Thursday, August 2, 2007

Trip down Ten Years

I thought this photo of my niece swimming at her 10th birthday party in June was so beautiful, so serene and yet so bright and energetic (quite a juxtaposition of sorts, non?). That's Ally all right... in a nutshell. She looks like one of those dancers in the water -- what are they called again? synchronized swimmers?-- and you can just feel, sense how happy she is in this moment. So carefree -- so thrilled to be alive. It's often in times like these, when I see the utter innocence and pure bliss of childhood, that I myself wish I could be a kid again, with no fears, worries or responsibilities -- not a care in the world.

Ally was born ten years ago this year. Her birthday in late June really struck a chord with me, hit home in more ways than I ever expected. I look at pictures of her now and I'm dumbstruck by how fast she has grown up, how much she has changed and matured, how beautiful and talented she is at her age. She has so much potential and is full of joy, in spite of any difficult circumstances she might have had to endure at times. And I am thousands of miles away from her...

I berate myself, beat myself up about not writing more often (never enough), not keeping in touch as much as I think I should or wish I would... And yet I do think of her all the time and I am reminded of her throughout the day by the funniest little things. That I couldn't be there this year for her 10th birthday party -- well, it was harder than I thought it would be. Now I'm trying to put together the perfect birthday package, something special I can send her to let her know I'm thinking of her, and also to give her a little taste of France, in tiny doses. Does anyone have any fabulous suggestions of some great things I can add into my care package for a 10-year-old American girl who has never been to France, but who is definitely curious about the culture and life here? I'm hoping she'll make it over to visit one day, and I don't know if that opportunity will come when she's in high school or before, but in the meantime, I'd like for her to share in what I love about this country. Whenever I go home to the States for a visit, she asks me all sorts of questions about France and what it's like to live here -- she's at that age where she's overflowing with curiosity and sweet inquisitiveness, and she tells her friends about her tata who lives in such a faraway country. (I've given her coloring books and children's books about France over the years -- I need some new ideas!)

Now when she picks up the phone she recognizes my voice immediately, and I can never seem to pull the wool over her eyes. She asks me how to say words in French, and then giggles on the other end of the line. I feel her spirit with me here sometimes, her whispering -- coloring feverishly like I did at her age -- so fascinated with drawing, singing and dancing, all the art forms I, too, enjoyed as a little girl.

I've already picked her up an adorable t-shirt from Petit Bateau with "La vie est belle" written on the front, and she told me that she loves polka dots right now, so I've been keeping that in mind in my hunt for gifts... She's definitely a real girlie-girl, loving pretty things and always checking out my makeup bag when I come home. Two years ago she begged me to buy her some lip gloss at a Victoria's Secret sale! But I grimaced and promised to let her have one of my own lipglosses when we got home... I had other *better* gifts in mind for her...

Every time I go home I find myself wanting to spoil Ally, and the truth is that she is surrounded by love in my family. Her arrival was unexpected in all of our lives, but she is an angel: she brought us closer together in more ways than we ever could have imagined. Today she makes me laugh and sigh over the phone with her maturity, her quiet philosophy at such a young age -- in some ways I think she knows more than she should at 10; I guess that's the curse of her generation... I don't remember ever being so aware of the world around me, of so much in general, in the way that she is -- constantly.

My boyfriend was hilarious a few days ago: he said, "Why don't you fly your niece over to spend vacation with us in Noirmoutier?" He said it so innocently, so seriously -- like it was a literal possibility. But we all know that flight fares at this time of year are out of this world, so this is utterly unthinkable. And there is the matter of discussing it with her mom and dad, my younger brother, who would need to work out some logistics. It's a nice idea, but like I said, for another year -- perhaps even next year, if we can plan it out ahead of time. I'm hoping some of my family will really buckle down and visit me here in 2008 -- it's been far too long...

14 comments:

Farfallina - Roam 2 Rome said...

Well... I didn't know the name of the cities, but the round trip ticket from New York to Paris costs $567 dollars...plus tax.

That's 414 euro for a ROUND trip CHRISTMAS ticket for a student her age on Student Travel :) Which comes up to 582 with tax. Not bad!

(www.statravel.com)

I love my nieces and nephews dearly too, and once I'm in Rome, I hope they'll come visit me too...

little fugitive said...

Ten is a magical age! And how wonderful to have a doting, worldly sophisticated aunt like you.

