When she discovered that her first name is French, we had to check out language books at the library. One year she wanted a computer language course so she could study over summer. To this day we still speak what I call “Pepé le Pew”—a mix of the words and phrases I remember from junior high and high school liberally interspersed with English and made-up words that I’m sure should be French. But over the years she grew to instructing me, gently and politely, and recently I’ve noticed that her Pepé is completely lacking in Pew….
One year it was the Madeline books, the dolls, and the clothing. She painstakingly constructed a replica of the Eiffel Tower out of tongue depressors for a school project, and I found myself going on late-night emergency tongue depressor quests.
Once when she was little she proudly announced, “I know how to French kiss!” I stared at her gap-toothed grin and tried to sound nonchalant. “Oh?” She leaned in and gave me a peck on each cheek. “That’s how French people kiss!” she chirped. How I smiled back at her, bigger and bigger! “Yes,” I said. “It is, isn’t it?”
She is no slacker, working hard as she has at various jobs to earn money for the trip (in addition to paying for things we can’t afford since the divorce), while still putting aside some for her college. For nearly a year now, she’s been getting gifts with a decidedly French theme. She’s slowly accumulated new cameras and passport holders and luggage tags and gadgetry. We’ve been through the paperwork and the checklists again and again.
Now I hugged her close in the dark parking lot. She has become La Tour Eiffel, this thin, strong girl who towers over me, and I now am L’Arc de Triomphe. It might be her bank-of-life, but I was the one who felt rich at that moment. And I kissed her cheeks au revoir, and I sent her off to become her own fine (French!) future self.