So I sit here from St Josse in France with the famous portrait of Mona Lisa starring down at me like a force to be reckoned with. Bonjour.
You see, we’ve rented a quaint traditional farmhouse just outside the very chic and trendy seaside resort of Le Touquet for a ‘workcation’. ‘Le Touquet has a reputation as the most elegant holiday resort of northern France, the playground of rich Parisians, with many luxury hotels’ according to Wikipedia [Source]. It is not wrong. All the women wear heels, pressed trousers and crisp white shirts, armed with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. A million percent cliche French, but shockingly true and a far cry from those who frequent Scarborough beach for a staycation.
I love it. Plus the village where we are located has a beautiful, serene landscape that is so familiar that it feels home from home. Almost. So far, it’s been a rollacoaster of emotions requiring lots of wine.
We’re coming to the end of five weeks here, which allowed my other half, who is currently working on a long term contract in France, to commute home daily, rather than leave at 4am on a Monday and return to Yorkshire on a Thursday night, barely seeing the girls during the school holidays or just simply enjoying any of the summer. A workcation.
In a Vanity Fair article a couple of years back, Tina Nguyen asked whether a workcation was ‘a sad trend or awesome concept’ [Source] . Some enjoyed the change of scenery, taking calls by the poolside, some took the concept too far, actually working the entire holiday. I do love her conclusion however: “Workcations can be fine and helpful to workers, if handled properly, and the only truly offensive thing about the concept is its dumb portmanteau name. (Look, just call it “working remotely.” It’s a perfectly accurate, not-dumb name.)”
Yet we liked the name, as it isn’t working remotely. Myself and my husband do that everyday as consultants. This was us making the most of an opportunity.
Romantic notion v’s reality
It was both out romantic notion that we’d spend as much free time as possible at the beach, let our girls stay up late and enjoy relaxed dinners, rather than veg in front of the sofa once they were in bed like we do at home. It was to force us out of routine, but I’m quickly learning that I actually like routine (when the eff did that happen!?).
The flexibility to up sticks at any opportunity is the reason why I embarked on the Digital Mums Strategic Social Media Management course. Finding out last week that I had successfuly graduated, the six months course is designed to add a new skill set to those already in the creative industry, but looking to branch out to become freelance social media managers and gain a flexible work/life balance. I am a reality of their #WorkThatWorks campaign. I was already a freelance. I’ve worked independently for five years, mainly providing public relations and content marketing to small businesses. Yet, for some reason, the strategic social media management course gave me the confidence to open up my eyes to #workthatworks. I can be anywhere, still
I was already a freelance. I’ve worked independently for five years, mainly providing public relations and content marketing to small businesses. Yet, for some reason, the strategic social media management course gave me the confidence to open up my eyes to #workthatworks. I can be anywhere, still fulfil my work duties and our two girls get to see parts of the world beyond our home town.
This is my first time at embracing the happy go lucky attitude though, and it was a struggle to start. Although the place we found is pretty with a lovely garden where the girls can play, it boasts one Michelin starred restaurant (useful with two young kids, erm?!). It would seem you need a car to go anywhere beyond St Josse, which I don’t have. The lack of car independence is frankly a little scary. It doesn’t help that the girls look at me expectantly, believing I can magic us to fun.
Oh Mona Lisa
It doesn’t help that the Mona Lisa portrait is pride of place in the upstairs hallway. I walk past her a lot and I feel her speaking to me in a low and sultry accent: ‘you are a fool’, ‘go back home you routine obsessed freak’, ‘what were you thinking’. What a B*tch!
At first I let these inner thoughts eat up inside of me, but I’m slowly starting to walk past my dear frenemy and mumble “F-you Mona Lisa, what do you know about modern day parenting and working…remotely?”
After Panic, comes wine, then positivity
I’m realising that taking us outside our comfort zone is an opportunity to bond as a family. We’re taking little steps day by day. Today we walked, finding a lovely cross country walkway. We managed 3km. The town I hoped to reach was 4km away, but we tried, and I know the girls had fun exploring.
We did bring our bikes with the notion that we could ride into town on tree lined roads with cycle lanes. But at first glance, the main roads are very busy with no pavement or cycle lane, and certainly not the quiet greenways we are used to at home. So, I’ve taken time out to map a route, avoiding the busy roads. We actually managed to find a play park and a frite stop. Major WIN!
Then there’s actually getting some work done. I’ve mustered some work hours in the time we’ve been here, and I managed it with very little stress with the girls in tow.
What I love, is that it’s given me some insight into what I’ll do next school break with the girls at home. Here are my newly established rules:
Stick to the one hour and a half rule
I’ve learned to not entertain a task that needs more than an hour and a half, so I either break my task down or stick to little tasks that I can break off from easily. I can never blog when the kids are around, I lose my way far too easily.
Pick your time wisely
All kids are different and age does make a difference. Mine are 3 and 6 so I don’t get the luxury of the baby/toddler nap time, but they will sit and enjoy a film or draw for a good hour- but only if I’ve tired them out first. So, my plan of action is to get them out early with a full on activity and by the time we’re home and fed at lunchtime, they crave some down time. That’s my moment to work.
Feed them before starting
It sounds so obvious, but I’m terrible at forgetting this. I focus all my attention on getting them engrossed with an activity, but by the time I’ve opened up my MacBook, they are demanding snacks and drinks. So I now make a conscious effort to get snacks sorted first, all in little cute plastic cups and bowls. It makes such a big difference.
Let them join you at the table
Again, I’ve learned that having them close by actually makes getting work done easier. Having them at the kitchen table with me doing their creative thing alongside me is not as horrible as it sounds. I love them watching me do my thing as I watch them. You do have to let go of the mess they are making however. How do they make so much mess with a single glue stick and a stack of coloured paper?
We’ve made it!
For the first time in our family life I’ve taken a chance and it is no where near the romantic notion I conjured up in my head. Nope, it’s actually better. Nothing is perfect straight away, but with time, perseverance and being a family, we’ve gained an adventure. We’ve found little spots that we return to, like the sand dunes at Merlimont Plage or the beautiful fishing themed play park in the historic town of Étaples. We’ve discovered that the cost of living in France is super expensive, but that children’s meals are out of this world and that our girls love to dine out, even in the leisurely way of the French. We’ve realised that going to the beach at 5pm is the norm and the best time to enjoy it on a sunny day, and that shops close at lunch and restaurants close in the afternoon.
This summer, we did something that we had always dreamed of doing. The stuff you talk about during thyose rare date nights over dinner. Yes, we had ups and downs, but it was worth it.