We moved in together in August 1994, and all hell broke loose!
But maybe it would be more accurate to say that all hell was breaking lose when we moved in together.
Marie-Hélène had just broken up with Pierre, Daphné and Alban‘s father, literally the week before she moved in to Le Tahu. Ian and Sunshine, Nick and Tom‘s mother, were still divorcing even though they had physically separated for the second and final time months before.
As you can imagine, neither Pierre nor Sunshine was entirely thrilled with the direction that Marie-Hélène and I were taking. Neither hesitated to make known their respective points of view, to the children as much as to Marie-Hélène and me.
The poor children! The young Daphné page, the young Tom page and the young Alban page each give a different flavor of what they went through after their parents separated. Marie-Hélène was more tuned into their sadness than I was at the time. I didn’t want to feel that I was hurting any of them.
A sad part of this family’s beginnings is visible here, in the stories of each of our older children. On some level each lost a parent, and the unhappiness and anger of each lost parent was brought to bear on his or her child. In an ideal world, that may be avoidable. In a real world where there had been real love and terrible disappointment, for whatever reason, that unhappiness and anger is going to rear its ugly head.
Fortunately, our childrens’ sadness was far from what they principally expressed. They were children, after all. Other feelings predominated. The first day that they were together in their first joint home, Le Tahu, Alban and Tom found some panes of glass leaning up against a stone wall in one of the outbuildings, and promptly and gleefully picked up the rocks that just happened to be lying around and smashed all the panes of glass to bits. We only left them alone and fending for themselves for ten minutes!
There are quite a few pictures of that energy, the way it was much of the time. Most of the time, there was too much going on to keep track of. There’s another photo from the same period, conveying the same energy and craziness, on the History page about Blending the Family.
It was a hurricane that lasted for the rest of the year, and the next year, and the next year . . . ! Blending families is a poorly understood art: no guidebooks, no do-it-yourself references. The children effortlessly amplify whatever is going on around them, and separations and divorces are not very good things to amplify!
No annual update was sent to friends and family at year end: in fact, no Christmas or New Year’s cards from that year are to be found. Some perhaps came and went, but no trace remains. It was that sort of year. Needless to say, there were Christmas presents, even in 1994, and a few can be seen here.
The better moments stand out. There were visits to Chartres and its heart-warming Cathedral, not 45 minutes away from Le Tahu. We have a video of one of those visits, with the children taking turns to roll down the grassy hill below the Cathedral and in its garden. Yes, children, that is exactly what one of the most beautiful and unspoiled cathedrals in the world is for!
There was the August holiday that Marie-Hélène and I took with Daphné and Alban while Nick and Tom were in California with their mom.
That holiday featured the first meeting between Ian’s mother and Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban, and a very successful meeting it was.
What made that success so surprising is that Grandma was a true English woman (in her head, that is: she was Irish by descent!), and was thus out of principle not particularly partial to the French. Here is an extract from a 1994 letter that Ian sent to a friend, commenting on Anglo-French relations and other aspects of life in that year:
How hard it is for a “bloke” to live in France, with all those French people! Of course, I am not personally responsible for this senseless and unfair prejudice. My mother is. Her obsession about the Channel Tunnel is that it will permit French rats to crawl through it into England’s green and pleasant fields, where they will promptly infect every mammal, and probably a few trees, with rabies. The psychoanalytic underpinnings of this kind of concern would appear obvious (rats penetrating tunnels – need I say more?), except that the concern is sufficiently general that the Tunnel builders have installed electric fencing to impede (get it?!) the rats’ passage. No, it’s not psychology, rather a thousand years of similarity and mutual contempt.
So I can hold England and History responsible for my prejudice, absolve my mother and sleep well tonight.
It was thanks to Grandma that we began our visits to Disneyland in Paris. If the traffic cooperated, it was only about an hour away from Le Tahu, and we could fit in a visit on Wednesday afternoons, when there was no school, or on weekends. We celebrated Tom’s birthday there in October 1994, thanks to Grandma. Unfortunately, she somehow managed to lose her own passport, and so didn’t come herself on that particular occasion. We made up for that in January 1995, when she celebrated her 68th birthday with us there. Our Disney days were some of the high points of 1994.
There was the usual juggling, making sure that all of the children had time with their other parent. Nick and Tom were at their mom’s apartment in Paris until Christmas Day, and Daphné and Alban were staying with their father in Paris after Christmas. So we had to open the presents during the window of opportunity, a couple of hours on Christmas morning, which we duly did. Everyone was happy!
The children barely noticed anything out of the ordinary, as you can see in these photos and in others on the Christmas 1994 to 2001 page, in the Special Days category. It was Christmas!