All in the Family

IMG_1772Hardware stores are my happy place. They promise solutions to problems. Often know-how is required (where it all falls apart for me), but still, those neat shelves of fixes lower my blood pressure. Hardware stores set the world straight again.

One day a while back, I was happily strolling through a hardware store when for some reason I found myself actually listening to the piped-in radio. And tears started streaming down my face.

Doors and windows of Toulouse, to accompany reflections about staying and leaving.

The song, “Je Vole,” was a hit in 1978, written and performed by French pop idol Michel Sardou. The song inspired a movie, “La Famille Bélier,” about a girl whose parents and brother are deaf. She is their indispensable translator. But she discovers she has a gift–an incredible voice–and her music teacher is encouraging her to go to a special school, far from her family.

Here are the lyrics. I’m crying just typing this. It gets me, as a mother and as a daughter.IMG_1790First in French:

Mes chers parents

Je pars

Je vous aime mais je pars 

Vous n’aurez plus d’enfant

Ce soir

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je vole

C’est jeudi il est 5 heures 5

J’ai bouclé une petite valise

Et je traverse doucement l’appartement endormi

J’ouvre la porte d’entrée

En retenant mon souffle

Et je marche sur la pointe des pieds

Comme les soirs

Où je rentrais après minuit

Pour ne pas qu’ils se réveillent

Hier soir à table

J’ai bien cru que ma mère

Se doutait de quelque chose

Elle m’a demandé si j’étais malade

Et pourquoi j’étais si pâle

J’ai dis que j’était très bien

Tout à fait clair

Je pense qu’elle a fait semblant de me croire

Et mon père a souri

En passant à côté de sa voiture

J’ai ressenti comme un drôle de coup

Je pensais que ce s’rait plus dur

Et plus grisant un peu

Comme une aventure

En moins déchirant

Oh surtout ne pas se retourner

S’éloigner un peu plus

Il y a la gare

Et après la gare

Il y a l’Atlantique

Et après l’Atlantique

C’est bizarre cette espèce de cage

Qui me bloque la poitrine

Ca m’empêche presque de respirer

Je me demande si tout à l’heure

Mes parents se douteront

Que je suis en train de pleurer

Oh surtout ne pas se retourner

Ni des yeux ni de la tête

Ne pas regarder derrière

Seulement voir ce que je me suis promis

Et pourquoi et où et comment

Il est 7 heures moins 5

Je me suis rendormi

Dans ce train qui s’éloigne un peu plus

Oh surtout ne plus se retourner


Mes chers parents

Je pars

Je vous aime mais je pars 

Vous n’aurez plus d’enfant

Ce soir

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je vole

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je voleIMG_1735And in English:

My dear parents

I’m leaving

I love you but I’m leaving

You won’t have children anymore


I’m not fleeing but I’m flying

Understand well, I’m flying

Without smoke without alcohol

I fly, I fly.

It’s Thursday it’s five-o-five.

I’ve buckled a small suitcase

And I softly cross the sleepy apartment 

I open the front door

And hold my breath

And I walk on tiptoe

Like the nights

I came home after midnight

So they wouldn’t wake up.

Yesterday evening at dinner

I really thought my mother

Was suspecting something

She asked me if I was sick

And why I was so pale

I said that I was fine

It’s very clear

I think she pretended to believe me

And my father smiled.

Passing next to the car

I suddenly felt something strange

I thought that it would be harder

And more exhilarating a little

Like an adventure

At least less heart-breaking.

Oh, above all don’t turn back

Go a little farther

There’s the train station

And after the train station

There’s the Atlantic

And after the Atlantic

It’s bizarre, this kind of cage

That blocks my chest

That almost stops me from breathing

I wonder whether later 

My parents will suspect

That I’m crying

Oh above all don’t turn back

Neither eyes nor head

Don’t look back

Only see what I’ve promised myself

And why and where and how

It’s five to seven

I fell back to sleep

in this train that gets a little farther away

Oh above all don’t turn back


My dear parents

I’m leaving

I love you but I’m leaving

You won’t have children anymore


I’m not fleeing but I’m flying

Understand well, I’m flying

Without smoke without alcohol

I fly, I fly.

