Over the past month, I’ve been picking away at a book I discovered with my BFF about a year ago called What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier. Because this is what my BFF and I do together. We don’t do hair and makeup makeovers, we do mind makeovers. This is why I love her. We spent a weekend reading about French women, savoring food like French women, and shopping for clothes that flattered our figures like French women. I loved that weekend.
We never did get to finish the book so I bought myself a copy and read through the whole thing again, cover to cover, rediscovering and relearning the ways of women in a different culture, ways that I can’t help but want to absorb and use to make life here just a little more natural and sensual and slower-paced. Reading it again, two things stood out to me as interesting:
1) On a personal note, I found the language to be negative and the reason this stood out to me is because when I read it the first time, I didn’t notice that. It has nothing to do with the book, but with myself and how much I’ve grown over the past year. I go through the downs in life as much as the next person (going through one at the moment, in fact) but in general, I’ve grown into the kind of person who tries to look at the bright side of things. I don’t feel like there’s a point in going around in circles about what’s wrong with something, but instead looking for what’s right or how we can make it right.
And positivity often starts with using the right words: yes instead of no, challenge instead of problem, “how can I” instead of “can’t do it.” But a year ago, my mind didn’t think this way as much as it does now. It’s kind of cool to be able to measure growth in that way.
2) What we think of as “normal” or “part of the human condition” is a lot more about our culture than I realized. Our “normal” here in the United States isn’t not the normal in France or, I imagine, many other countries. Our pursuit of money and happiness (because you can’t have the latter without the former, right?) compared to their pursuit of family and leisure. Our need to feel in control of every area of our lives compared to their acceptance that things are dirty and messy and beautifully ugly. Our need for labels compared to their fierce defense of individuality. Our fear of life compared to their willingness to try things out and make mistakes.
There were things in there that made me balk (I don’t agree that personal growth is something that takes us away from who we are, but closer to it) and I have no doubt that the French aren’t perfect, but to compare our extreme to another brings us closer to finding a middle ground.
I struggle to be messy. I struggle to accept the parts of myself I view as imperfect. I have a hard time letting go and being the very human me that I am, as if I could somehow be something else for even a minute. I struggle to show that side to people, even though that’s the side I most love to see in others–the chance to connect and commiserate and maybe smooth away some of the rough edges that are an everyday part of being conscious souls.
On Tuesday, after reading a chapter out on my back porch (yes, I’m living out there these days), I set it aside and curled up in my chair. My 4-year-old played with her water table while my 2-year-old was sleeping, and I simply sat. I forgot about what I “should” have been doing (I’m so exhausted with shoulds!) and I enjoyed the moment. I talked to my daughter when she showed me the flowers she was watering, I soaked in the spring smells of grass and rain on the way.
When my youngest came downstairs, she curled up in my lap and we sat there for, I don’t know, maybe half an hour (I was nowhere near a clock and loving it), with her little head and her soft hair tucked under my chin and the weight of her little body pressed against my chest. She never sits still for that long and I don’t know if it was because my own energy was so calm and she felt it, or I simply don’t stop enough to allow that kind of moment to happen, but it was one of the happiest and most fulfilling afternoon I’ve had in months. And after that, dinner was late and the girls went to bed almost an hour past their bedtime as we tried to catch up from our afternoon without a schedule and I enjoyed every second.
As much as admire the slower pace of other cultures, it seems illogical to me to think we could still fit into our society by adopting their views entirely. There are a lot of breakthroughs here that only happen because we push ourselves to the limits at times. But trying to operate at full speed at all the time takes us backward in so many other areas that we can’t ignore need for respite and real life, right here, right now human connection.
My Tuesday afternoon was a moment completely inspired by French women, but if that’s the stuff personal growth is made of, I think that’s one “American” tradition I’ll keep.