[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Marc had requested a week off work to help Nathalie cope with the sudden death of both her parents, with a minor in asshole-brother handling. His supervisor understood his predicament, but of course that meant reshuffling some schedules at the last minute and there had been some grumpy comments about Fournier taking a week off right after a week-long exercise, what is this, a freaking Club Med?

Marc hadn’t talked about last week’s events with anyone at work except for his partner, Luc, who asked, on behalf of his wife, if there was anything they could do to help Nathalie.

“Thanks, Luc. And thank Marie for us, too. I’ll check with Nathalie, see if she needs anything. Her friend Sylvie is helping with the kids, and I’ll take over from her as soon as I get home. I think we’ll be fine. It’s a shock, of course, to lose both parents like this, and Nathalie is pretty upset. But she’s a strong girl, she’ll get through it.”

“I know she will. Still, if I ever hear you needed help and didn’t call me I’ll bust your kneecaps. I hope that’s clear.”

Marc smiled. “Thanks, bro. I love you too.”

****

When Marc’s first wife announced she wanted a divorce, their kids were the same age as his two kids with Nathalie were now. Four and six. Marc didn’t get to see his teenagers very much; they lived with their mom and her new husband in Nova Scotia, and that seemed to be that. Marc was still required to cough up support payments, and he didn’t mind that. He just wished his kids would call or skype more often.

Marc was convinced his first marriage (and yes, they were married – something he insisted on back then, old-fashioned fellow that he used to be) had failed in good part because he took his wife for granted and didn’t put her needs ahead of his own. When he met Nathalie 10 months after his divorce was finalized, he promised himself three things: 1) he wouldn’t get married again; 2) he wouldn’t have more children, and 3) whatever he did he would not take another woman for granted.

It’s a good thing he remembered not to neglect promise #3. It made it much easier to break the other two successfully. Although to be technical about it he hadn’t broken the first one since Nathalie never cared for the marriage part. But she did want children, was happy to adopt his older ones (more in theory than in practice, but he appreciated that she never said anything about his support payments to his ex), and she certainly wanted a man who would not take her for granted.

Marc and Nathalie were in fact a great match. He had a calming effect on her that made her somewhat less impetuous, and she had a way of pushing him to be a better man, which was exactly the kind of kick in the ass he needed after his divorce. He loved their two small daughters to bits, and had made it a priority to be able to spend as much time with them as he could, even if that meant making sacrifices elsewhere. Nathalie had read somewhere in a European parenting book that children spell “love” t-i-m-e and she was determined to love her children the right way. She wouldn’t just tell them she loved them, she would show them.

Both kids were in school now, but Nathalie had refused to put them in daycare when they were babies. If Quebec allowed homeschooling as easily as some of the neighbouring provinces, they would for sure have tried it. But their province made it very difficult for parents who weren’t famous artists to choose home-based education, so Nathalie reluctantly sent her girls to the local public school. They would have preferred private school but that was financially out of reach, thanks in great part to that two grand a month for her parents’ nursing home, so the compromise they’d settled on was that Nathalie would be at home with them in the morning and afternoon when they got back from school, and would take it upon herself to supervise and add to their formal education. One of her dreams was to learn English so she could help her girls learn it too. Nathalie wanted them to be able to travel outside of French-speaking countries and be at home in the world, but she was finding it difficult to learn a second language. Her girls were picking it up on the street and at school, but that was not quite good (or grammatically correct) enough.

So many things to do… so little time…

The girls at first had complained quite a bit that they looked bizarre for not going to before- and after-school daycare like most of their friends, but Nathalie had explained that spending 10 hours a day in an institutionalized group setting wasn’t healthy for children, that children needed to spend more time with their parents than with teachers, and that surely spending seven hours a day, five days a week, with your friends (plus playdates on weekends) ought to be enough. Nathalie worked about 12 hours a week at the corner store down the street, earning minimum wage, but that money was enough to pay for a few extras here and there, like buying movies for the girls and the occasional trip to McDonald’s.

They didn’t have cable television in the house (an easy way to save money and IQ points), and Nathalie strictly controlled what kind of video games the girls were allowed to play. She didn’t necessarily want her girls to stick out as complete weirdos, but at the same time she wasn’t keen at all on the kind of popular culture that sexualized little kids and desensitized them to violence. I guess you’d call her old-fashioned. She carefully reviewed song lyrics and movies, not so much to keep the girls away from the real world but to be ready to explain things when the time came to do so. She’d got caught stammering badly once, when her eldest was just four and came running home with her friend to ask her mom what a ho was because a six-year-old boy had called them that right there on the street. She was shocked and her tone was angry, which made the girls believe they’d done something wrong, so they started crying. Nathalie panicked and told them it wasn’t nice to call girls that but never managed properly to explain why, as a result of which the girls were more lost and confused after asking her than before. Nathalie hated that and swore to herself she’d never get caught flat-footed like that again, so she immersed herself in the culture her children were growing up in. She’d be ready next time…

The next time had yet to come, but still, it was good to feel prepared.

[next chapter]