddenly realized that attendance at their birthday party (coming up at the end of November) will be sparse if they do not make friends, and so they are motivated. And Wednesday is a day off from school, right in the middle of the week!

We know we will have more dramas. The vacation will surely set us back, and we don’t even want to speculate about the first day of eating in the cantine or the first bus ride, but, for now, we have cleared this hurdle. Mieux et mieux, petite à petite.