“Fifty is the new forty. I always thought my best work would come in the years forty to sixty, if I was fortunate enough to hang around – and it is hard to stick around.” Bruce Willis
Somewhere between scraped knees and perfect A’s I realized that before having children my life seemed meaningless. There was no one who needed me, not like this.
Being a mother is the most important if not the hardest job I have ever loved. With only 6 years to go until my oldest is out of school, I already anticipate the void.
I will miss our busy family routine, the morning rush, picking-up the socks off the stairs, and tripping over shoes and coats in the entranceway; those constant reminders that I am needed. The endless pile of laundry to tackle, the sanitizing, and the ripped clothes mending. The large simmering pots of food on the stove, the stacks of homework with tees to cross and poems to memorize, and the permission slips to sign and the day timers to check. These seemingly trivial things fill my days. Half finished art projects sprawling my table, stacks of dishes piled high in the sink and the dishwasher constantly rumbling. The play dates and afternoon snacks, the friend quarrels and making up, the compromising, the music practices learning the same song over and again until we all know them by heart. Then there’s the rapid fire shopping runs in between, and the plucking of laundry off the line before the sun slips over the horizon. I will miss the importance of my role.
And eventually my house will go quiet. The sounds of singing and chatter will not fill the rooms. Slowly one by one the kids will grow-up and leave my nest.
Certainly my life will change. My empty nest will leave me redefining my role, searching for new fulfillments and reconnecting to my partner.
I was fair warned at how fast this time would go, 18 years they promised but secretly I hope for 35. I have savoured every moment, enjoying every step along the way, and I will remain until my dying day, my kids’ mom.
It’s one thing to move to Europe with a backpack slung over a shoulder alone in your youth and entirely another coming with little kids in tow to start a new life. But what about our 50’s after the kids are grown?
Too young to retire, too old to have more children, still too young for grandchildren, and perhaps too old to go back to school…
Is now the right time to move to France?
Let’s ask Petra, Dutch Expat living in the Languedoc ready to start the next phase of her life.
Who are you and where are you originally from?
My name is Petra, 52 years young and I’m from The Hague in Holland, the third largest city in Holland located on the South West coast directly on the North Sea. Population of over 515,000, but has over a million including the suburbs!
My partner since 1980 is Marcel (we forgot to marry) and we have two kids; a daughter Kayleigh (26) and a son Dominique (25). They’re grown ups and have their own lives.
When did your children leave the house?
They both left at 25! Actually, our son left the house 3 days before we moved to France! I think they had a good life with us. We’ve let them live their own lives, they could bring friends over whenever they wanted and we loved being together. I really feel fortunate to have had them with us and see them grow into adults for this long!
Do you feel starting again around 50 is much harder than 40 with teenagers?
I couldn’t have done it at 40 with teenagers! They already had their own little lives with lots of friends, sports, school and knowing what studies they wanted to do. For them to start a new life at that age would have been cruel. I think at a younger age it would have been easier. Or like we did. It really felt like ‘job well done’ and made it easier to start over again.
What will happen when the grandbabies come, will it make it harder to stay away?
I really don’t know! I’am afraid it will but we’ll see what happens. But I don’t think it will happen soon so till it does we will enjoy our life here!
Do you feel this is your chance to reconnect to your partner?
I think reconnecting with your partner starts when the kids start to grow up and going out by themselves. Then suddenly you’re more together at home and you have to find a new life together.
We have been together since we were 16 so we went through several phases. Started off as teenagers to becoming parents with teenagers!
The rush of little kids, school, sports, friends keeps you busy. That suddenly stops when they don’t need you that much anymore. Or how about going on vacation for three weeks, just the two of you, that’s an eye-opener! I think we recognised it on time and started a new life together.
What did you do in Holland for work?
The last 13 years I worked at a daycare with kids aged 2-4. I was also a nurse, worked at an office and at the delicatessen shop we owned. But taking care of people is really my thing. I’m really not an ‘in the spotlight person’ like my partner Marcel. Just put me in the kitchen and let me take care of you! It’s funny to see how my daughter chose to be a teacher, in front of the class and my son chose to be a camera-man, behind the camera!
Why did you move to France?
