couter la peau des fesses

recensement militaire

Mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse
Something scary arrived in the mail... read on.

 le recensement militaire 

    : registration (military), census, counting (votes)

Audio File: listen to our son, Max, read his letter (below) from the mayor, including the term "recensement militaire": Download MP3 file or Wav file

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

"I begin to be adult"

Our 15-year-old son has received a letter* from the mayor. It reads:

Monsieur Maxime Espinasse

Né le 17 mai 1995

Est invité à passer en Mairie, Service "Etat Civil" à compter du 17 mai 2011...

Et obligatoirement avant le: 30 juin 2011

Pour son recensement militaire, muni de la carte d'identité française et du livret de famille de ses parents (Copies + Originaux)

Le Maire,
Max Ivan

( *For the English translation, go to the end of this post.)


Why does the mere act of reading the words recensement militaire make my tear ducts tingle?

15-year-old Max has the answer, in halting English:

Because, says he, I begin to be adult.


Post note: I did not correct my son's English... and I didn't tell him that his becoming adult is not the reason for my frisson.

Update: Jean-Marc tells me that military service in France is no longer obligatory. Nevertheless, boys and girls must respond to the recensement militaire, by registering at the local Mairie. 

Le Coin Commentaires
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French Vocabulary
le frisson = shiver, shudder


Jackie and Max, kids, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, freckles, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, toothless, chocolate cake, candles, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, teenager, snow, hairstyle, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, braces, teenager, kids, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, airsoft, mont ventoux, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

* Mr. Maxime Espinasse

Born May 17, 1995,

Is invited to come to Town Hall, to the Registry Office, voluntarily on May 17, 2011,

And involuntarily not later than June 30, 2011,

For his military registration and to bring with him his French-identity card (the original and copies) and his family-record book (the original and copies).

The Mayor
Max Ivan 

  July ceremony

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He's gonna just love you for putting those photos up Kristin!!! :)


As the mother of a son, albeit in his late 20's now, I also had a frisson when I read your post. Not many things strike more fear in a mother's heart than the thought of her son going off to war. But good news to hear that it's no longer obligatory in France?

Kristin, what is a family record book? What kind of information is contained in it?

I anxiously await your posts three times a week and I've learned so much from them, to say nothing like feeling as though I'm a member of your extended family.



Oh to be a mother...there must be something good that will come of this!

Shane P Cook

In the US, all males are still required to register with the Selective Service (ie the draft board) when they turn 18.

Bill in St. Paul

Great pictures of Max and Jackie, but I especially like the picture of mother and newborn Max. The letter from the '60s during the Viet Nam war that caused much "shivering" and "shuddering" was the letter from the US Selective Service that began "Greeting" - which was your notice to report for your military induction physical and entry into the US Army. (I always found it strange that it was called the Selective Service when they were really not very selective at all.)

Karen W  (Towson, Maryland)

My one and only darling boy is only one month younger than Max. It went by so fast that sometimes I feel I can barely remember the innocent days that tell the story behind the photos.


Ma from Brasil

As in the USA,when boys turn 18 they must register in Brazilian Army Forces.My son already pass through this few years ago (he will turn 23 in May).Greetings from Brasil.From a mom to a mom.=)

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Yes, I remember when I had the unhappy task as a mother of reminding my son he had to register -- as someone said, in the US registration is obligatory; serving is not. He asked the most reasonable question when he did it. Why didn't his sister, who was also 18, have to register. While I want no mother's child to fight in a war it seems a very reasonable question today.

But I first encountered this moment of anxiety when my son was small. He was adopted from Russia at age 8. To get his final naturalization papers his father and I had to speak for him, of course. So my heart tightened when I had to answer "I will" to vows that he would serve if called. I answered in the affirmative but was wondering when the next flight to Canada was because he was so small and physically frail at the time. I couldn't imagine giving him more trauma than he had already endured.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

I forgot to add, j'aime toujours la photo avec la neige.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Love the photos of the children and the one of you and Max as a newborn!
I haven't had a chance to catch up with FWAD or Cinema Verite until today. I was down in Athens, GA visiting my son Collin who turned 21 April 11. He is in ROTC at the University of GA and will be a senior next year! He will graduate and be commissioned a Second Lieutenant and will then be sent off to his first duty station. The reality that he may be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan is very real and very scary!


Yep, and with three kids already deployed (some more than once) after having volunteered to return something back for their privilege to live in this country, I cann tell you that I too have spent much more time shiverig for them than I ever did in the forzen places I deployed to myself over 30+ years. Now my son, daughter, and son-in-law understand how I could shiver from cold at 90 degrees fahrenheit. It ain't free, folks. Someone is paying the bill.

