A year ago today, we officially moved out of our home in Canada and got ready to embark on our journey overseas. At the time, we didn't have jobs lined up in France, so the plan was to travel for a few months, choose a place to settle, and then apply for 1 year visitor's visas for France. From there we planned to make some money and travel as much as possible. We paid down our debts, put some money in savings, and put some aside for travel.
Deciding to actually take the plunge and travel was the scariest part, followed by actually telling people about our plan, which made it real. It took a few months to sell our house, and then we set about giving away or storing most of our belongings, buying plane tickets, and planning out our fact-finding trip.
Many people thought we were crazy to move two young children to a new country, and weren't always subtle about their disapproval. Our kids were 5 and 2 when we left Canada. My husband and I weighed the pros and cons of uprooting our kids, and were especially aware of the fact that our five year old would be missing some of his senior kindergarten year before we could enrol him in school in France. Ultimately we decided that the time was right for the move, and that the pros outweighed the cons.
The last year has been a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs, with many great adventures along the way. A friend of mine was told me that no matter how much we try, we can't control the future, and she was 100% correct. While much of the past year has roughly followed our original plan, many things turned out quite differently.
We left Canada at the beginning of September 2014, and travelled our way through much of the South of France for almost 2 months. Starting in Nice, we visited (in no particular order) Menton, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nimes, Montpellier, Lyon, and Toulouse, as well as visiting the principality of Monaco and taking a side trip to Italy. Over the next few months I will be embarking on a series of blog posts on family travel to these outstanding destinations. We absolutely fell in love with Toulouse (much to my surprise as we only went there because my husband really wanted to visit), and returned to Canada in mid-October to apply for long-term visas. We moved in with my parents while waiting for our visa appointments.
However, life threw us a curve ball when my father-in-law fell ill, suffering from a second pulmonary embolism. We moved our visa appointments back a month and set off for El Salvador. My sister-in-law was also getting married that month, so we decided to stay for the wedding too. The kids got a nice visit with their grandparents and great-grandparents, and they also got to enjoy the hot Central American weather!
When we returned to Canada we got our visas in order, and then relaxed to enjoy the holidays. That's when life threw us another curve ball! A company my husband had applied for a job with called less than a week before our scheduled departure to Toulouse and offered him a job in Paris! We accepted, then changed our plane tickets to add an extension to Paris.
A Change of Plans
We left on New Year's eve, and arrived in France on January 1st. After a night in Toulouse, we finally made it to Paris. We booked a temporary apartment for a few weeks while we looked for an apartment. Apartment hunting in Paris is not for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to the crazy dossiers required to even be considered as tenants. Since my husband's job didn't start until March, we had a bit of a tough time finding people to rent to us until his contract officially took effect. That meant that the kids couldn't start school since a long-term address is required for enrollment.
Less than a week after our arrival Paris was hit with a terrorist attack that targeted the staff at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as well as civilians in a Kosher supermarket. Twenty people died in total, and the city was in a state of fear and high alert for weeks to come. My husband and I decidedthat we were going to stay in Paris despite the attacks, although many people we knew questioned our logic. It was hard to explain the violence to our 5 year old, but we let him watch the parade and explained what had happened as best we could in a way that was appropriate for a young child. As the city slowly went back to normal, we felt more confident about our choice.
We finally landed a place we love, and in February returned to Canada to get our long-term 3 year visas that are different from the visitor ones we received when neither of us had a job! We had a chance to celebrate our oldest son's 6th birthday while we were there, which was nice because he got to have a small party with the family. Leaving Canada this time was tougher than the last because a few days before our departure my Uncle had a stroke. Although he was stable and looked to be on the road to recovery, it really hit home that I would be missing important milestones and activities in the lives of family and friends while living overseas.
Settling In & More Travel!
We returned in March, and were finally able to get our 6 year old enrolled in a local elementary school, and our 2 year old in a daycare. By mid-April, everyone was where they needed to be! It was really hectic for everyone while the kids got adjusted to their new routine, and my husband got used to his new job. I took care of all the fun technical stuff around the apartment and handled getting the daily routine back on track, while getting ready to return to freelance writing.
We've been fortunate to be able to take advantage of some of the great travel opportunities that Europe affords, and at the end of April we went to Barcelona and the Costa Brava in Spain, and I attended a travel conference where I got to meet some great fellow travel bloggers. I felt as though I was surrounded by people with the same passion for travel as I have, and even met a few who travel with their kids too!
We finished out the school year successfully, and then got ready for our first summer as a family in France. Paris is great in the summer with a ton of free activities for families. My family came from Canada to visit, and my niece got her first taste of life in Paris. We even made it out to Disneyland Paris! It was great to have them come and see where we live, and the kids were excited to show them around.
Then in August we took three weeks to travel to Portugal, which I've been documenting on the blog over the past few weeks. I still have a few posts left about our time there, including some tips for travelling with kids and eating gluten free in Portugal.
In many ways I feel like I haven't really had a chance to stop and catch my breath! It's been a crazy year of travel, new experiences, some frustrations, and goals that still need to be met in the year ahead. Coming back to Paris after spending almost a month in Portugal actually felt like coming home, so I know that Paris is slowly becoming home to us.
The plan over the next few months is to slow down a bit and really create a steady routine in the city for our kids. School starts next Monday, and in France kindergarten starts at age 3, so our youngest will be starting school as well. The focus will be on getting both kids settled at school and to create a family routine that works for us. We have to start making holiday plans, including buying new Christmas decorations since everything is in Canada!
I am going to start focusing on getting myself sorted as well, including joining some activities, making some new friends, and focusing on writing full-time. Our apartment still lacks a certain warmth that will come from adding personal touches to the decor, and if my husband's contract gets extended then we will ship some of our personal belongings from Canada. In the meantime we are working on adding some family photos and small accessories that better reflect our personalities than the furnishings that came with the apartment.
Moving to a whole new continent and choosing to live in another language and culture isn't easy, but it also isn't as difficult as people seem to think. The hardest part really was deciding to make the move, and then everything just rolled from there. My husband and I both speak French, as does our oldest son, which made communication that much easier. Our youngest has started picking it up at daycare, and will be attending a French public school in September.
I really feel that this experience has been a positive one for my kids to this point. They are being exposed to new experiences and traditions, and they are living a different lifestyle from the suburban one they lived in Canada. They are becoming fluent in French, and are confident travellers. It's not all sunshine and roses, and being away from family and friends is difficult. I missed a baby shower for my cousin, and my kids don't get to see their grandparents on a regular basis. It gets lonely, and some days I just want to feel like I understand all the nuances of the culture the way I did in Canada. I miss regular birthday cakes, the convenience of big box stores, being able to meet up with my friends for a coffee.
The trade-off is that I get to work from home full-time, I spend more time with my husband and kids, I get to travel more extensively for less money, and I'm living a dream I've had for as long as I can remember. Life is a series of trade-offs, and right now I'm trading the comfortable and the familiar for the exciting and sometimes overwhelming. Where will all this lead? Who knows. For now, I'm going to try and enjoy every moment.