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2002: zoom zoom!

We’re not really sure why, but somehow 2002 did not merit an annual update for friends and family. Well, maybe we do have an idea why!

Marie-Hélène did tables like this for our busiest years, after Alex was no longer a baby and before the older children started doing their own things.

We started writing an update in mid-December, with a couple of paragraphs on our four soccer players and their four matches and eight practices a week. There’s why, right there! Too many soccer practices, too many rides to and from too many schools (four). We never finished the annual update, and ended up sending our Holiday wishes without it! Oh well: no big deal. But its absence does now oblige us after the event to locate a few of the year’s highlights to cover here.

Organizing our various summer vacations was a challenge that year, as it had been for much of our time together. The older children needed time with their respective other parent, and court orders have a tendency to decide rather bluntly when this was going to happen. I had professional commitments and could not spend as long away from home as could the rest of the household. The photo is the schedule that Marie-Hélène prepared in 2002 to keep track of everyone during the summer.

On a day trip from Tante Lucette’s to Castellet, a medieval town in the hills inland. We’re “forever blowing bubbles!”

Even then, plans evolved before the vacation happened. Instead of the four of us taking different trains to Toulon from Redon and Paris, Marie-Hélène and the little guys picked me up at Roissy, the airport north of Paris, and we drove down to Autun to visit Oncle Alain. From Autun we drove down to Six-fours, and then continued by following the agenda as planned. 

The vacation schedule did include a serious miscalculation on our part. We tried to book the children on a charter airline called Corsair, because it was significantly cheaper than scheduled direct flights to Paris. The savings on four tickets made a significant difference to the summer budget. The only flight that we could fit them on left on June 11. That was in the middle of the last week of school, but we assumed that nothing would be happening that week which would require the children’s presence.

The family at Six-fours and Sanary. Tante Lucette, on my left, is the wife of Marie-Hélène’s mother’s brother. Tante Camille, in front in the photo, is Marie-Hélène’s maternal grandmother’s sister. Tante Annie is her mother’s cousin. We were all at a dinner that Tante Camille was kind enough to offer us. She was always the kindest to us of the Berhaut relatives.

Blew that one! Alban and Tom were fine, but Nick and Daphné were both in High School (different high schools, of course, to facilitate the morning and afternoon commute!) and each had final exams that week. We had to write letters to each of their respective teachers, every one, months in advance in order to request a rearranged final exam. Sigh!

But once the organizing was done, the miscalculations rectified, and the planning implemented, well now that was the fun part.

Marie-Hélène, Charlie and Alex spent a few days in Paris when they arrived and then a couple of weeks at La Grée before taking the train to meet me after I arrived in Paris. They normally had that couple of weeks to themselves because of my work schedule.

Charlie getting gently butted! Marie-Hélène had taken Charlie and Alex to Thoiry, an animal theme park outside of Paris.

The four of us then spent our first collective week in Six-Fours, a town on the Mediterranean coast, courtesy of Tante Lucette, who loaned us her entire apartment on the sea front. She moved in with Tante Camille, her aunt who lived nearby, for the duration of our stay.

In addition to the family time and classic French tourism, the week was a wonderful stay on the European seaside for our children who live on an American seaside. There were roundabouts on the promenade and self-drive little cars for them, and crepes and galettes to snack on. There were rental bikes and a long curving beach. Tante Lucette’s apartment overlooked the Mediterranean, and was only 100 yards from it! All we had to do was cross the road.

Party time! Negligent parents allowed small boys to stay up way past their bedtime, much to the pleasure of the small boys concerned. Then Alex conked out on the floor of the living room as the musicians played on!

Another highlight from 2002 was my turning 50. This only occurs once in a lifetime, fortunately, and so we decided to celebrate that this would be the only time it happened!

The party is portrayed here, but there’s more to say, of course. It was great, the guests made a great group of celebrants, the musicians were inspiring and talented, the children laughed and laughed and made a lot of mess, and I felt ten or even twenty years younger. Until the next morning! Even that felt like twenty years earlier. Serious partying is a rare privilege for parents of growing children.

At la Grée during the summer vacation, playing together with stickers.

Next, a Holiday Memorandum from the bad side of Silicon Valley. You’ve all heard about the good side, the fabulous entrepreneurial energy here, the quick-witted techies reinventing our favorite gadgets year in year out, popularizing semiconductors and now the internet: there’s a ton of creative energy, a lot of smart people doing interesting things. But there’s also coping with the inevitable cycles of business, the good ideas that don’t quite make it, and here that can be harsh.

This Memorandum, received in the build-up to Christmas 2002, is a relatively muted example of that harshness. Hundreds of this particular chip company’s employees had already been laid off as the company tried to cope with a 30-40% drop in gross sales in the space of a year, and now those that remained were told to make their much easier contribution. Still, being docked a week’s pay in the run up to Christmas is not fun, and it happened to every US employee of the company.

Grandma Stock is buried with her parents in Birmingham, where she was raised. Birmingham is also the home of Cadbury World, a chocolate theme park. It makes a great detour when we vacation in England, as we did this summer, and pay our respects across town!

To: All San Jose Vice Presidents & Directors

From: Human Resources

Re: Unpaid Time Off Requirement

Date: October 9, 2002

Chip company is continuing to seek ways in which to reduce costs during the current economic slump. 

To that end, chip company is requiring all employees to take 40 hours of unpaid time off by the end of 2002.

In order to comply with California state employment laws, exempt employees must take an entire 40 hour week (Monday-Friday) off without pay. Non-exempt employees may work with their supervisors to arrange a mutually agreeable schedule, as long as they meet the 40 hour requirement by the end of the year.

Roughhousing in the front room at home.

