Time for another A Kid’s Life interview. Over the last year I’ve interviewed families about from Italy, Japan, America, The Philippines, Australia (Tasmania), New Zealand, Canada, Holland, Germany, Colombia and Belgium about their daily life and family routines. They have all been really interesting and quite eye-opening. I’m still thinking about the fact that school starts at 7:20 am in Colombia, that they eat fish for breakfast in Japan and that you have the option to learn Chinese in Tasmanian schools.
For this interview I talk with a family who is living in France. I stumbled upon Nicola’s blog ages ago and became enthralled with her gorgeous photography and stories about life in France. Nicola has 4 lovely daughters including twins. Being a mother of twins myself, I always have an instant connection with other mothers of multiples. Nicola is also a sewer and crafter and expert Lady Gaga hair-bow maker. Go check out her blog cover photo…absolutely gorgeous and self made!
I love Nicola’s comment, “so far our philosophy is to educate rather than restrict” in regards to their children and the amount of screen time they get. I think we could use that philosophy in so many areas of our parenting.. And I relate to the month of May being “Swiss Cheese Month”. We have the same problem here.
So, let’s meet Nicola and hear about her family and French style of life!
What country do you live in?
We’re currently living in France in the western suburbs of Paris, not far from the famous Château de Versailles. Before being posted to Paris, we spent ten years living in California. We love living in France, but our experience here is definitely that of expats. We are not a typical French family.
Are you and your husband the same nationality?
Yes, we’re both British born and raised. Our eldest daughter was born in London but the younger girls were born in the USA which entitles them to dual nationality. We always travel with a ‘tower’ of passports!
Do you both work? Or does someone stay at home?
My husband works very hard outside of the home and has to travel a lot for work. I work less hard inside the home and try not to feel too guilty when I get to go into Paris for a museum visit and a long lunch. It doesn’t happen that often!
How many languages are spoken in your house? What one(s)?
English; my husband and I with a British accent and the girls with an American accent! However, our two year old is learning English and French simultaneously which is fascinating to watch. I still can’t figure out what kind of accent she has!
How many kids do you have? What are their ages?
We have four girls. India is almost twelve, Georgia and Savannah are nine and Florence is two and – the all important – three quarters.
At what age do kids start school in your country?
The older girls are enrolled in an international school which begins with a preschool class at four and Kindergarten at five which is the same as the United States. Florence currently goes to a French Halte Garderie (non-compulsory nursery school) two full days a week and will start Maternelle (the formal and free beginning of a French school career) when she is three.
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During the school year what time do your kids usually wake up?
We wake the older girls up at 7:15 and start the mad scramble to get them all fed, dressed and out the door to the bus by 8:15. Luckily Florence usually sleeps in until after they have left which gives her and me a more leisurely start to the day.
What do your kids typically eat for breakfast?
During the week, cereal and toast with a cup of tea for the grown ups and a hot chocolate for India. At weekends we have a family tradition of making waffles or pancakes served with maple syrup or honey and fresh fruit. All the girls love to help with the cooking and now India is old enough to make them by herself. We also indulge in French breakfast pastries from our local boulangerie every now and then. Croissants and pain au chocolat – my favourite!
What time does school start? What time does it finish? What is the weekly school schedule?
The older girls start at 9am and finish at 3:30pm. They have school Monday to Friday. Florence goes to Halte Garderie on Mondays and Fridays from 9:30am to 5pm. Once she starts French school she will go every weekday except Wednesdays.
Do your kids learn a second/third language at school? From what age?
The big girls have a 40 minute French lesson every day at school. This is something that would not have been offered in their California school. All their other subjects are taught in English. Florence is fully immersed in French during her garderie days and seems to be very at ease with it.
Do your kids eat lunch at school or home? What is a typical lunch for your kids?
Savannah and India eat the hot lunch at school which keeps to the famed French school canteen tradition of never serving the same dish twice in a month. Next week they will enjoy saucisse de volaille, ravioles farcis, steak haché bio, hoki au citron and beignet de legumes. Unfortunately Savannah doesn’t like fish at all so on Thursdays, which is fish day, I have to pack a lunch for her. Georgia prefers to take a packed lunch every day and when Florence goes to garderie I have to pack a lunch for her as well! Life’s never simple when you have four kids!
