: to crack up, to lose it, to come undone
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Given a second chance, I would have stayed calm. "Ce n'est pas grave," I would have said, assuring the boys and myself it wasn't a problem-- and that everything would work out comme d'habitude.
But when the dogs sneak off I come apart, no matter who's around.
It was Max and his friend Paul that were around, when yesterday, at noon, our golden retrievers saw a glitch in security (a front door left open)--and ran with it. Ils se sont échappés!
I was in the kitchen at the time, hunched over a scrambled egg sandwich. Unaware of the fugue, or runaway, I was hyperaware of my lunch's demise. Oh, no--two hungry boys! One scrambled egg sandwich!
The unexpected visitors enjoyed harassing me for a share of my lunch, but I talked Max and Paul into learning to make their own: Crack four eggs, add a bit of water, beat. Toast the bread....
Now we were seated at the table with three giant scrambled egg sandwiches. As garden-fresh tomatoes fell from the sides of the stuffed sandwiches, it was hard not to appreciate the bounty before us. "Would you like another onion, Max? Paul, take another pickle--no, really, that one's yours!"
(At this point in our pickled debauchery, the dogs were a ten-minute sprint from the house... and gaining distance...)
"Quel honneur de manger avec mes garçons aujourd'hui," I offered, never mind Paul wasn't related. Yes, it was truly a pleasure to have lunch with my son and his pote, or faithful side-kick. The boys are often funny and engaging and I like the way Paul pronounces my name (Kristi): Et comment vas-tu, Kwee-stee? he says. It is unusual for a teenager to be so personable with his friend's parents and I appreciate Paul's attention.
(Meantime, no attention is given to the dogs, who are believed to be dozing by the front door....)
The mood was so good, so carefree, that I remembered an idea I had for the young men. Though I didn't tell Paul about Max's summer job in the States (fingers crossed he'll be a counselor at a French camp), I could still share the back-up plan....
"How would you two like to work for yourselves this summer?" I told the boys about "Le Projet Foutas" or the "Beach Towel Idea", wherein I would order 500 foutas wholesale (I'd seen the colorful towels here) and the boys could then sell them on the beach, come July, when tourist season is in full swing!
"C'est interdit. It's against the law to sell on the beach, Paul said. "....But we could sell them at the marché de nuit!"
Paul told me about the popular nighttime farmers markets that come to life in summertime. Meantime, Max began to calculate.... and then question the merchandise.... "How will we know the quality?" the newbie seller wanted to know. That got Paul thinking about the middleman (me, the buyer) and the percentage I should be given. "We'll pay you back, and give you 25 percent for your trouble!"
It was rewarding to watch and to listen to the boys seize the business plan, adding their creativity to it. Proud and motivated I spent the next 10 minutes giving the boys sales pitches:
"First, set up an attractive stand..." (I told them about the ladder display I'd seen) "Then, when you get a bite, that is, an interested client, mention that the towels make wonderful take-home gifts for family and friends! Tell them of the various uses: the towels double as picnic blankets, make a great tablecloth... and an effective cache-misère (you can throw them over an unsightly chair or couch). Ca va cartonner! I cheered. You guys will hit the jackpot!
Just as I was patting myself on the back for the ingenious idea--one which guaranteed my coolness and favor in the boys' eyes, I glanced over at the front door. Where were the dogs?
Et là, j'ai disjoncté. And there, I lost it.
"MAX! The dogs got away!"
My 18-year-old jumped to his own defense. "Why weren't the dogs in their pen?" he questioned.
"Because I keep them in the house when everyone's gone. I didn't know you were coming home for lunch! Why didn't YOU pay attention."
I looked at the clock. A half-hour had passed since the dogs slipped off. All the while I had been giving my all--feeding the boys lunch as well as a lucrative sales plan that would make them future millionaires. This, after telling them how wonderful, intelligent, and capable they were. But when it was my turn for help, gone was the reciprocity!
Paul stood frozen as Max argued with me. "Mom, you get so stressed out for nothing. And the dogs always return!"
Putting Max's argument to a stop, I let go an earth-shattering roar. GET IN YOUR CAR AND FIND THOSE DOGS NOW!
For the next hour we searched on foot and by car--one of us willingly, the other grudgingly, so that when I was down by the road shouting Braise, Smokey, I could hear my son at the top of the hill threatening the same. BRAISE! SMOKEY!
"Max!" I shouted, when next we crossed paths. "If you call for the dogs that way, you'll just scare them away." But my suggestion was met with thundering resistance... and mother and son were off again, in a shouting match.
Occasionally I would look over at Paul, amazed that my arms and lips were flapping like this, in front of our guest. But I didn't care anymore. It seemed to me that the boys didn't care enough. Now came the bitterness. After giving so much what had I gotten in return? These kids didn't seem interested in my well-being at all!
"Paul has to go home now!" I shouted, finding the boys in front of the TV. After a scant search for the dogs, they'd given up.
"Max, if you are not going to continue searching, then you can vacuume the house. I don't have time to now--I'm busy looking for our dogs!"
To think, only one hour before, I was cheering the young men forward. Now, I was washing my hands of the Beach Towel Plan and the freeloading salesmen I'd thought to hire! They could find another backer! Why would I want to help someone who doesn't want to help me?
Being a parent is a thankless job! The very thought makes you angry and you lash out, feeling even worse than before. All alone now, you look up at what you once had, and all you see is an empty house, shutters flapping in the wind.
* * *
The dogs returned on their own, before sundown--just as Max said they would. My son was long gone by then. Je vais prendre l'air, he had said, after vacuuming the house.
But before Max left, he came peacefully to my room to ask for the necklace I had offered him. (The day before he had gone shopping with a girlfriend, and she had waited as he bought himself a new outfit).
"Here, Max," I said. "Next time you treat yourself, why not get your girlfriend a little something? Always think of others."
"I do always think of others," Max pointed out.
"It's true, you do--but next time think of what is heartening to others. Those dogs are important to me. In the future, whether you agree or not with my reaction, please honor it by helping me."
It isn't easy to find the words to get through to someone, especially those "someones" of another generation. I hope Max will never forget the necklace, and the symbolism behind it: It is by giving that we receive.
Ce n'est pas grave = it's not a worry
comme d'habitude = as usual
ils se sont échappés = they got away
la fugue = run away
Quel honneur de manger avec mes garçons aujourd'hui =
What an honor to eat with my boys
le pote = buddy
le cache-misère = something used to hide something
ça va cartonner = you'll sell tons!
je vais prendre l'air = I'm going out for some fresh air
Audio File: Listen to the famous poem, in French, by St Francis of Assisi.
It is in giving that we receive. The last words of today's story were inspired by a famous prayer. It is the favorite of my friend Melanie, who recently passed away from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. You'll find a recording of the French version of this poem, following Melanie's story, here. (Our daughter, Jackie, has recited the poem: