Here he is, “notre chou-chou à nous tous.” You have to understand French to get that phrase, which translates into something like “here’s our little cabbage, who belongs to all of us.” It actually sounds okay in French!
The key words are “all of us.” Charlie cemented our family, our three families. Each of the older children took to him immediately. They may not have had both parents in common, but Charlie was everyone’s little brother.
Marie-Hélène’s and my wedding almost two years later was superfluous for the children. Charlie made us all a family. From the day he was born they each and all looked after him and took care of him. That’s never changed. Neither emigration nor the parents’ separation nor anything else has ever reduced the caring and love that Charlie and then Alex evoked in their siblings.
I’ve thought about why that is, and of course have a theory: I always have a theory!
Alban, Daphné, Nick and Tom were all pretty happy when Marie-Hélène and I moved in together, even if Pierre and Sunshine, their respective other parents, were telling them that what she and I were doing was terrible and wrong. But that rabid animosity from one of their own parents, and rabid is not an overstatement, meant that the children couldn’t really let go and enjoy their new lives together, their new living situation. Over time, each learned distrust of his or her step-parent, or if not distrust a reserve reflecting his or her biological parent’s bad feelings.
That is the terrible hold that parents can exert on their children. Not all divorced parents do, but when they do, the children cannot block it. That’s part of why the parent does it, as a kind of validation of what she or he is feeling. Pierre and Sunshine each felt unjustly abandoned: each ignored his or her own contributions to their respective separations. Their pressure on their children sought validation for that point of view, confirmation of the injustice that each was suffering.
But it’s not validation, of course, when a young child goes along with what the parent insists on. That’s just infantile loyalty, a small child’s survival instinct. The more vehemently the parent insists, the more the small child’s survival depends on agreeing with what the parent is insisting on. So he or she agrees. Ours tried valiantly to agree with every parent.
And then along came Charlie!
Nobody outside the family could resent him from afar, not even Sunshine and Pierre. If they did, the children could easily see it for what it was, a silly kind of jealousy, and ignore it.
Our older children were free to express everything positive that their new lives together and with us were bringing them, without reserve. It wasn’t all positive, of course, our blended family, but it was pretty good during the early years. Charlie gave his older siblings reason to rejoice when they felt like it without offending or hurting the absent parents, and when they did rejoice, it was in him.
Charles was born at the end of our 1995 summer vacation in La Grée. He was born in the same clinic as Daphné eight years before, la Clinique des Augustines, managed by nuns whose spiritual and moral predecessors had helped allied airmen escape the Nazis and cared for wounded resistance fighters during World War II.
The Clinique’s wartime Mother Superior, Yvonne-Aimée, was decorated by both the French and the English Governments for her courage during the war, and the Clinique itself received La Croix de Guerre, an extraordinary honor merited by the nuns’ collective heroism.
In part because of their considerable contribution to upholding national honor, the nuns were able to continue managing their warm but little maternity ward for many years after it ceased being efficient when viewed from a simply economic perspective. Daphné and Charles were our beneficiaries of this governmental largesse. Unfortunately, the local government finally insisted on economies of scale and closed the maternity ward, although the Clinique remains open.
Even though he has spent all but the first 22 months of his life in Santa Cruz, Charles has been able to maintain contact with his birthplace. La Grée, his grandfather’s retirement cottage, was where we were staying when he was born at the Clinique. It also remained our vacation home even after we moved to California. Charlie and Alex visited Brittany and their grandfather almost once a year.
In some ways, he stayed and stays loyal to his country of origin, as it were, his mother country, his mother’s country. The vacation visits helped, of course. Then there was always a French presence at home, and not just his maman. She had a French TV channel, courtesy of Dish Network, and we had regular visitors from France, some Marie-Hélène’s family, some her friends.
Charlie’s loyalty to France showed up in different ways. One is a bit of a disappointment for those of us who are of English origin, and serious soccer fans. He tends to support the French national soccer team! Can you believe that? Also the US team, of course, but when it comes to a choice between England or France, Charlie favors France. How could he! The fact that the French team has obtained consistently better results than the English team during his lifetime should not influence him!