Claire Fontaine brand notebooks are great - cheap, and lots of lovely colors. And little girls love notebooks. I think they have them at Monoprix...

amy said...

What about the barbapapa toys, or something similar? They're so colorful and cute, I would have loved them at that age.

(Actually, when I was ten I was much too mature for such nonsense, and probably would have prefered a 19th century novel. But now I love them!)

Aralena said...

Alice, this wonderful post brought a nostalgic smile to my face. It's true that young girls, before they hit that insane teenage time, are so full of juxtapositions and yet seem to carry off the whimsy and joy of it all so naturally and beautifully. A state of mind definitely worth recultivating...

She seems to have an artistic inclination - what about an oil pastel kit and a sketchbook? (I've seen these very cool hue-themed pastel kits at an art store in the 11th whose name I can't remember for the life of me, but they're probably everywhere one finds arts supplies?)

L said...

Try finding something Chipie or Diedl. All the kids I worked with loved those.

The fountain pens with little cartridges and the eraser markers that go with to correct your mistakes are 100% French, and inexistent in the states. I'm sure a Chipie trousse with an erasable ink fountain pen would be well received. French paper with all the grid lines shocked me when I saw it for the first time at 16, so that could be a possibility. Or one of the rectangular cartables! That'd make a great this-is-what-you'd-use-if-you-lived-in-France gift. I used to be fascinated with familiar things, like cereal boxes, that were all in French. It was part of the realization that while a cereal box in French was exotic to me, it was normal for French people. I kept metro ticket stubs and napkins with French written on them back then because they were so exotic!

Scribbit said...

Yes, that picture is fun. What is it about water?

Jennie said...

aww, she looks so cute like a ballerina in water!

Leah said...

Great post, made me miss my family from home for sure! I can't think of any good ideas myself, but I agree with giving french school materials as a gift. Maybe make a little basket with the trousse, pencils, pens, etc. And maybe add some scented markers that have the scent written in french and english write on the marker? Anything written in French, really.

Poppy Fields said...

I miss my nieces and nephews back in America, too. I try and choose t-shirts with french expressions on them as gifts. And soccer stuff for the boys. My oldest is only nine, but I am thinking by age twelve, she could fly back by herself to stay with her american cousins.

Leah said...

Oh, l'horreur! I need to re-read my post before sending. I meant:
*right on the marker

Aralena said...

Alice, your comment on maîtresse's blog was hilarious and right-on -- so when ARE we going to meet and share our book-sister bond?? Shall we say la rentrée? Until then, I hope you have a fabulous time in Noirmoutier! (And get lots of reading in.) :)

The Late Bloomer said...

Farfallina, thanks for the thoughtful comment -- and you're right, I imagine there might be some good last-minute fares out there, but I just don't think it's in the cards for this year... Like I said, maybe one day really soon! If I'm lucky...

I love everyone's stationery ideas -- thanks Little Fugitive, Aralena, Leah and L! I was crazy about those kinds of things when I was a little girl, too, and I bet she would get a kick out of a French trousse and some fun pens, including a snazzy fountain pen -- especially since they're not as easy to find back home. And Clairefontaine notebooks, of course! I remember how much I loved them when I first discovered them as a student. I especially like the smoothness of the paper.

Amy, I think I'm more into Hello Kitty than my niece is, so I'm not sure about Barbapapa -- but I could give it a try!

Scribbit -- yes, I think it's the water that definitely does it. I cropped out some things that disturbed the image too. And she definitely seems to look like a dancer here.

Aralena -- I'll definitely drop you an e-mail really soon, and we'll have to set a date for drinks during la rentrée... We can discuss all our summer reads -- and then some! Lauren blows me away with the breadth of her literary knowledge; I feel like there's no way I would ever catch up... (and you do too, for that matter!) But that's the beauty of life, isn't it? How much we can learn from each other... I'm actually really grateful for the time I spent working in a bookshop, because of how much it immersed me in literature again, even if the job itself was exhausting.

A très bientôt !

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

What an awesome post! I think Ally is lucky to have you for an aunt! I am sure she will enjoy any gift you send to her from France - as it will be from you!

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Anonymous said...

there's any easy way to keep in touch with your family in between vists. i just discovered tokbox.com, which is esentially free video chat. makes the distances between family seem less when you get to chat face-to-face, at least for me.