Unlucky in French

voler de ses propres ailes

My son Max- favorite car-my Dad-Jean-Marc

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voler de ses propres ailes
(vo-lay deuh say pro-prz zaylz)

    : to fly with one's own wings (to stand on one's own two feet)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (cicadas chattering in the background): Download MP3 or Wav file

Souvenez-vous quand vous ou vos enfants ont volé de leurs propres ailes?
Do you remember when you or your children stood on their own two feet?

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Voler de ses propres ailes--it was one of the first expressions my affectionate host family shared when I came to France to study. And now it is Max's turn to fly with his own wings. Though I know he is ready, every maternal fiber inside of me is tightening, as if it would still be possible to shield a grown child from the outside world.

Careful not to link arms, I flutter beside my son as he struts over cobblestone paths in Aix-en-Provence. In a sunny square with a giant stone fountain and a café teaming with life, we approach a historical building, one visibly caressed from the bustle and hum. I wonder if those shutters on the second floor are designed to shut out the chatter which ricochets across the old stone façades, as bullets did in wartime. A plaque at the square's entrance hints at a dramatic scene that must have played out here. Now, where young mens' lives were yanked away, a new life is beginning for a modern-day Frenchman, thanks to those who came before him... and so a mother's mind yammers--from apartment hunting to apocalypse. 

"It's this one here," Jean-Marc says, motioning to a door on the ground level. Flimsy venetian blinds cover a large window beside the entrance. (The French have a thing for outdoor window treatments and it's not uncommon to see door curtains flowing in the wind.) My eyes roam from the second story apartment to this rez de chaussée studio. There are no shutters on this window to block out the noise. But there are bars.

"Bars!" I say, linking arms with my son as we study his new digs.

"Maman!" Max shrugs, but the twinkle in his eyes tells me he's not so bothered by the mothering. "Nobody can break into this apartment," he points out. 

"It's not that!" I lie. "It's just... do you think you can study with this bruit?"

(My husband's sacocheMr Sacks, is photobombing this photo! A fold-out couch, just beside Max, marks the limit of this studio.)

We are now standing in a room so small you'd mistake it for a Galaries LaFayette window display... Beyond the large fenêtre, there are no mannequins--only a couple of parents, a nineteen-year-old Franco-American, and a pretty realtor. The four of us are now busy closing a transaction. Tak, tak, tak and fast as that you can sign away your first born....

The hipster realtor--a pretty French girl who might be a mini cougar (?) shakes our hands. "You can move in August 1st! If you need anything at all," she says to Max, "you can call me."

"Do you live around here?" I ask, my hand strangling hers. Why am I suddenly wondering whether she's wearing a bra beneath that spaghetti-strap top? Am I reading my son's mind?

For once, Max is linking arms with me, stealing me away from the scene. As we hurry to the next-door café and score a table, my mind changes channels and I'm thinking about coincidence.

Look at those new glasses he's wearing. How his vision has changed since he last got his eyes checked, during his military registration. Glasses!... I remember the new pair I wore and how fun it was to try on a new persona in a new city, in France....

 "Can you believe that 24 years ago I lived just around the block from you, here in Aix-en-Provence? Imagine that!"

Yes, imagine that.

*    *    *

Thank you for the warm notes of support you sent in, after I wrote about the death of a reader and editor for this blog. There was some doubt as to whether the "Bill" in question was one of our regular blog commenters.  

No, he wasn't. Bill never once sent in a public comment. He sent all corrections privately. A shame, as his notes were so colorful! I have now posted a photo of our friend Bill (thanks to John Newman for sending the picture). There is also an extra section--"In his words"--in which Bill describes himself. Click here to see the updated post.

Aix-en-Provence son and mother
Max and me in Aix-en-Provence

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joie in carmel-by-the-sea

They spread their wings, but always remember where the nest is.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Sweet story today and good luck to Max on his new adventure! We just finished moving Tara into a new apartment last weekend!

Bill in St. Paul

I remember so well when our son, having graduated with a masters in Computer Science, decided to go to Taiwan and teach English. We watched as he walked down the boarding ramp, turned and waved good-bye to get on the plane for the first leg of his trip. We didn't know how long he would be there, it was an open-ended commitment. However, a little over two years later he returned with a beautiful woman who became our wonderful daughter-in-law (no, she wasn't from Taiwan, she was from California!).

Catherine Abou-Sakher

Such a sweet story Kristin. I also remember sending all 5 of mime off to university. It is hard but it has to be. New adventures....


What a delightful story! One that will tear the heart strings of many of your readers. Bon voyage Max! Vollez bien de vos propres ailes. Many thanks for your French Word a Day column. I speak French to my little grandson to expose him to a language other than English. Your posts are both very useful and very enjoyable.


A beautiful story!!! I can feel your emotions right through my computer screen. Best of luck to Max (he will be just fine)! And I must say something I have been meaning to tell you for a while now: I love your sense of style! Your clothes are fabulous.


