What I learned from my sabbatical year

Living in Paris with my husband and two young daughters for a year taught me lots of things. In one thought, it would be this: sometimes when you pause for a while, all those things you were frantically chasing will come around and find you.

Over the year I got to know my kids and husband really well. We all became much closer – and not just because we were sharing a two-bedroom apartment.

Back home, I used to covet our 90-minute drives from Vancouver to Whistler because it would mean Murray and I could have an uninterrupted conversation for the first time in weeks or months and get caught up on what each other was doing and thinking.

Now, we do that almost every morning.

When my cousin Jessica, who lives in Zimbabwe, came to dinner in Paris, she teased me about it. “So how do you like being with your husband 24 hours a day? You know him really well now, right?” Having been on sabbatical with her family a few years back, she knew.

Then there was the issue of not holding a regular job for the first time in 25 years.

Having the time to get to the end of my to-do list every week gave me the opportunity to create a “want-to-do” list, and execute it. I did this with museums, art galleries, parks, movies, books, castles, countries, and sex.

But not working professionally lost its varnish pretty quickly. I found I was happier with a more structured day that involved paid writing (though it was not part of the initial plan). Some of the most memorable days of the year were ones where I was on assignment, be it at a perfume launch at the Geurlain factory in Normandy, the highly secretive Hermès museum above their flagship on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, or on a private tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment on Rue du Cambon.

On the flip side, we found that Murray’s profession, food styling, didn’t really exist in France. It seems “food porn” just isn’t a thing (which, for the record, Murray thinks is good). So he had to fly back to Canada to work in two-week stints, which was difficult for all of us, but mostly him.  

When you’re on sabbatical, you find life goes on back home without you, sometimes in dramatic ways. Your uncle will have a stroke, your brother will go into rehab, one of your favourite married couples will split up unexpectedly, your carport will become infested with rats. All of these things happened in the first six months. And don’t even get me started on the wildfire that threatened our cabin in the Okanagan, which we had to monitor through the night via Twitter.

On a lighter note, I learned that having under 10 great items of clothing that you rotate won’t make you feel like you have nothing to wear. Having too many clothes will make you feel like you have nothing to wear.

Over the year I met people who had also done a sabbatical in Paris. One new friend from Chicago and her husband and daughter was still there, having extended their sabbatical year three times. Another family had been there for seven.

We often got asked if we were ever coming back, but the answer for us was always yes. We wanted to bookend this experience. After 12 months, seven countries, 27 cities, 18 groups of visitors, 7 Chateaus, 22 museums, 53 blog posts and 400 baguettes, it was time to come home.