Dispatches from Outer Space

Hi. How’ve you been?

(awkwardly shuffles)

I’m checking the timestamp on my last blog and I guess no one is terribly shocked that I haven’t updated in a while. My Draft page is loaded with half written entries that I’ve started, got interrupted from, and never returned to finish. My time is measured out in short bursts, and generally when I do get a long stretch (like an hour!) away from baby duties, I have so many big things I need to do…laundry and food shopping, or even keeping up on exercise…the blog has slid to a very low priority. 

I have the little guy on my lap now, determinedly gumming my hand and drooling like a little escargot. He’s changed so much since the last entry, I don’t know where to start. 

There have been a lot of other big milestones too. I’ve officially been in France for a year…got my official laminated, waterstamped titre de sejour, which allows me another year in the country. Grape harvest begins on Monday. M and I have officially switched to speaking only French (unless we’re arguing, because I still can’t tell someone off in French nearly as well as I can in English…)

I’m settled, pretty much, into being a mama…love this baby like mad, and still go nuts over his tiny feet and funny voice and goofy facial expressions, his big, unreserved open sunshine smile that lights his eyes, his little bicycling feet and waving hands, the way his ears bend out at the tips, and his lopsided grin and huge, curious eyes. He holds his head and shoulders up now, and can pull himself into a sitting position using my fingers. He’s had his first vaccines. His hair is getting darker. His eyes are still wildflower blue. 

I keep him sleeping next to me still, and while we haven’t broken through consistent sleep through the night, it isn’t too hard to wake up and take care of him…he falls back to sleep while sucking, usually after fifteen minutes or so. I snuggle him always for a little while longer, enjoying the feeling of holding his tiny body close and listening to him breathe, already so very aware of how fast he is changing and how transient these moments really are. 

The hard stuff with being a mama isn’t really the stuff I thought would be hard. My friend said babies are hard in the same way pushing a boulder up a hill is: the work is simple and uncomplicated, and all about endurance. The stuff I struggle with is more an extension of the difficulties of living in a foreign country, magnified: isolation, being stuck at home sometimes, not feeling intellectually engaged, shouldering most of the most repetitive chores, getting very little sustained time to do the things I used to love to do, always functioning with very little sleep. My daily run in the garrigue has become a precious holy moment, the chance to be alone, muscles burning and my head singing…I get home feeling exhausted and spent and emotionally resolved, like I’ve just endured a religious ritual. 

Harvest has begun; M is preparing the machines, the new pressoir has been delivered and installed. The guys start working in the wee hours of the morning harvesting muscat, always the first grape to ripen…sweet sweet like candy, delicious…the vineyards are all right on the protected warmer coast, and you can see the Mediterranean Sea as you sit on the tractor. It means more isolation, more responsibility with the baby, and seeing M a lot less…and when he comes home he is generally exhausted from waking at two and three am every day during this season. I feel trepedation, sad about the isolation, the long days alone at home… and I know it won’t last forever either. The cooler weather beckons…my birthday approaches. 

We took some breaks this summer…a week hiking in the mountains in Andorra, resting in the evenings in the eucalyptus scented sauna of our little hotel, eating chunks of cheese and olives, swimming under waterfalls, and even getting to see my first Cirque show outdoors under the stars as we celebrated our first anniversary. (FIrst! Can you believe? What a year!)

And when we returned, we packed the car and drove into the midi Pyrenees, to go hunting for wild chantrelle and summer porcini mushrooms in the damp cool forests there, cooking omelettes and making nettle pesto on crispy bread…finding out what it’s like to vacation as a family, the car trunk loaded with baby bathtubs and economy sized packages of diapers.


We go mushroom hunting in a town called Anglés that is strange and quiet, with a little bakery and an iron cross in the center of town, and church bells that ring out every hour. The hills are covered in wild strawberries, and it is damp and cool…the old house are covered in irregular slate slabs in shades of grey and sienna, and the roofs are pitched sharply. We stay in a house that used to be an old post office, still unfinished, plaster on the stairs and the smell of dampness and wood everywhere. I walk through the village with my camera.

I sit writing this now as I housesit for a friend…outside on the terrace by a turquoise pool, the baby in just his diaper enjoying the cool breeze. I swim, I practice talking to the baby, I try to draw a little, I flip through my weird Cabinet encyclopedia reading strange articles about language and forgeries and micronations. I kiss little baby feet every now and then. I drink decaf coffee. I wear loose flowing green hippie dresses over my swim suit, and bare feet. I soak up the sunlight and the sleepy days of summer.