A poem that brought me great comfort when my last baby girl flew the nest: "In Reference To Her Children, 23 June 1659" by Anne Bradstreet. She compares her children to baby birds fleeing the nest for the last time. I came across this poem when I was first married and it has touched me each time I read it. It's rather long so I won't post all of it here, but you might Google it, if you desire. Here is an excerpt:
"My fifth, whose down is yet scarce gone,
Is ‘mongst the shrubs and bushes flown
And as his wings increase in strength
On higher boughs he’ll perch at length.
My other three still with me nest
Until they’re grown, then as the rest,
Or here or there, they’ll take their flight,
As is ordain’d, so shall they light.
If birds could weep, then would my tears
Let others know what are my fears
Lest this my brood some harm should catch
And be surpris’d for want of watch
Whilst pecking corn and void of care
They fall un’wares in Fowler’s snare;
Or whilst on trees they sit and sing
Some untoward boy at them do fling,
Or whilst allur’d with bell and glass
The net be spread and caught, alas;
Or lest by Lime-twigs they be foil’d;
Or by some greedy hawks be spoil’d.
O would, my young, ye saw my breast
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest." My babies flew the nest and have done well. Many good wishes to Max and Momma!


Brilliantly written! A gem of a vignette ...

Sharon Auckerman

It doesn't matter whether it is the first born, the middle child or the youngest, we all feel the pain and fears of our children's first steps into the unknown. Nicely written Kristen.


This was a wonderful topic, and I would have liked it even more with more translations of French words and expressions (eg. colorful words such as "yammers", phrases such as "my hand strangling hers"). In my opinion your own writing in English has improved dramatically.
I first began reading your articles about 3 years, not every day but often. Thank you.

Karen McClung

Kristin, I was just in Aix on Wednesday... I had studied there 32years ago ( gulp) I was showing my daughter (age 7) my old stomping grounds. It had been my first time living away from home... And I did surly voler de mes propres ailes! My older boys need to s'envoler un peu!! I'm sure Max wool do great!

nancy robillard

nicely done story, kristin.

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Such a bittersweet time ----- but it is so important for both of you. Congrats to Max - he is so handsome and kind to his mom -- he will be fine!

Great photos --- sweet post. Thanks!

Stay well!

Cynthia Lewis

Kristen, as always, you have expressed your feelings beautifully. Every mother knows exactly your emotions as Max is beginning his life away from his home. You, Jean-Marc and all the members of his family have well prepared him for this moment in his life. Best wishes for all!


It's true what they say....being a mother is the most selfless, hardest, sometimes unappreciated job...but yet look at the rewards! When we see our children grow, stumble, and succeed, we know we have done a good job. Of course those four magic words don't hurt either..."Mom, you were right!" Great story and tribute to a job well done!


Oh I remember those pangs so well. You have captured them brilliantly. All his life you have been preparing Max for this moment when he flies on his own. Too bad we don't prepare ourselves as well, though I don't think there is any protection if you have loved well.

Barbara Kornfield

Many, many years ago, I was on a junior year abroad in Geneva program, and my mother developed warts on her hands. Nothing would cure them. She came to travel with me, and two weeks after her arrival, the warts disappeared. "Worry warts" for sure!

Kathleen from Connecticut

Max looks so much younger in this photo...the glasses and haircut. He will have the girls swooning all over him. But don't worry Kristen, I'm sure that he will be OK.
Lovely story.


Christine Dashper

A fantastic post Kristin. Exciting and challenging times. Wishing Max all the best as he moves into this new phase.

Warm wishes


My what a long way your young man has come since he wrote about "toads in the pool"!! You and Jean-Marc would be very proud!


Our dear Kristin,
This post is so beautifully written and so poignant (especially the last two lines!) that I have tears in my eyes.
You(once again) have truly wrapped us in hugs.
Bonne chance to Max!
Natalia XO

Leslie in Oregon

What is Max going to be doing (school? work?) while he is living in Aix? Exciting times... Congratulations!


Oh, this reminds me so much of being in Aix - we enjoyed it there very much! How wonderful and how difficult for you, all at the same time! Hard to let those wings take flight! But, I'm sure you and Jean-Marc are so very proud of Max.

Tina Malen

I have been following your blog for a while, but I am not a good commenter xD I love to read it and its even better now that I am visiting friends close to the places you write about :) Thank you for a great post:)
Tina, who is going to Aix today^^,

Chris Allin

Dear Kristin,
Many emotions emerge at a time like this.
Heartache, pride, excitement...but ultimately joy for parents witnessing their children taking hold of life as they become young adults. The feelings you so beautifully described seem to be universal.
All the best to Max as he starts his new adventure!

Patricia Sands

Kristin, you have captured so perfectly the emotions of every mother at a time like this. Bravo!

Lupita Mueller

I loved your story. My son who was very much attached to me spread his wings when he was 17 to study English in an Internat in Ely, England
near to Cambridge. I must tell you I was broken and very sad. After three months he wrote me that he would never come back home.
His father forced him to make College in Mexico with the promise he could then go to live in England, but he found love here and cancelled his studies in Oxford.
I wish Max the best in France and if he stays there don't regret it. You will then have the chance to visit him and France.
C'est la vie.

Carolyn  in Vermont

Thanks for sharing the latest family news. Best of luck to Max during his stay in Aix. I look forward to hearing all about it!

Hope you're having a lovely weekend!

Hugs to all, including the pups!


Betty Tuininga

I just read your mom's Facebook reference to this story. You are one most sensitive young woman that I "know". The one reader's interpretation is definitely a need to fulfill their own grief as we all have in our way through this incident (and others). It is best for Kristi to realize that at times like these, people sometimes need a scapegoat. So sorry Kristi, there is so much pain in the world right now...we all are feeling it, Fortunately some work it out more constructively than others.
Loved this piece, never even made a connection when I read it. I remember sending my daughter off to college...ah those wings

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