Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

I’m not one bit French, but on Sunday I will be cheering as hard as I can for France in the World Cup.

You see, I figure France has been cheering for me. It’s more than just fine wine, cheese and chocolate. My adoration for all things from this nation facing Croatia in the World Cup started when I was in sixth grade.

That was the year a foreign language was a requirement. That was also the year I was sexually assaulted in my own living room by a family friend.

It was after three years of being a latchkey kid. My parents divorced, leaving me with a single mom working evenings trying to make ends meet for me and my brothers. I was alone, unhinged and I stuffed the gaping hole in my heart with food.

Enter Madame Gill, a Bonnie Raitt lookalike, who emitted the carefree breeze of the Riviera as she spoke and danced around the classroom as we repeated the names of fruit, pets and places. Everything sounded better, romantic and lovely in the words that came off her tongue.

Kara Richardson Whitely. (Courtesy of Kara Richardson Whitely)
Kara Richardson Whitely. (Courtesy of Kara Richardson Whitely)

Each word transported me to a new, more perfect-sounding place. We even got to change to a French name. First, I was Yvonne. Then Monique.

It didn’t matter who I was, as long as it wasn’t me. I was solidly into plus-size clothes and never felt like I fit in. The summer after I was sexually assaulted, I gained 40 pounds and got shingles. My schoolwork suffered, I walked around with my shoulders slumped over. My head down.

But in French class, I was someone else. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt down on even the coldest Vermont days and I found myself lost in the works of Voltaire and Molière. I pushed myself, won awards, and an understanding that there was a whole other place out there that seemed beautiful, bountiful and blissful. France was a place that I knew and loved before I set foot there.

I studied through high school and ultimately dropped it. I dropped a lot of things back then. I dropped self-care, wearing the clothing two sizes too small, thinking I didn’t deserve anything better until I lost weight. I dropped exercising because it hurt too much. My weight peaked at 360 lbs. and ultimately swallowed who I wanted to be.

When I turned 30, I started to find my joie de vivre again. I found a spark in those adventure travel catalogs featuring epic journeys, including France’s Tour de Mont Blanc. I started hiking my way back to health.

Walking and moving became my way of life again. On my honeymoon, we walked the city of Paris, ending the evening with a magical climb up the Eiffel Tower stairs.

My love for life has ebbed and flowed since then. Binging has come and gone.

But France has always had my back. In France, I learned to fall in love with food again — instead of using it to punish myself. Dinners ended with vast cheese plates. I could linger and savor every bite as a beautiful part of my being.

Even now, as I balance life as a mom of three kids, two amazing French au pairs have come to help us over the years. They keep French culture and language alive in our home. It’s my hope that my kids one day have the same appreciation for France.

I’m cheering for France because all these years, France has been cheering for me.

Allez Les Bleus!

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