We invented the game in England. The soccer club in my little town, Marlow FC, was founded in 1870, eight years before Manchester United and 16 years before Arsenal. Cuthbert John Ottaway. England’s captain in what is acknowledged to have been the world’s first ever real international match when England played Scotland back in 1872, played once for Marlow FC. I’m not quite sure how all that is relevant to Charlie, but some of us in the family support the English national team!
Even his favorite players tend to play for France. For several years, his number one player was Thierry Henry, a lanky and thrilling French forward who plied his trade for Arsenal and for the French national team. Charlie asked us for “Henry” shirts for both teams, which he wore and wore. Zinedine Zidane, the best player in the world for a few years, played for France and he too was one of Charlie’s favorites. The four of us, Alex, Charlie and the parents, watched the 2006 World Cup final, pitting France against Italy, from a bar in Brittany. The disappointment was palpable (and shared to be honest) when Zidane was sent off and the French lost.
At the same time, he has been raised American. His schools are American, his buddies are American, his music is American (mostly) and his movies are American (mostly). He even has that quintissentially American quality of having immigrated here from somewhere else! With French and English parents, it all makes for an interesting mixture of influences and sensibilities. At least, for me. For him, for now, that’s just who he is.
He had a great early life with all those older siblings and all that love, positively charmed. Until the older children reached adolescence, when of course from time to time things became more complicated! Not to speak of when he himself reached adolescence, which added another layer of complexity! Through it all, the big kids are all still there for him, just as they were before he could even walk.
His interests were formed early, and principally by his older siblings. The first to take hold of him, and the longest lasting, has been soccer, his number one kick (tee-hee!). Alban had been the first in the family to embrace the beautiful game (remember, Nick and Tom were held back for two years in Paris after the rest of us arrived in Santa Cruz). Alban had started playing soccer, and excelled at it right away, during his first term at Happy Valley School, in the fall of 1997. Charlie watched, started kicking the ball around at home, and waited with bated breath for his turn.
That came when he started at Happy Valley School, which has the amazing advantage of a soccer field on the premises. The children played there together during most breaks for most of the year. Charlie did so as soon as he started kindergarden, and like Alban excelled right away. (You might want to check out his under 10 soccer team on the fall 2005 soccer season post).
Alban also pointed him in the direction of skateboarding. That too Charlie adopted with alacrity, but skateboarding didn’t last for him the way that it did for Alban himself. Charlie started before he was four years old, and there are great photos of him skateboarding here (alone) and here (with Alban and Alex).
The bottom line is that he likes most any sport that he tries. Which has included at one time or another swimming, recreational biking, cross-country, skiing, track and field, and of course video games.
Especially don’t forget the video games!! He never does!
The older siblings came into the picture again, leading by example with the adoption of tech and video games. Charlie asked for a PC and access to one or another game console (they evolve as fast as PCs, and cost almost as much!) pretty early on. He built his own website, www.charlesrocks.com, in 2006, but has not updated it recently. Shame, that. From time to time he makes videos, and posts some on YouTube.
By the end of this tapestry in 2010, the end of our blended family living together, he had moved on to the local junior high school, but not a lot else had changed. His number one kick was still soccer, and he was still as kind and sensitive as always. Perhaps not unrelated, his relationships with the fairer sex seem good, as they have since a young age.
The one drawback with this sensitivity was that he found the parents’ separation particularly trying. In part, this may also have been a function of his age when I moved out, 14. It’s not an easy age for a parental divorce.
We’re sorry kiddo. It’s all our fault: we know that. Don’t you worry too much, or assume any of the responsibility. It’s your mother’s and mine. We screwed up big time. Blame us. Let us worry about it, and over time try to fix whatever can be fixed. Nobody’s perfect, certainly not us. Hopefully, time will heal even this monumental botch-up! In the meantime, it’s not your problem. Just let it be.