Do your kids do any after-school activities?
Oh yes – this is when life gets really complicated! India and Georgia take ballet (danse classique) at a French ballet school three times a week. Fortunately they are in the same class this year which cuts down on the driving around. Savannah attends a circus class which is a very popular after school activity in France. They also all have piano lessons and I help run Georgia & Savannah’s Girl Scout Brownie troop. I thought that when we moved to France we might cut down on all the activities but it seems to be impossible and just as it was in the States the requirement to attend more classes per activity grows as children get older. Luckily for Florence, we now have a regular weeknight babysitter who looks after her while I taxi the other girls about.
What time do you eat dinner? What’s a typical dinner you would eat?
Dinner time for us is rather late usually around 8pm. I think this is quite typical in France – it must be, as none of our French after school activities finish until 7:30pm! It is also rare for my husband to get home from work before 7:30 in the evening. I love to cook, so even on our most rushed evenings, I do try to cook from scratch. Our family favourite is a sausage and tomato bake served over couscous. It’s quick to prepare and can stay in the oven while I dash out to collect someone from an activity. Our freezer is also well stocked with frozen meals from the famous and excellent French store Picard for when it all gets too crazy. At the weekends, we cherish the British tradition of cooking a Sunday roast. A ‘fancy dinner’ as the twins like to call it.
How much television/computer time do your kids have on a daily basis?
A lot more than the experts say they should although we do have limits. The older girls aren’t supposed to watch TV on school nights but I frequently have to remind them of that rule! Mostly they watch movies when they get the chance to sit in front of the television. I tried to limit Florence’s exposure to TV almost completely until she was two, but in the last six months she has discovered its joys and sometimes it’s hard to switch off when she is sitting so happily and quiet watching it! A greater challenge for us is limiting other screen time. The older girls all have an iTouch – great for all the travel we do, but essentially a TV in their pockets. India, who is in sixth grade, is required to submit almost all her homework online (often in the form of a blogpost!) and so like her parents she spends a lot of her time glued to her computer. We are entering the thorny and unprecedented world of parenting in the era of internet access and it’s tough. So far our philosophy is to educate rather than restrict.
What time do your kids go to bed?
They all start getting ready for bed after dinner is over. Florence is usually in bed by 8:30 and the other girls around 9:00. Our days are late, but with widely spaced children it’s hard for it to be any different.
What are some typical family week-end activities?
Having older children a lot of our weekends now seem to be busy with playdates and sleepovers. I’m never quite sure who’s staying where on a Friday night. Georgia and India have a ballet rehearsal on Saturdays so we use that day to grocery shop and run errands as the shops are all shut on Sundays in France. On some Sundays we will go into Paris for a bit of sightseeing, but with our busy lives, we are often happiest relaxing at home. Georgia and Savannah’s idea of a perfect weekend right now is to spend all day in their pyjamas playing with their American Girl Dolls!
When do your kids have vacation from school?
They have two week holidays around Christmas and in the spring. They get three months off in the summer. They also have week long half term holidays here in France which are a welcome break that we didn’t used to get in the US. We have made the most of those weeks to visit other parts of France and Europe. They also get all the public holidays which fall during term time. May in France is known as Swiss cheese month as there is a public holiday every week so not much work gets done!
What do your kids do during the summer vacation?
We travel back to our two ‘home’ countries. Britain to see our relatives and the US to see our friends in California. Sometimes I sign them up for a day camp, but I actually enjoy having them at home and not having to rush around so much. If you can call a summer of travel not rushing around.
What are the typical “first foods” for a baby to eat in your country?
None of my babies were weaned in France, so I can’t answer for here. Twelve years ago in London India started on rice cereal at four months and by the time we moved to the US when she was six months she was devouring avocado and banana puree, much to the surprise of my new American friends who had been advised not to start weaning until their babies were six months.
A big thanks to Nicola for sharing her story with us. Hope we get to meet one of these days!
If you’d like to participate in the A kid’s Life series I’d love to hear from you at jillianinitaly.hotmail.com.