Jules Greer

My Precious Kristi,

So many beautiful memories...

I think it is you who is having that "ADULT MOMENT". You are facing the biggest mountain of your adult life - over the next two years Max's wings will take on the steel that he will need forever. I would suggest you get out your polish and help him shine - for this he will surely do.



Marianne Rankin

I enjoyed the pictures very much. And they do grow up so fast.

I was surprised that girls now have to register in France. Many serve in the U.S. forces, but they don't have to register.

It seems to me that 16 is too young to register for military service. Do they sign up at 16 and later enlist, if they do, at 18+? I'd expect most 16-year-olds to still be in school.

I remember the draft, during the Vietnam period. No choice then. That was a factor in giving 18-year-olds the vote (instead of the former age 21), because the rational was, if they are old enough to fight and maybe die for their country, they should have a voice in what it does.

I've seen a T-shirt in a catalog that expressed the sentiment above about "someone is paying". It read: "Home of the free because of the brave."

Esther Dalgas

Thank goodness that France doesn't require all young men or women to serve in the military. 15 does seem so young to register. Those little landmarks in life just keep striking. Be strong, mothers and fathers. May your courageous hearts lead the way through both happy and hard times.

Marianne Rankin

What is Max doing with the rifle? Planning to shoot ducks or something?

Erin, from Canada

Hi Kristen,

Thanks for posting the beautiful photo of you and newborn Max. I am home with a 7 month old daughter and I could really relate to that photo.

I also just finished reading your book and enjoyed it tremendously! I couldn't wait to read each new chapter, but when it got close to the end of the book, I purposefully slowed down my reading, so that it wouldn't be over! I have a new found interest in visiting the south of France now and seeing all the beauty you described in your writing. I hope there will be a new book out soon!

Warm thanks for such a special and wonderful look at what it must be like to live there.

best wishes,


My son, Jack, is almost exactly the same age as Max (born May 21, 1995). While he doesn't have to register with the Selective Service until he is 18, he will be learning to drive this summer. That certainly doesn't compare with the threat of military service, but it is terrifying enough at the moment (I am predicting my first gray hair to show up by July).


I feel your frissons. And the photos are precious!!!


When we're in Normandy for the summer, I see lots of small notices in the local newspaper from the Maires of the different communes, reminding youngsters in the relevant age-group that they must go along to the Mairie and register before the deadline. This all comes very much alive now you have linked it to one special youngster - Max.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for your thoughts and stories. Update: Over lunch (4 hungry farmers at our table today!) one of the men offered: "recensement militaire? in France we do this to measure illiteracy! (10 percent of the French are illiterate)" Apparently it is more of a census than an actual military registration.... unofficially so...

Mom, loved your idea of polishing those wings.

Ellen, the "livret de famille" or "family record book" records mariages, births, and deaths. Anyone know of anything else it records?

Marianne: Max is holding an "airsoft" gun; it shoots plastic balls (which also come in biodegradable form, we've learned!)

Erin, thank you for your positive feedback!

Julie, so interesting to read the story of your son and the declaration you had to make.

Esther: Max will register when he turns 16 (next month); if he wants to volunteer, he will still have to wait.

Debra, I can relate! (Story coming soon!)

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

I enjoyed the “slide show” of Max as he was growing up. . . how time flies!

I recall all to well the concern over having to register for the Selective Service. For me the real trauma came later when I was drafted into the Army for 2 years during the Korean War; it turned out to be a good thing for me. After training, I was assigned to NATO and spent the remainder of my service in Fontainebleu, France. I was able to spend lots of time in Paris. Now I look back at my military service as an honor to be able to serve.

À bientôt


Bonjour Kristin,
I totally understand how you're feeling. My son had to register for the draft when he was 18. I am surprised that you in France must register so much earlier. It was a right of passage none of really thought would arrive so soon! I now guard the little draft card for him, and to tell the truth my stomach turns over each time I pass it when in the folder.

The photos of Max are wonderful! Thank you for sharing those. What a great young man he must be.

I got a little chuckle out of his birth date.
My daughter, my youngest was born on the same date, but a several years before your Max.



Of course, a gorgeous man and woman would have gorgeous children. Although I have not met them or you, I would bet they have the same sweet, gentle nature as their parents. They are their own persons as all are but they reflect your core. Congratulations!