Turning 50, having two adult kids, we both wanted a change. Feeling young enough to start again, we always talked about living abroad, starting a B&B or doing something with our passion; wine and food. So we did! We’ve had 2 ‘trial seasons’ and lived at the Saint Chinian camping. Last year we decided to make the move and in April we moved to a little apartment in Caunes-Minervois. This January we moved into a ‘maison de village’ in Caunes-Minervois.
Are you planning on buying?
We just started our business in France and want to look around. Do we want to live in the village or just outside, do we want an old house or a more modern one. We just don’t know! So we’re renting this house for a long-term period. I think it’s built in the 16th century so I think you can call it an old house! And I really love it! Just think about how many people have lived in this house and in what conditions!
Did you experience culture shock?
Well, I thought I would, living in a big city and moving to a little village. But I love it! If I feel the need, I can go to a big city, however I love the quietness of village life! Coming from a ‘flat’ country I really enjoy the openness and being able to see the snow tipped Pyrenees. WOW!
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
I never expected to manage in French this quickly! I’m no longer afraid to make mistakes, I found out that the French really think it’s great when you try!
What do you do for a living in France?
I cook! Picnics, table d’hotes, catering, cakes, drop-off dinners, anything!
Started with picnics for Vin en Vacances, I’m now also working together with several B&B’s and gite-owners.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
Since we moved to the village, we are physically in the centre of it! We just walk around and say ‘bonjour’. I really like that! And people start to recognize you!
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
Maybe I just don’t want other people to know how fantastic it is over here! Beautiful landscape, not too many tourists, just pure and quiet! Let’s keep it a secret!
What’s the worst thing about being an expat/ what do you miss the most?
Missing my kids, family and friends. Shopping and drinking coffee (or wine) on a terrace and having ‘Girl-talk’ in my own language! Not able to really express yourself in English or French.
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Just to start all over again. Learning a new language, food and culture, and trying to fit in.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
“All French are arrogant”. They are not arrogant, they’re just proud of their country, their history, and their local food and wine!
What advice would you give other expats?
Just go for it! Take your time to let things happen, it just takes longer. In the meantime, just look around and realize where you are.
What are you currently working on?
Taking our business, Fait Maison, to the next level. Now that we’ve moved to a bigger house with a beautiful big working kitchen it’s possible for me to work more efficiently. I am looking forward to this next phase of my life! It is very exciting!
Saturday afternoon Alfonz and I joined Petra and her husband Marcel for lunch together with friends to experience the culinary expertise at Fait Maison in Caunes-Minervois. It was a code orange stormy day when we left Capestang, we headed west, and as if a sign of good things to come, the weather changed to light rain by the time we arrived.
The village is charming with streets made of what looked like little bits of red marble pieced together in a sloppy jigsaw. We walked passed the Abbaye de Caunes Minervois, the centre feature of this Village. Around it, the houses held tight to the steep path towards Petra’s home offering a lovely view of the Abbey between tiled rooftops. We knocked on the door. They were all waiting for us inside, all toasty warm away from winter.
For starters Petra served up ‘Fait Maison’ Paté with cardamom and pepper. We drank sparkling wine from Limoux and nibbled on charcuterie displayed on a lovely wooden board.
Next, we enjoyed a perfectly simmered beef burgundy, Boeuf Bourguignon, stew from the slow cooker. The vegetables were perfectly crisp, and the tiny onions were succulent in the rich gravy. They paired it up with an egg noodle rolled in creme fraiche; the tartness played nicely with the thick broth. We opened the bottle of La Diva from Mas des Dames, a mostly Syrah with Grenache, a deep, subtle, complex red which complimented the beef main course perfectly.
Next we had a cheese platter with local goat cheeses and a creamy Brie. Petra served this with her Fait Maison red fig jam and caramelized walnuts paired with John’s Muscat from Le Clos Du Gravillas. I was in heaven.
Lastly we devoured a caramelized apple tart and finished our glasses of Muscat.
We ended our meal with espresso around 17:00. Eh voila! Perfection!
Thank-you Petra from Fait Maison for a lovely afternoon.
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Fait Maison – Homemade By Petra -06 43 20 20 79
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