Today at “Mothers’ Voices” I’m welcoming Sophie from “Chroniques d’une Globe-têteuse” . Sophie is French and lives with her Chinese husband and their daughter Lynne in Missouri, USA.
Sophie and I met on Instagram and I love reading her blog. Our daughters are almost the same age, Lynne is a bit older and I love following her Montessori-adventures. I have the feeling I know Sophie for a long time and she is one of my online friends. It has been a pleasure to have this conversation with her and share it with you. I’m sure you will find inspiration in this interview
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family? What is your story?
Hello, my name is Sophie and I am French. My husband, Jie, is Chinese and we met while we were both traveling in Canada in 2011. At that time, I was living in France and he was living in the USA. We kept meeting in different places all over the world. Two years later I got pregnant with our daughter. We decided that Lynne would be born in France.
By the time we have done all the paperwork in order for us to live on the same continent, Lynne was 11 months and she had already flew back and forth through USA, Europe and Asia. Our little family lives now in Missouri, near Saint Louis.
You are a Montessori teacher assistant and you are working in the same school that your daughter Lynne is attending. Was this your intention or just a coincidence? How did you choose this school?
I used to work in museums, when I was in France. I was a registrar, in charge of the preservation of artworks. I did not expect to work in a Montessori school one day ! But when I think about it, this switch of career came naturally, and it had matched perfectly my personal evolution and current interests.
I have always felt uncomfortable with the traditional old school education way and wanted something different, more meaningful for my child. I knew a tiny bit about what we call “alternative education” through my uncle who was a Freinet-method teacher and I have heard a bit about Montessori. I met a passionate Montessori mum during my pregnancy and she planted the "Montessori seeds” in my head. Since then, Montessori kept crossing my way… I read the fabulous book “Montessori from the start” when Lynne was about 3 months and started to implement Montessori at home. Nothing fancy as we were between France and USA, living in temporary rather small places. I would say that Montessori was more in my mind as a guideline rather than a perfect material organization like we see in those beautiful pictures.
One day, while in USA, I was walking with 4 or 5months old Lynne in the neighborhood, when I spotted a Montessori school sign and that was it ! In my mind, ut became possible for Lynne for attend a Montessori school here, in USA, for real. When we settled permanently in Saint Louis, we started to tour all the Montessori schools around. There are quite a few and all of similar quality.
I completely fell in love with a school that was 5 min drive from our home. The campus was gorgeous and the chicken coop got my heart ! I have also liked very much the head of the school. As we were chatting, she told me that they had an opening position as an elementary classroom assistant. And she probably like me too: I eventually got the job. The school doesn’t have a toddler program and Lynne was far too young (20 months old) to start in primary, but luckily, we found a toddler program in another lovely primary Montessori school, 5 min from home on the opposite direction. Lynne eventually joined my school for the primary cycle when she was 2 years and 8 months.
I feel greatly honored to be able to work in such a place! I do not regret my choice of changing my career path and I feel so content to see my daughter grow up in this beautiful environment that fits my deepest values. I enjoy having a glimpse of Lynne’s days and the fact that we evolve in the same place, though not in the same classroom.
I found it helpful to speak the same consistent language, to understand her social codes, and create a bridge between school and home in our daily life.
What is different when “we Montessori” at home?
As Lynne is already working on the beautiful Montessori materials during the day in her classroom, I do not have any academical Montessori material at home. I feel that a “Pink Tower” at home would completely destroy her excitement of working on the same material at school.
Plus, I am not a trained teacher and I am perfectly conscious of my limits. In my opinion, the lesson given by a trained teacher is essential and inextricably linked to the material.
That being said, I still “Montessori at home” in different ways :
By spending quality time with Lynne, cuddling, reading, cooking, playing, walking, talking… trying to pass on my values about respect, love and kindness for all living and non living things.
By watching her growing and trying to understand her as a child and human being in construction.
I constantly think of how I can meet her needs. And recently I have been starting to be more inclusive and balance everyone’s needs: hers, mine and her dad’s. Each of us as individuals and as a family.
