Nick is a Leo with Leo rising. There you have it!
Although he was born in Manhattan, he was moved to Paris when only six months old in February 1987.
This was his mother’s dream, to return to the Paris of her undergraduate years and find a real job there. Margueritte Sunshine Britton (known as Sunshine while we were together) had studied Philosophy at the University of Paris, a dream education for a California public high school graduate. She spent her years at law school in California and then working in Manhattan, living for the dream to continue, and it finally did. Thanks to me!
I had found the job in Paris that she had been unable to find from New York, in part because I could work there without visa hassles because I was British. For reasons that Grandma, my mother, never signed up to, the UK had joined the EU, and I benefited in terms of a right to work throughout the EU.
Nick’s early life in Paris was full of the social benefits that France has the wisdom to offer to the children of two career parents. As two-career parents became more common, and more necessary to assure good financial health in the family, the French government had noticed that a downside was a distinct reduction in the rate at which these families had children.
Quelle horreur! Fewer French people!!
Several new institutions were promptly created to address this potential national disaster by encouraging procreation by two-career families. The key was to keep the working mother happy despite her combination of burdens.
When the Stock Britton family arrived in 1987, these new institutions were in full bloom, years ahead of US efforts in the same domain. So when his mom went back to work, Nick began educational life at “La Porte Entr’ouverte,” a crèche parentale a few blocks from the family home in the 14th arrondissement. The crèche did make an adjustment for Nick, admitting him at 13-14 months because his mom needed to start her new job. The children were supposed to be 15 months old before being admitted.
“Crèches parentales” are government-subsidized child care centers where the little ones’ parents are required to work weekly shifts as we all contribute toward the costs. The principal costs are rent and the salaries of the trained professionals who complement the parents as care-givers. There were up to sixteen children at any given time, and normally two professional care givers and two parents The crèche had a sheltered side area where the children napped every afternoon. Imagine that: putting sixteen little ones down for a nap at the same time! But diaper changing was the real high spot!
Nick stayed at “La Porte Entr’-ouverte” until he was eligible for elementary school, close to three years. After the first few months, my employer stopped me doing my shifts, because it “interfered with my work” at the office. That wasn’t entirely allowed under French law, of course, on the part of an employer, but an American-owned law firm was never going to sign on to losing a billing lawyer one morning a week. Jack Kevorkian, the firm’s owner, also tried to discourage his US personnel from taking the numerous French holidays. There was something of King Canute about Jack! Nick’s mum, Sunshine, took up the slack in terms of putting in work shifts, and life at the crèche continued its easy-going (relatively, considering the number of new parents trying to work together) way.
Nick and Sunshine and I ended up spending a lot of time with the other families participating in the crèche. We went on holiday with two or three of the families at different times. Valentin, the son of another of the crèche families, came to stay with us in California almost 20 years later.
In short, Nick’s early life in Paris started well. Other children in the crèche moved on to the elementary school with him. Sunshine and I settled down into our jobs, and our little family became members of an inviting community in a nice and unpretentious part of the city.
Things evolved over time, as things do. Nick was still at the crèche when Tom arrived in the fall of 1989. Sunshine only took a few months off work this time, and the boys were looked after between the end of the crèche’s day (or the end of the nourrice’s day for Tom) by a series of child care people. Sunshine and I were both working hard at this point in our careers, and my average workday out of the apartment lasted 11 or 12 hours. That does not leave a lot of time to spend with young children.
We all moved three times during the three years beginning in 1990, and the last move at the end of 2003 took us out to the country. Sunshine and I spent most of the three years living separately.
In August 1994, Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban moved in. Now that was a serious change! Nick and Tom had changed schools in January to move out to the country, and now in August they changed housemates. They call it “blending” the family, and we have a page devoted to it.
One of the great advantages for Nick about moving to France so early is that he lived right across the Channel from my mum, Grandma Stock. She was ailing the whole time that we lived in France, with a frankly terrifying collection of ailments, but the proximity of Nick and Tom was a real high spot in her difficult existence.
She adored all her grand-children, of whom Nick was the third, and he reciprocated. They had as good a relationship as a dynamic little boy can have with an ailing older person!
By an unfortunate coincidence, Grandma was buried on his tenth birthday in 1996. This compounded the even more unfortunate fact that she had died. Nick cried and cried. At least he had known her for a while. At least she had known him for a while.
After the funeral we went to Cadburyland, England’s real live chocolate factory amusement park, not ten miles from the grave. Cadburyland is always there now when we visit the grave, which gives those visits a nice balance.