Audrey Wilson

I love the Boites au Lettres !!
You have a handsome young adult! You must be proud.

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Yes I remember the day when each of my boys got the Selective Service Notice here in the US. It makes you pause for a moment.

Thank you to all who have served and all who are serving.


Your picture of Max as a newborn and you preceeded the news and a picture I received today of my newborn Granddaughter Flora Jane, and her mama! Life is joyful!

and painful. I have often wondered if military service was delayed until men and women reached 50, we might save ourselves much heartache, and solve more problems. I guess it would be impossible to have all nations agree to follow suit.

Gwyn Ganjeau

Kristin, the photo of newly-born Max brought tears to my eyes. Loooooove all the photos of the kids. After hearing such heartfelt stories about the two of them over the years, I think many of us feel something like far-flung aunties and uncles.

It seems such a short time ago that my own son was swaddled in my arms. Now he has 2 daughers of his own. How does that happen?! I think it must be new math.

Lovely sentiment, Jules, about the steel wings. Kristin, I am sure the sparkle and gleam in them will be your influence.


I am probably the only one who likes the last photo best. It shows what a kind, self assured(and good looking) young man that you and Jean-Marc have raised. And if you really think about it, the journey is just beginning for him.


He is such a beautiful child with a wonderful spirit....thank you for sharing your riches.

Cate Salenger

Oh Kristin, Those pictures are so powerful! And how it makes my heart ache for you. We have all girls in my family but I'm sure the day will soon arrive when they will have to register as well. We must be brave, huh?

Warm wishes,



I can understand why you felt that frisson. It seems much too soon-- if ever-- to be thinking about such things.

Thank you for sharing the photos. What a beautiful child/good-looking young man Max is! I can see both his parents in him.

Leslie in Massachusetts

I only have daughters (the idea of them being drafted is impossible to imagine), but I can understand how strange and scary it was for you when he received the letter. Age 15 seems cruelly young to have to be reminded of the possibility of military service!


What an awakening letter! While it may be a necessity of life, many times fraught with a fairness that isn't very selective as a previous post had suggested, it will still mark my heart has it has yours. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pictures and stories of your life.

Karen W  (Towson, Maryland)

Yes, Jules- thank you for that wonderful advice that puts it into a much better - and more productive - perspective.

Motherhood isn't for wimps.

Martha - Florida

Kristi, I can't believe Max is already "almost" grown! He is a good looking young man, and you can feel very proud of him. The pix are great! We love you all!


Hello Kristin,

Thanks for sharing such beautiful pictures of your children. The one of you with newborn Max truly touches my soul. I still hope to be a mother one of these days and have the opportunity to gaze lovingly into my own child's eyes. I can feel the love connecting the two of you.
Max is such a handsome young man and I'm sure as kind and gentle as you and Jean Marc. I'm sure he will make a positive difference in the world just like you have.

Jill in Sydney

Hey everyone
so interesting to hear everyone's range of thoughts and experiences on this one. In Australia we don't have compulsory registration, although we do have compulsory voting!

My own two babies have grown up very suddenly, one is working and living in another city at the moment and the other has just finished school and started university this year. So lots of little frisson moments lately.

On another note entirely, having dinner in a local Lebanese restaurant last night, our waiter was a young French boy from Bretagne, on a year's working holiday in Australia. Seems many young French people are choosing to come here and do this now. Maybe we will see Max in Sydney in a few years???

Therese Terry Stacy

Dear Kristen,
Time surely is playing tricks-this grand young man cannot so quickly have evolved from that downy bundle! Time out races us as we long to slow down the leaving-I stare at my son's strong muscled arm, and reach out to touch...his baby hand. A mother's heart suffers this divine contradiction-and we recognize each other's tears.

Francine Gair

Many mothers here in California are encouraging their teenage sons to create a "peace record" of activities that will qualify them as conscientious objectors should the draft ever be reinstated. I still remember the late 60s when graduate student deferments were eliminated and grad students began scrambling for alternatives like the Army Reserves and the National Guard. My own son is now 23 and when he had to register at 18, it was a worrying flashback.


Bonjour Kristin, Thank you for sharing with us your family album, your children are both gorgeous looking. Max is such a handsome young adolescent. Il te ressemble beaucoup. Et Jackie, quelle beaute'!

I can relate to your "frisson". We were excited when our application to immigrate to USA was approved. My envious brother-in-law (mari de ma belle-soeur)made a sarcastic remark that my sons would be drafted. Before my eldest graduated from Highschool, he received a notice from Selective Service. Thinking back of my BIL's words, I was worried. But fear soon dissipated because it was not obligatoire.