The autumn moves us forward. We went to look at another house to maybe live in this fall, isolated out in the vineyards with almond and olive trees, a deep well. Narrow little hallways and strange high-ceilinged bedrooms with old-fashioned wallpaper, a kitchen pantry, and a wood stove. A tiny fragile old French lady sitting in a kitchen chair, smiling but ghost-like, pleased to see the sleeping baby in my arms, her arms like matchsticks, her Parisian son showing us through the apartment. “Alzheimer’s,” M whispers to me, “She’s going in a home,” and that makes me sad. I look out the window at the big garden, not another house in sight, and picture Nolan playing outside. We duck into the big stone wheelhouse to look at the ancient red tractor, and I can tell M is already dreaming about tomatoes, about me having chickens again. 

After the meeting, we stand in the driveway, and talk vaguely about a rental price, though nothing gets settled on. We look at the separate downstairs apartment and speculate about putting M’s brother downstairs to offset what would undoubtedly be a huge rent increase from our tiny two bedroom blue house in the village…and we drive away, me uncertain that we can afford it, M telling me that he has a good feeling. We leave it open, until after harvest is finished.

The other vague plans: after harvest, they want to make a little store at the cellar, a little space to sell wine, and they want me to run it with the baby…three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, selling cases of wine and doing tastings and playing with the baby. I miss going to work, and feeling purposeful…I miss blowing glass. But I think the idea is that this will keep me busy and allow me to take care of the little guy during the day…that this will take some of the pressure off until I can return to working and making art again. On the sad days I worry that I never will…I get angry and disappointed when I get offered a short term gig blowing glass up north in France, and have to turn it down because of my responsibilities, and then I get mad at myself for getting mad. I try to remember to be patient. Maybe having this little wine shop in the village will help, will help me speak more and more French and maybe the responsibility will pull me out of myself a little. 

I guess that’s the big news. I hope eventually I’ll have more time and brain space to write a little more..I miss having a daily practice of drawing and writing and taking in the world, but I think I knew that this first year at least would be treading water and trying to find my way…ever on-going. Maybe I’ll write during the vendage (wine harvest) to keep myself sane? 


4 thoughts on “Dispatches from Outer Space

  1. Thank you for your post. I really needed a Laurie fix here. You are ever surprising and never surprising. Your descriptions of your life in France is so vivid in many ways. The word stories and the photos that remind me in a way of a certain book that you spoke about quite some time ago about a person describing foreign cities in detail. I am hopeful that you will write your first book, Adventures of a Glassblower in France as a wife and mother. Or some more appealing title, (I do not write). Now may not be the time, but I truly wish that you would write.

  2. Yeah, we have a news from Laurie! We’ve missed reading your letters, but are not surprised your new position of Mama usurps all your time and energy.

    It’s fun reading about the changes since Nolan’s entrance into your world and the growth and developments in your life. And we apprectiate your keen eye with photo opportunities of things and places there (especially ones of Nolan).

    Passing time will bring back opportunites in your glass art work, but time will also take away these moments kissing tiny feet and snuggling a sleepy baby.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of motherhood and a growing family!

  3. Little Escargot!!!! Oh I will always think of him this way now, adorable. I love this post, love your writing and imagery, even though it is tinged equally with happiness and sadness. It sounds like you are feeling the typical isolation of new motherhood, but amplified by your foreign circumstance. Does it still feel foreign? Does it feel like home? Are you a guest still? I wish I were coming to visit you right now. I’m not. I’m in Texas.
    I want to kiss the Little Escargot feet.

    • Does it still feel foreign: yes, always, but in a familiar way now. I wouldn’t trade it. The village feels like it fits me now that I know all the hidden streets and the baby has been a kind of passport into the world. But you are always aware of your Otherness from the moment you open your mouth and people quizzically decipher your accent…even wanting to do simple things like notarize a letter, or search for a particular organization, seems to be so confusing…you never can relax and take things for granted. But someone stopped me in the street and asked me for directions two days ago, and for the first time I was able to give them. So. I don’t know. It feels normal even if I don’t know that I’ll ever fully feel part of it all. I cried two days this week…and then the rest of the time was ok? Melancholy sometimes, very happy other times. The sense of delay, of having to wait to slowly understand French, of having to wait to pick up the threads of my career and passions, us agonizing sometimes, but I think too that the ability to be patient and work slowly towards a goal is something I needed to learn…as well as the ability to stay in the present moment and love it for what it is, not what my brain thinks it could or should be. I’m too aware that these moments are transient and slip through our fingers, so even the sad bewildering process if learning a language and being Other, perhaps, will someday seem to me to have been an indescribably precious moment in my life.

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