I landed in Paris with my husband and kids on January 2nd, after an overnight flight from Toronto to Brussels, a flight from Brussels to Toulouse, and another from Toulouse to Paris. Sound convoluted? It was. We initially had plans to settle in Toulouse, but an unexpected job offer and a last minute location change meant it was cheaper to tack on an extra flight at the end of our journey than change the ones we had already booked.
It also meant changing our outlook on what the next year or more would look like. We had visas for a year in France, now we have ones valid for three. We had a place to stay in Toulouse and a plan for a more relaxed, laid back lifestyle for a while. In January we ended up staying in temporary rental apartments until we could find a long-term rental and my husband got his work contract finalized. You can't rent a family apartment here without a contract, nor can you get your kids in school without a permanent address, so pretty much everything was on hold until the contract was formalized.
Then the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened just a few days into our move, and it was as though time stood still. All eyes were on Paris, and questions about just how safe a city it would be to live in swirled around. We didn't feel as though we had made the wrong choice, but many others in our lives did, and it was tough going for a while as we defended our choice and at the same time worried about whether we had put our children in danger.
As for that laid-back lifestyle? My husband is now working full time at a job that will require him to travel for a few days almost every month and a boatload of responsibility that goes along with it.
Things changed, fast. I'm still not sure I'm completely caught up!
We found an apartment a week before we had to head back to Canada to get different visas per my husband's job, so school and daycare plans got put on hold until we returned at the beginning of March. That's when everything slowly started coming together, and our stay here began to feel more like real life than an extended vacation.
My oldest son is now enrolled in a local public elementary school. We're sometimes met with some surprise when people hear that, but we decided against an international private school for now for a few reasons. Our son is in kindergarten, so we feel he's still young enough to integrate into French society without too much trouble, and we want him to spend his days in French. My husband only speaks to our children in Spanish, and I usually speak English, so the immersion factor was important. He loves it at his new school, and has already asked to invite some friends over for a play date.
Our youngest was a bit more tricky. Daycare is interesting here. Most companies pay a portion of the cost of monthly daycare and the employee pays the rest when it comes to government licensed centers. My husband's company doesn't do that, preferring instead to provide employees with an education allowance they can spend how they see fit. As a result, most government daycare centers wouldn't accept us (one of the joys of French bureaucracy). It took a while to find a private daycare that had space this late in the school year.
We were lucky to find one just down the street from our apartment, but they only had half-day spaces available, and at a crazy price. The half-day arrangement limits what I can do for the time being, but in September he'll be starting school so things will open up. Children start kindergarten at age three here, and the after school programs are inexpensive and well-run, so he will be participating in that in the fall.
My husband and I joke that our kids are adjusting better than we are. In a way, it's true. It's no small thing starting over in a new place, even when it's what you want. I love my apartment, our neighbourhood, Paris, the whole shebang, but it's still HARD.
The pluses are many- my husband can walk our son to school in the morning and we're getting to know some of the people in the building and the merchants at the market. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the rest of Europe at our doorstep. My husband's commute is now 15 minutes instead of an hour and a half, and his vacation time more than doubled.
In other ways though, settling in has been tough. I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. I often wonder if I will always feel this way. It's been a long time since I've had to use French on a daily basis, and I often find myself searching for the right word. I'm not always certain of the correct social etiquette in any given situation. My lack of fashion sense is more obvious here than it was in Canada. And I have been so busy making sure that everyone else was adapting that I haven't had any time for myself.
I'm lonely at times, and other times I enjoy the solitude. I miss my family and my friends. I miss having someone to go for walks with or to meet up for coffee. I have plans to join a writing group and maybe a conversation group, but with only a few free hours in the afternoon, it hasn't been a priority. My husband is the only adult I really know here, and sometimes it's tough to hear him talk about all these new adults he's meeting through work while I've been pretty much relegated to the domestic front since moving here.
I know that this will change, particularly when my schedule opens up in September, but for now it can sometimes feel as though I make my way through this incredible city largely invisible to others.
So how do I know we made the right decision? I'm happy. Not every second of every day, but I feel an overall sense of contentment that we will find our groove here in Paris. I'm optimistic about making friends, getting back a bit of a social life, and enjoying everything the city has to offer. Three months down.
Here's to the next three!