Friday, March 20, 2009

What Makes a Life Complete?

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

My sister once said, that having found a good dentist, gynecologist and hairdresser, she couldn't ever move again. That's one way to look at life. And yes, it took time for me to find all three in Provence. I started with my hairdresser in Arles, to whom I now return from Avignon when time permits. It's not the perfect situation. In the beginning, hairdressing vocabulary was not a strong point for me. These things have to be learned (highlights=faire les mèches, bangs= la frange; layers=dégradé -- or at least I think so....) There've been haircuts I was not so pleased with, and highlighting jobs that were too extreme -- these last he redid on the house after seeing my forlorn expression, for which I am quite justifiably grateful. I just don't do platinum. He cuts my sons' hair (when I don't, and/or remedies my 6-10 months of dramatic trims) with nary a snicker. And well, yes, for those great head massages and his pleasant demeanor, and as now he's got the recipe down for my highlights, I have to say I would loath to have to change hair dressers again.

It took far longer and with many more trials and errors to find a good dentist. There too, though I could discuss art, culture, history and basic grammar in French, I was definitely lacking in dental vocabulary. My first in Arles wanted to replace all my old mercury fillings and did quite a few before I said enough already. I then went on to a second, recommended by a friend, but he was rather scary. Not at all attractive, over-talkative, and proudly of the old school. He oversaw the fixing, the breaking, and then the removing of my ancient root canal. I now have a hole in my mouth (which is only a little visible when I smile). At long last, I found a very attractive (yes, I was going through a divorce, having attractive men caring for me in my life was a very lovely thing... even if he was just poking around in my mouth) and able dentist in Arles, pleasant to go to, good with my boys. And all was well. But, that was just before I moved to Avignon, and, well, a 50 minute trip every time one of the three of us needs a dentist is really not very reasonable. So I said goodbye to my most attractive dentist.

I then discovered that the mother of one of Jonas' friends is a dentist. Joy of joys! We went to her. It certainly helped that she is a gentle, thorough, detailed and calm person, and a mommy. Jonas had two cavities to be filled that day. She's also amenable to making a particularly long rendez-vous for the three of us to go together, and since Leo never has a cavity, and with me she's just doing a good cleaning, Jonas' cavities get filled pronto. She has also delivered the bad news that Jonas has very delicate enamel and will no doubt have many a cavity as his life progresses. So, he gets to go see her twice as often as Leo. Good thing she is has good bed-side manner!

Over time, stumbling my way through the children's births, doctor's visits, ear aches, vaccines, and such, I've mastered the basic vocabulary for numerous child illnesses (varioles=small pox, rougeole=measles, varicelles=chicken pox, coqueluche=whooping cough... those are the important ones, right? ah yes, and la scarlatine, i.e. scarlet fever) by necessity, and female ailments as well. Some, thank goodness, are pretty obvious.

Now that I live in Avignon, close to my friend S, a nurse, I rely on her for recommendations. She came to my rescue for appointments with the gynecologist and the dermatologist-- a must with my English/Irish heritage and fair freckled skin, the annual look-over is now part of the routine. Her gynecologist is good, discreet and reserved. I tend to be a bit chatty, so that throws me a bit, but she is gentle and competent, so we'll see as time goes on. She has on file my family's history with ovarian cancer. And she was able to calm my worries over my changing body. She confirmed that yes, it is normal for your breasts to grow two cup sizes after 40, and your waistline too. So far, it's only the upper portion of my body that has me kafutzed. I'm rather proud that my waistline (thanks to Triangle and Side Angle Bend) is fine for the moment. But just to be sure I checked with my favorite lingerie seller for confirmation.

The dermatologist was the first doctor I met in France who quite obviously earns a good living and shows this off in the quality of his office furniture, and his navy blue leather upholstered door. With his good tan, and his elegant white poet's blouse, his wavy gray hair so perfectly coiffed, he efficiently had me strip down to my skivvies, looked me over, burned off a spot on my back, declared his fee, received his check and sent me on my way. -- Why do I stress this? Well, the GPs I frequented back in Arles were sweet, overwhelmed with paperwork, and answered their own phones. They were able to pay their bills, raise their kids, keep a roof over their heads, but, they certainly were not wealthy, nor in a position to have a receptionist or file clerk, forget an elegant office.

So, if my sister is right, I've got the basics down. But perhaps, she was speaking of life before children? It's been awhile since we had that conversation.

Now, as a mother, next on my list is the kids' school. And yes, we can check that off. As long as I can manage paying for it, I'm quite content with their being in the Sorgues/Avignon Steiner school. They may succeed that rare blend of being raised in France, proudly carrying their dual citizenship within them. That the school is also a source of a wonderful multi-cultural community is a major plus.

However, truly, I didn't feel attached to this country for many years. In spite of my giving birth here. In spite of having a husband, a business, a house, and the numerous years under my belt. Having a French passport didn't connect me to the country. Speaking the language ever more fluently made life easier. But it seemed to me that none of that truly counted. There were moments when I was quite aware that if I left for the US the next day, few here would miss me. There would be those who'd be angry at me for hurting Erick, and perhaps a few who'd say, remember that energetic American woman who used to come by with her clients? I wonder what happened to her... But, for a very long time, there was no one in my life who would have truly missed me if I had gone home to the US. And I felt that vacuum where a good friend should be.

I have traveled across the country, and even over an ocean, for a man (or two). Yet, where I am right now in my head--post-divorce, coping alone with the kids, trying to figure out who I am--it's my friends who keep me sane, comforted, warm and feeling truly loved. The kinds of friends who let you cry, rant, rave, but also be proud, happy, joyous. The friends who can lean on you, rely on you, who trust you, know you, believe in you. The friends who hear you and are there, who say you're free? You're alone? and if I came over this evening to be with you? The friends who remind you to believe in yourself, who give you little suggestions for making things easier, be it with the kids, or jobs, or life in general. And yes, the friends who accept and love you, and even wait for you as you spend most of your free hours and days with your new man. They're there when things don't go right, when you need them. And they let you go right back to your maybe not-so-perfect situation that you need to live and discover on your own terms and in your own time.

It took time to find these friends too. Years. Today I can say that I've two really wonderful friends. A few lovely and close acquaintances, and a bunch of people who know and like me. The first real friend dates to my arrival in the Steiner school -- our kids had a thing for each other in the kindergarten, so it was like, hey, they seem to like each other, and wouldn't it be nice if perhaps we all got together sometime? And from that point, through hardships and joys, and many an exchange of children, our friendship has grown and truly taken root. The second, is also indirectly via the school. An acquaintance from school introduced us to each other, and it just clicked. I've been in France since 1995, but the first real friendship dates to 2001, and the second from 2004. It took time.

Today I hear them telling me, now that you are important to me, that you've become an integral part of my world, that I've opened my heart and let you in, don't go back to the States...

Thus, is my life complete as it is?

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