I always keep in mind that my actions and words have consequences on Lynne (and on other people in general) and I search for ways to improve myself so that I can get rid of the old patterns I have received in my education and from my cultural background. My aim is to be aligned with my beliefs and values. This is an every day challenge.
By letting Lynne free to experience life within some limits (safety and respect). She is free to make some mistakes and learn from them, free to explore her body abilities and gross motor skills (I was inspired by Emy’s Pikler’s work on this aspect), free to think and speak her mind …
By setting her environment at home to meet her needs. I do my best to adapt the surroundings to foster her independence and set her for success when she performs a task.
By providing her with meaningful toys/activities/material. We barely have plastic at home, I always look for beautiful wood/felt material. We have almost 0 screen-time. We don’t own a TV and I can count on my fingers the number of times Lynne has watched a cartoon on the computer. She occasionally watches a selected music clip (she loves ballet and opera since she was very young), a recipe or a craft tutorial.
By including her in our household activities like cleaning, groceries, cooking …
By working hard on preserving our environment. We are in a low-waste process, at home and at school. Lynne helps to make our homemade household and hygiene products and we search together for solutions to implement new habits and reduce waste. I include this in our Montessori way of life as I see it as a respect of Nature and life, leading to live in a more authentic and peaceful way. I am sure Maria Montessori would have included this in her view of education if she had lived nowadays…
In a nutshell, respect, observation and self reflexion are the key to me. All the rest comes out of it. I am not perfect by no means (so far from it !) and I take my words above as a daily reminder to myself.
You are bringing a French culture, your husband a Chinese one and you are living in the United States. How are these cultures interwoven in Lynne’s daily life? How is she learning these 3 different languages?
The identity questions are indeed the core of my daily life ! And I recently questioned myself about it… You see, My husband came to USA for his PhD many years ago and he has been leaving in USA longer than in China. He is actually an American citizen now. He is neither Chinese nor an American… his own identity is rather a mixture of cultures. I am a green card holder and I definitely identify myself to a French culture tinted with all the little things that I have collected from my travels around the world along my life.
Lynne has double citizenship. I often wonder how she perceives herself. She travelled a lot since she was a tiny baby. When I ask her, she says she is French. But I think it is my own influence that is speaking through her and I need to make sure she builds her own identity and that she does not take my words for hers.
We celebrate American, French and Chinese festivals, we eat mostly French and Chinese style. English is our family’s common language. I use French to communicate with Lynne and I have worked hard to make sure Lynne’s French stays fairly strong. I am happy to say that she uses almost exclusively French when she talks to me. I only read to her in French (that means that I buy a lot of French books or I systematically translate all our English books), I speak only French to her (unless someone around would feel excluded), we go back to France every summer for at least a month, we sometimes listen audio book in French (so she can hear other speakers than me), we weekly skype with her grand-parents. To insure a more subtle understanding and use of the language, I plan to use some Montessori French publications and a home made Montessori grammar box to echo the English language lessons that she will get (as long as this is a game for her and not a duty).
Unfortunately Lynne and her dad don’t speak in Chinese to each other but in English. Chinese is still part of our life and Lynne is often exposed to it, especially when we go to China, but sadly not enough to become a tool of communication.
How your days look like? Do you have a particular daily and weekly rhythm?
During the week, our days are organized around school. We arrive there around 8:50am, we finish our class at 3:30pm but we leave school between 4pm and 5pm depending of what I need to do in my classroom, the meetings or Lynne’s extra curricular activities (martial art and gymnastics). We do not have a specific routine when we come home : sometimes Lynne plays by herself while I’m preparing dinner, sometimes she joins in for cooking, and if I have time and she is asking, I will suggest an activity or we will read or play together. We have a family dinner around 6pm. Then around 7pm, we head up to bathroom/bedroom to prepare for bed. She is in bed around 8pm. This is our cuddle and story time before sleep.