If your eyes are still dry, you are a tough cookie.IMG_1787It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I truly appreciated my own parents. Especially my mother. She would do anything and everything for her children. And yet, I felt tethered to a leash. I was pushed to succeed, but in a very narrow sense, defined by traditional gender roles. Good grades in math were not appreciated–nobody would marry me, she warned.IMG_1780IMG_1781All the same, she wasn’t happy with traditional roles. She was an artist and completely uninterested in housekeeping or cooking. We her children stifled her, too. When she would sing with the radio, we would cover our ears and howl for her to stop. Leashes are attached at both ends.IMG_4324But I was rarely there for her. Flying the nest wasn’t enough–I felt the need to cross an ocean, too. I dreamed of seeing the world. I didn’t want to end up like my mom, my life a series of laundry loads and of getting supper on the table. And yet. If “Let It Go” is playing somewhere, and of course I sing/belt along, my kid gives me the same treatment I gave my mom. The circle of life.IMG_1766In a way, I was her translator. She was very shy, insecure, worried about being a problem. She joked that she was Edith in “All in the Family,” and my dad certainly did a good imitation of Archie Bunker. In a store, if she didn’t find what she wanted, she would slink out. If I said, let’s ask a clerk, she’d be horrified–“don’t bother those people! They’re busy!” But I would do it anyway, and almost always they would have exactly what she wanted. All she needed to do was ask. Or have me ask for her.IMG_1771I wish I had been easier on her, had held her hand more through situations that made her uncomfortable. How did she, such an introvert, manage teach me not to be afraid, which is not at all the same as being brave? If you’re brave, you’re aware of just how badly things can go but you feel compelled or obliged to do something anyway. If you’re not afraid, you’re confident everything will turn out fine. IMG_6034She’s the one who gave me my wings, so I could fly.

I don’t approve of Hallmark holidays, and every day should be mother’s day, something you realize most pointedly when you’ve lost yours. If your mom is still around, give her a big hug many big hugs or, if she’s far away, a phone call … and cherish every word.IMG_1792Here are links to the immortal Sardou singing his song, “Je Vole.” And here is the version by Louane, who played the daughter in the 2014 movie.IMG_1788

Strong Women

P1020585Even if we have brothers and sisters, our parents are ours alone.

Time changes us all by itself, even if everything around us stays the same. And circumstances change us even more.

My parents were youngish (old for their era, but on the young end of trends among millennials). It was a new world for them: married only a year, a new house, new baby, new lifestyle. When I was a toddler, my dad would patiently sit under the dining table for “tea” with me. My mother read to me all the time.

By the time the kid count was up to four, our parents were no longer the easygoing couple they had been as newlyweds. You could say they were different people. Harried. Organization was not my mother’s forte. Plus, housekeeping was a full-time job–you couldn’t throw clothes in the washer; you had to stand there and run them through the ringer, then change the water for rinsing, then wring them out again. Then hang them on the line. Even in winter. I remember my dad’s overalls being frozen stiff. No disposable diapers. Imagine keeping up when you had to soak and ring out individual diapers while making sure four extremely exuberant, carefree/less charges stayed safe/didn’t burn down the house/didn’t launch WWIII.

The fourth monster was too little to trick or treat.

All the same, I am sure my mom did read a lot to my younger siblings (I didn’t pay attention–I always had my own nose in a book and wouldn’t have bothered hearing baby stories). Books were her thing. Although she had to divide her attention among more kids, she was clear about loving us. When I would have nightmares, I would call for her, terrified to stick so much as a toe out of my bed, and she would drag herself out of her own sweet dreams to comfort me, rubbing my stomach until I fell back to sleep. How did she keep up with four of us?

When the nest was empty, my mom dove into genealogy with with gusto. My dad used to say, “your mother is digging up the dead.” She wanted not just names and dates, but all the details of ancestors’ lives. Then she put them into stories. She joined a writing group and warily let me read her submissions a few times. I was shocked. They were good. Even downright funny. Where was she hiding this person?!?!

Of course, we trained her to be serious. Everybody wants to have the cool, funny parents, but everybody finds that their own parents are neither cool nor funny no matter what they do or what anybody else thinks. Even Tina Fey’s kid came down on her. And Jerry Seinfeld’s. We tell our parents, “that’s not funny” or “don’t embarrass me” or “act normal.” And, because they love us more than life itself, they put away their personality and try to blend into the furniture for the sake of our fragile egos. Even my own kid sometimes scolds me, especially when it’s my turn at the wheel of the activities carpool: “Don’t say anything! Just drive.”IMG_2565My mom was shy by nature, never given to joking or clowning around. But there was a time when she would belt out “I Beg Your Pardon. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” whenever it came on the radio, which was hourly. We would groan and beg her to stop, that it wasn’t funny. Actually, now I wonder whether my siblings remember that–the youngest might have been too little. That’s what I mean by our parents being unique to each of their kids. Even in our shared experience, we had different ages and digested events in different ways.

I spent most of my life trying to be the complete opposite of my mom. I thought of her as weak, but eventually I discovered all the ways she was strong. And I found something in her I wanted to emulate: her parenting. Her unquestionable love, the way her kids were her unshakeable priority.

She loved poppies, and they’re blooming now. I took her to see this field when she visited.

I miss her every day. If you are lucky enough to still have your mother around, give her a call, a hug. And laugh at her jokes.