Pat Cargill

Thank you for sharing the early pictures of Max. Our one and only child, Sam, departs June 7 for basic training in the Air Force. While he has been living away from home since he left for college at 18 the fact that he is going so far and will not be near us for a long time, is a big adjustment for us. I know he has to move on with his life and I am happy for him that he has made a choice for it is what he wants. I still have a shiver in my heart for it is hard to let go like this.


I love the mailboxes. Was this a photo of an apartment building? It is so much more interesting that the generic mail boxes which most apartment buildings have.
The pictures of Max growing up are precious. He is a handsome young man.

Lisa A., CA

Hi Kristin,

Your photos are just lovely. I didn't know that young men still had to register. I'm so glad that it has become more of a census instead.

Mike from South Africa

I'm glad you mentioned "Paris Je T'aime". It is a beautiful film. For those who haven't seen it, yes, it has familiar faces in the various episodes, but I think the real star of the film is Paris itself, with each of the featured arrondissements lovingly handled. I guess the only criticism might be that it gives a warm gloss that may not be entirely true in real life. Given the present state of the world as portrayed by the media, perhaps that's not an entirely bad thing.

Lynn at Southern Fried French

Oh my. He does begin to be an adult. How did that happen so fast? I would be having un frisson too. bon courage! the photos are SO cute, Kristin.

Christine Dashper

Oh Kristin, like many others who have already commented, I can fully feel your 'frisson'. My son has just turned 18 in the last week, and in Australia this means you can vote, drive and drink alcohol, all in one go!!! Bad planning I say.... (the drinking and being able to drive anyway). Although the culture is changing, there is zero tolerance for new drivers and alcohol, but still...

You have a lovely family and I, like others, am sending good thoughts to you all.


I didn't realize Max's birthday was the day before my oldest son's! May 18,1981, you had a nice Mother's Day gift also! Hope he has a great birthday next month :)Hope to see you and Jean-Marc next year for vendenge

Jacqueline Gill

I just sent you an e mail called "When do you stop worrying about your kids?" as I thought of you when I read it. My children are 31 and 26, and I worry about them every day. But I try to replace that worry with prayer and with believing what I know from the Scriptures. I can only tell you what I know to be true, and that is that prayer works. It's too bad we are not all closer in proximity so as to sit down with a cup of coffee and chat! Blessings to you-

Ophelia in Nashville

A heart-stopping letter... And what sweet pictures.

Johanna Lagelee

Thank you for the wake-up all - I just realized I'm late registering my daughter!

sue in cape town

I'm anti-military, but WOW he is so handsome in his 'gear'!! very very good looking almost adults!! a lovely photo journey though his short life. time passes so terribly quickly.

Debra Houston

When each of my two sons reached the age of enlistment, I began to receive calls from recruiters .... Marines, Army, Navy. I told one recruiter when he called, "You want to send my son to war?" He said, "You sound just like my mom." We moms are all alike. We don't want our children in danger. It makes me that much more appreciative of those moms who do have sons and daughters in the service. God bless them!

Abdalla & Colette

Bonjour Kristin.

Pour moi le service militaire doit être obligatoire, non pas pour apprendre à faire la guerre et à tuer. Mais pour discipliner les jeunes, pour leur montrer à travailler en équipe, se lever tôt et faire de l’exercice. Pour moi les militaires seront là pour aider les gens qui vivent des catastrophes, comme on voit au Japon. Faire la Paix entre les peuples.

Pour moi il faut apprendre aux soldats à aimer et non pas à tuer son frère humain. Pour moi les militaires doivent changer leurs chars d’assaut en tracteur, pour aider les pays pauvre.

Exploiter le génie humain à rayer les maladies, et la pauvreté au lieu de fabriquer des armes de plus en plus puissantes et à destruction massive.

Mais le lobi de l’armement, les gens qui veulent faire de l’argent en fabriquant des armes, ne se soucie guère des familles qui voient leurs enfants sacrifiés et des villes entières détruites.

Une chance pour Max que le service militaire n’est pas obligatoire en France.

Bonne journée à toi.

Salutation à toute la famille et à Jules

Abdalla & Colette xxx

Phil Anderson

It still seems very strange that here in the U.S., where sexual equality is preached from the roof tops, that it is only young men and not young women that have to register for the Draft. Maybe it's still like the book "Animal Farm' - everyone is equal but some, in this case, are more equal than others.

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