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Young Alban (1989-1996)

Check out this mischievous expression! Yet it was a bit of a worrying time for Alban, after his ear surgery in September 1995. He was not yet 7. You can see the hospital band-aid on his wrist.

Several of the photos on this page were taken before our family blended, when Alban and Daphné lived in Paris with Maman and Pierre Brun, their dad. I found them in Marie-Hélène’s own collection of family pictures dating from Alban’s first family.

Alban became a part of our extended family in August 1994, when his maman moved him and Daphné into Le Tahu from the apartment in Paris that the three of them had been sharing with Pierre.

He was not yet seven years old, and the whole upheaval must have been all but incomprehensible to him. What could he know about what his mother had gone through before she finally decided to leave? She certainly couldn’t tell him, not at that age.

Here he is beside l’étang de Carentoir, near La Grée, grandpa’s home in Brittany, in August 1992. There’s something about sand which inspired our children in their younger years! Daphné on the same day is on the “Daphné” page, and  Tom covered in the stuff is on the “Young Tom” page.

Every parental separation is so brutal for the child that any way that the brutality can be reduced has its appeal.

So when Pierre was telling his little children that their mother had abandoned him and that I was the reason that she did so, Marie-Hélène felt that she could not respond and give her version of events. Putting her own version on the table, explaining why she had made her choices, would only have served to aggravate the conflict between her and Pierre. Her version was obviously very different.

What is a beach for anyway?! Alban in 1995 in Saint Malo. More sand!!

She was certainly right to abstain at the time. As small children, Alban and Daphné were exposed to significantly less parental conflict than Nick and Tom. Both Sunshine, their mom, and I seemed unable to avoid giving the children our respective versions of events, even though we knew that we shouldn’t have.

But correcting over time the story that his father had told him, might have helped Alban in the long run, by giving him a better grounding with the parents who were actually raising him. We were there, every day except for his irregular vacations with his father, until he was old enough to live his own life.

He was always eating bread during his early years, according to his maman, who took this one when he was about a year old and living in Paris.

The problem from Alban’s point of view with his father’s version of his and Marie-Hélène’s separation, however accurate it may have felt to Pierre, was that it left Marie-Hélène and I as the villains of the piece.  How do you feel if you’re a small child and obliged to live with the villains of the piece?

Pierre was rarely there for Alban. Not because of Alban, of course, but because of Pierre’s diverse obligations and commitments.

In addition to his demanding and time-consuming career, Pierre has had a total of seven children with four different women, including Marie-Hélène. That gave him five children to take care of in addition to Alban and Daphné, in several different homes. None of his children could have seen that much of their father in those conditions.

Anything that Alban does that is the least bit athletic, he does well. This wonderful shot, taken by his maman when he was less than a year old, shows how early these athletic impulses first manifest themselves!

As you can see, much of what I’m saying here is speculation. I was not around him during Alban’s years in his first family. I was around after this family broke up, and experienced the blame for that. I was there for Alban once we were all together, but am not sure that he felt able to take advantage of that without betraying his father. It was all very complicated for such a small boy, not yet five when his mother moved in with me.

As far as I can tell, he was never told with any clarity his mother’s view of what actually happened in his first family. It was made clear early on that I could not tell him the story, because my perspective was inherently suspect. As his father’s “rival” at that time, my point of view was thought to be biased against Pierre.

Alban has always found a way to enjoy solitary play. Here’s a game that he invented himself during a visit to the presqu’ile de Quiberon, on the southern Breton coast. He just about got away from this particular wave, which you can see lapping at his left foot.

Maybe: who knows?

I am sure that Alban would have been better off if he had been given in the ordinary course as he grew older the inevitably different versions of what happened to him and his first family as a child. Romance, even profound love between parents, is fragile and can easily fall on hard ground. How it falls there is one of life’s great educators.

When parents separate, there are always two basic stories that come out of the separation, the mother’s and the father’s. Where truth lies is almost inevitably somewhere between the two, pretty close to where the child lies. Discussed during his teen years, the two stories would hopefully have constituted a dialog in which he could have found something more of himself.

Here is one of those waves before he started running from it. The point of the game was apparently to face down the wave as long as possible, and only to flee right before it caught him up in the surf. These were big waves, and fast after they broke!

Enough of the philosophy!

Let’s get back to play, which Alban was always very good at. For years, he was the number one user of our trampoline at home in Santa Cruz, the most used “toy” that we ever bought.

For a while mountain biking was his thing, and for many years it was soccer. He has always loved swimming pools too.

Then, there is skateboarding. He started worrying the parents with skateboards at a very young age, as soon as he was exposed to them at Happy Valley School. Well, actually, he wasn’t exposed to them at the school, where they were strictly forbidden, but from the friends he made there.

The first photo that we have of one of our children skateboarding, featuring our first skateboarder. Alban was already jumping on the board, on this occasion jumping very sensibly on to the grass at the top of our driveway.

For those of you who have not had a child who lived to skate, as Alban did for years on end, the sport worries the parents out of their minds because it is basically “played” on concrete. This means that if and when the child falls, she or he falls on unforgiving, hard rock. People were built to fall on grass or mud (which is why soccer was invented), not on concrete.

The parents thus spent a lot of time trying to ensure that their skateboarder wore a helmet, because the worst way to fall on concrete is head first. But the parents weren’t there watching all the time that Alban skated. Boys like to be tough, of course, and a helmet and other skate protection (elbow and knee pads, for example) are not considered tough. He would always take a helmet with him, we saw to that, but its use was subject to some debate.

At l’étang du Beauché, in Carentoir near La Grée, during the summer of 1996.

When the parents were called after some sort of fall, our role was typically and worryingly limited to taking him to the emergency room. On one occasion he had a serious bump on his head, but assured us that the helmet that he was indeed wearing had slipped and thus did not protect him adequately. Our stomachs just dropped. What do you do, when he’s already a teenager, try to ban the sport?

But I’m jumping ahead. That’s what happens when parents worry: their concerns come to the forefront. This page is supposed to be about Alban when he was younger, when he already skateboarded. He was already a bit of a gymnast too, skills that we would later see expressed on the trampoline or diving.

Taken by his maman in Versailles in 1992

Taken by his maman in Versailles in 1992

For reasons that have vanished, Marie-Hélène and I visited Anna’s condo complex in Marly-le-Roi, west of Paris, while Daphné and Alban were there for a weekend with their dad. It was maybe 1996, and Alban was six or seven. Anna was then Pierre’s girlfriend, and we were walking toward her apartment. Maybe we were there to collect the children after their weekend visit. As we walked through the complex, we passed an elevated bar with a small boy doing somersaults on it. “Bonjour,” he said, with a bright smile, “it’s Alban.” Of course, we knew that! Maybe we had looked startled: we certainly didn’t expect to find him playing all by himself outside. But there he was. He loved to play alone at our house. Apparently he loved to play alone visiting his dad too. I don’t know why, but I suddenly felt sad.

How many hours did he spend alone on the trampoline in Santa Cruz? He is a very social young man, very sensitive to the feelings of others, and very careful with others. But he never seemed happier as a young child than playing alone.