Employees whose 40 hours of unpaid time include a company holiday will not be paid for that holiday. Employees will not be allowed to utilize sick, vacation or PTO in lieu of unpaid time. There are no exceptions to this requirement.

Please meet and communicate this requirement with your employees as soon as possible, schedule their time off and provide the schedule to ____________ in Payroll by October 18, 2002.

We appreciate the difficulty and disappointment inherent in this directive. If you would prefer to have someone from the HR department in attendance when you present this information to your department, please contact _______, or _______________.

Merry Christmas, one and all!!

*        *        *

A consequence of a parental “faux pas.” The play structure was alleady installed above the wall here when the trampoline arrived (bottom right corner). When we put it below the wall, maybe 12 feet below where Alban is standing on the ladder, it did not occur to us that anyone would be crazy enough to jump from the top of the ladder on to the trampoline. Wrong again! They all did that jump until we moved the trampoline! Here is Alban readying himself for another big leap. Not only was it 12 foot down, he also had to jump about 6 feet across to get a safe landing on the trampoline!

Daphné wrote the following beautiful essay for a school project in May or June 2002. She called it “Saying Goodbye,” and it shocked and saddened me when I read it. You’ll see why. It’s a very powerful statement.

I added almost all the paragraph breaks: she was apparently allergic to them! But there’s very little editing: she had already done an incredible job of mastering her second language.

She was 15 years old when she wrote this, and was describing the flight from Paris when she, Alban, Charlie and her maman left France to emigrate with me to the new world. She had been nine years old when it happened, in June 1997. 

However conscious you try to be as a parent of what you’re doing to your children, you miss things, important things. She latched on to this departure as a 15 year-old, and it became a theme of the protest of her adolescent years.

It was far from all that was going on in her life, or in our collective life, and the photos dotted around the text are mostly taken from that other happier life.

. . . At that time, I had been nine and too childish to understand the importance of this flight.  We were moving to a new country, with a new language and new people.  I had already given my goldfish (my most prized possession) away and said goodbye to my friends but I did not understand that I would probably never see any of them again.

Alex on his fourth birthday, in January 2002, surrounded by well-wishers. Click to view the adorable expression on his face!

. . . I remembered my father was supposed to come and say good bye.  Scanning the airport, I took into account that he had never been on time for a single appointment in his life and even though we would not see him for a year, this time would probably not be any different. 

Around thirty minutes before our flight started boarding, my father showed up.  My brother ran to him but seeing the look on his face I stayed back.  It seemed to say, “How can I let them leave?” The pain in his eyes made me realize how this was going to change my life and his.  Ian and my mother left us alone with our father.  The silent was almost unbearable, none of us had anything to say, although a million thoughts zipped through my head. “When was I coming back?” “What if my father died?” “When would I see my friends again?”

Beauty and the Beast! Halloween 2002, at home before leaving to trick or treat with the younger children.

My brother looked at his knees while I tried to keep my head clear and the tears out of my eyes.  Sitting there, in front of a father who had never really been there for me made me see the world so differently that the tears I had struggled to keep inside fell freely down my cheeks. I did nothing to hide them, and seeing me this way made my brother cry too.  Soon enough we were all crying, even my father who I had never seen cry before.  We sat hugging, my dad trying to reassure us that everything was all right and that nothing would change, he would call every weekend, as he always had and promised to send us gifts for our birthdays and Christmas.  

Alex and Charlie grabbing a slice during a visit to the Hanlons. Brendan is on the right. Not sure what Charlie was doing, but he does like this picture!

My mother came back to get us, and it was time for final goodbyes.

Suddenly, all the sadness I possessed turned into fear and anger.  I yelled that we shouldn’t have to move, that it was unfair, that I wanted to stay with my father in the only country I would ever be able to call home. 

My mother’s eyes began to tear up and she hugged me.  My brother was crying so hard now that the people in the airport started staring.  She left us alone for our final moments together in our own country and my father hugged us tightly, telling us once again that it was all right. 

Christmas comes but once a year, but it does come every year! Alban in 2002, happily unwrapping one of his presents and trying to guess what it was.

I didn’t believe him, I was not so naïve.  I realized nothing would ever be the same, that the presents would never mean so much, and the phone calls would only remind me of the distance between my new “home” and the home I knew.  My father was crying too, and none of us said anything. 

. . . “Dad!! Don’t let them take us!! I don’t want to go!! I can’t go!! Please!!” I was begging, my brother who had sat silent and crying was now begging too and our poor father did not know what to do.  He attempted to get us to rise but we refused, it took both of my parents to drag us to the gate.

I walked down the corridor backwards, so that I would be able to see my father as long as possible.  “Dad” I cried over and over again, as I thought to myself “why?” Alban walked close to me, we were the only people that could remind each other of our father.  As soon as he was out of eye range, my tears turned into screams of protest, but no matter what I said, we were going. 

Maybe we can see a little adolescence in this one of Daphné and Alban, taken at the Hanlons during the Holiday season in 2002.

As soon as we were seated in the plane, my brother and me sobbing, I knew I needed to get out. I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t.  This was now a life or death matter in my mind.  I tried to get up, but was held back by a flight attendant. 

After that, I do not remember much; my crying drowned any other sound that I would have been able to hear.  I was reassured by the fact that Alban was sitting next to me, his presence made me feel safe, as long as I was with him, nothing could possibly make this worse. The wheels left the ground, and I said my final farewells to my country. The overwhelming emotions had drained me of any energy I still had and quietly, I fell asleep.

This essay still makes me so sad when I reread it many years later. What were we thinking? Why didn’t we see what we were doing to the children by leaving? All I could see was California beckoning after years of being away, and how lucky the children would each be to be raised in Santa Cruz. They were, of course, but at a cost, and for Daphné this essay does a good job of expressing that cost.