Weekends are rather free of schedule. I must confess that I am not too good at keeping a fixed routine… The only thing that we never change is our weekly skype time with my family on Saturday mornings (it is very important to me, to make sure Lynne keeps bounding with her family and feels connection and roots). There is a great local and alternative farmer’s market and we sometimes go to and I wish it became a part of our weekend’s routine. There are a lot of fun places to go with children around here and I also make sure we have some nature/outdoor time. I would also like to go more often to the library but Lynne ends up inevitably in front of the computers in the children’s room which I am not too happy about and makes me reluctant to go there… Usually our evenings are rather quiet and we try to stick to our sleeping routine as Lynne is not an easy sleeper.
I have noticed a big change in our rhythm when we moved to our new house, 1.5 years ago. This house was a new construction and I was happy that I could create functional spaces for Lynne, and set up the environment for her. This new house changed our way of life and slowed down our pace. II feel that everyone in our little family settled down in his own routine and own space in this environment. The nest we have created positively impacted us … the importance of environment, this is very Montessori, indeed …
We have all heard that “it takes a village to raise a child” but most of us in the Western countries are raising our children in nuclear families nowadays. What challenges do you faced or still face as a mother “without a village”? What gives you strength?
The biggest challenge is to be able to find time to take care of myself. Lynne and I are so close that it has been difficult for a long time for her to stay with her dad while I was away.
It is hard to be a mother “without a village” when I need a break, when I need time to work on a specific project, when Lynne is sick or needs to go to hospital (Lynne does febrile seizures) or when my husband needs to go abroad (mainly China) for work for a long period.
I have recently have started to hire babysitters when I needed a break and my husband was abroad for work. Lynne feels pretty excited about it, as she knows perfectly well those young ladies who also work in the school for after-care.
What gives me strength ? To remember myself that my daughter will eventually grow up and be independent and that this time together is precious because it’s so short in a lifetime ! Otherwise observing other children, especially at school made me realize that the behaviour of my daughter is natural. The reactions that can be frustrating for me are actually appropriate for her age. Speaking with old or new friends. Some blogs have also been a great resource. And Instagram has been for me a wonderful tool to connect with other mums in more or less the same situation. I think that it is important to create this village, even if it is virtual.
Self-care. We talk a lot about it. I personally believe that more than self-care, mothers need to be nurtured. How does that look for you? What nurtures you?
Being able to take care of myself is a big challenge for me. I spent my pregnancy and the 3 first months of motherhood by myself (my husband was luckily with me for the delivery !). Taking care alone of a baby who never slept, the household and the groceries has been a real challenge for me. I had zero me-time. Diving into Montessori was also, I believe, a way for my to combine taking care of my baby and stimulating my brain. Now Lynne is 4 years old and I take the time to go to a weekly yoga class. This time is important to me but I think it is also important for Lynne to have this time to connect just with her dad. Then, I wake up earlier every morning to enjoy a daily morning routine of body care inspired by Ayurveda. I try to meditate, though not enough, I work on my identity as a woman by reading, chatting and thinking… I started also to go out from time to time with my school mates teacher and last summer, I got a whole week to me while Lynne was in summer camp during day time. I feel more and more the need to reconnect with myself and have some time alone. Striking a balance has never been my biggest skill but I am working on it…
What book(s) had the biggest impact on you as a mother, as a woman?
As a mum :
Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen
All books from the French psychologist Isabelle Filiozat
How to talk to kids so kids can learn, Adèle Farber and Elaine Mazlish
Maria Montessori’s books
As a woman :
all Dominique Loreau’s books, especially “L’art de l’essentiel”
“Eat, pray, love”, by Elisabeth Gilbert
“Africa treck”, by Sonia et Alexandre Poussin
“0 waste”, by Bea Johnson
And finally, if you had to ask yourself a question, what would that be?
I do not have a question, rather some affirmation to repeat daily to convince myself : “ I have done my best and my best is enough (I hope)”
Thank you Cristina for having us here and to give me the opportunity to reflect on my motherhood !