UN, DEUX, TROIS, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix, onze, douze, treize, quatorze … .”

Pablo and I counted out loud and in unison, while his sister, Mina, scurried around the living room, looking for places to hide.

Pablo kept shushing me, but I counted along with him anyway, so pleased with myself that I remembered my French numbers.

We were playing hide-and-seek at my sister Jane’s house after dinner. I had not played hide-and-seek in ages.

Pablo, 5, and Mina, 10, are my grandnephew and grandniece, who moved to central Maine from France a couple of weeks ago.

I am particularly fond of the dark-haired, brown-eyed pair and love spending time with them.

Aside from providing entertainment — they are smart and funny and curious and interested in everything — they speak in French to each other and it is lovely to hear those little French voices.

They also speak to their mother — my niece, Rachael — in French, and she replies, always, in English. That is the way they learned to be bilingual, living in a small ski village in the mountains of France.

Being with Mina (pronounced Meen-ya) and Pablo allows me to see the world from a different perspective.

For instance, Jane and I took them to McDonald’s one day, specifically to play in the indoor playground, as it was chilly outside.

Since Mina and Pablo eat well at home, I wondered if we should not be feeding them fast food, but Mina assured us there are McDonald’s restaurants in France and that they had eaten there before. Dining at McDonald’s with Mina and Pablo was an education. I saw the inside of a Happy Meal box for the first time, learned that not all children want soda with their meals (Mina chose water) and sat, for the first time in my life, inside the children’s playground.

I discovered why the playground is popular and not just with children. It affords parents a respite while their children get much-needed exercise and shed a lot of pent-up energy.

On the way to Sweet Frog, a frozen yogurt shop in Waterville — and Mina’s favorite place in the United States — she asked from the back seat if I believe in Santa Claus.

I could see Pablo waiting, wide-eyed, for my response. I had to think hard before speaking.

“Of course I believe in Santa Claus,” I replied, thus kicking off an animated four-way discussion about Christmas and Thanksgiving.

We spoke mostly in English but some in French, too, which afforded me the privilege of brushing up on a language I studied for years in school but never get a chance to use.

Mina and Pablo have never experienced a Thanksgiving or Christmas in the U.S. I started to explain about the native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how to grow food and sharing their harvest with them, but Mina was way ahead of me.

“I know, I know,” she said, and then redirected the discussion back to Christmas.

For years, Rachael has told the children stories about how exciting Christmas Eve is at their great-grandmother’s house in Skowhegan. They have heard all about the special foods that are prepared, the gifts that are exchanged and how we all gather around the piano to sing while Great-Grammie plays Christmas songs.

This year, finally, Mina and Pablo are going to be able to experience it.

“I love Christmas,” Mina said.

“Me, too,” I replied.

It struck me that, not only is there joy in spending time with children, but you learn as much from them as they do from you.

And that the magic I felt around the holidays as a child has never left me.

It’s a precious thing to be able to share that with little ones.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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