Thursday, October 02, 2014

Making the grade

"None of [Parisienne's] explanations have given me any confidence.  The client cannot make the simplest of functions work.  A task-force needs to be formed immediately."

This is taken from an email I got at work yesterday, paraphrased and translated.  It was copied, of course, to a sundry list of mid-level managers, most of whom I don't know. It wasn't the first mail of this nature I've received recently, but at least this time I had the honor of being directly included in the list of recipients and not have it land on me indirectly after a chain of forwards.

Yesterday I was hopping mad, scream-about-it-to-any-sympathetic-colleague mad, and it was the main subject of conversation at the dinner table.  But by the end of the day today, I had talked to the author of the email on the phone, designed and implemented a solution to his problem, and deftly and diplomatically (I hope) demonstrated that another large part of his pain came from errors in his data and not design mistakes in my code.  And I left work feeling pretty damn happy, because we'd all made progress.  I find I can mostly shrug off these dings to my ego these days, at least compared to how I would have reacted not so long ago.

"So tell me. How are the kids doing in French school?" asked a American friend of mine recently.  She's been living in Paris for years but has no kids yet.  "Is it true what they say?"

I know what "they" say, and I'd say it is mostly true: from an American perspective, French schools seem rigid, one-size-fits-all, and more concerned with applying an old-fashioned method than boosting children's self-esteem.  Starting in nursery school, kids are given standardized evaluations on subjects from motor skills to showing proper respect to elders.  In CP, the equivalent of first grade, Le Petit started bringing home letter grades, and although for the moment they're almost entirely As and A-s, I doubt it's just to boost his ego.  At three years old my kids both brought home coloring exercises with a little legend in the corner containing three schematic faces -- a smiley face, a frowning face, and an ambivalent straight-line face -- one of which the teacher was to choose and circle.  Grading starts with the pre-K set, and it gets the message across.

My friend wanted to know how I felt about this.  "I love it," I said, but then I had to qualify my enthusiasm, since my own kids are doing well in school, after all.  Le Petit seems to rise to every new challenge, and there are plenty of challenges.  He was introduced to cursive to in kindergarten, and by first grade was expected to write exclusively in script. All his work, including math, must be done in ballpoint pen. Starting this year, which is the equivalent of second grade, he has to prepare a weekly dictation.

I think it works, I told my friend, because everyone eventually gets taken down.  If you make a mistake -- and ample opportunities to do so are provided -- the mistake is called out and you get a bad grade. 10 out of 20 seems to be the middle of the bell curve. Naturally, everyone learns to pick themselves up and start over again, and that's a valuable lesson for life.

When I was growing up in the US, good students like me were expected to get perfect grades and were given all the tools to do so.  When we were graded on something, it was only after we'd been given all the preparation we needed to do succeed.  Being smart meant getting it right the first time.  Conversely, not getting it right the first time proved you were incapable.  It didn't exactly encourage one to take risks.  I am probably an extreme case, but in college I actually dropped classes when I wasn't certain of getting an A.

After I arrived in France and landed a job, I spent many months terrified that my manager hated my work. "But he doesn't say anything!" I fretted to my husband, to which he replied, "He doesn't say anything?  Keep up the good work."  A compliment of sorts finally came when my boss asked me to help another colleague with something because he insisted I understood what I was doing and she didn't.

And thus turns the French working world: compliments are few and far between, but criticism is freely shared.  Start with what doesn't work, complain about it thoroughly, and take it from there.

"Reality check: Is it just me, or is this obnoxious?" With that I forwarded the above excerpted email to my husband, because I know I can be a little bit touchy, and I needed his culturally informed opinion.  "No, it isn't just you," was his quick reply.

This didn't keep me from spending two hours on the phone helping the person who wrote the mail, and though he seems a bit prickly, a little bit (ahem) old school French,  I actually mostly like his attitude now.  He seems to know what the customer needs, and one can't accuse him of not getting straight to the point.  I'll give him 12 out of 20 on intercultural communication: Needs Improvement.  And me?  I dunno... maybe a solid 15?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Seven years

Last Saturday was Le Petit's seventh birthday.  I'm a little ashamed to admit that the biggest event of the day for me was finally picking up my new car: a shiny Citroën C3, which I've been driving for a week now almost as nervously as a 16-year-old with a newly-minted license. For Le Petit, the highlight was the visit to fountain and fireworks show in the château's gardens, for which he stayed up (gulp) three hours past his bedtime.  My in-laws accompanied us, we celebrated properly earlier in the day with champagne and foie gras, and I couldn't quite believe that seven years had passed since I became a mother.

This Thursday, my husband went off for four days to a baroque music festival near Narbonne.  I stayed home with the kids, since planning a four-day excursion without them was too complicated, and attending concerts with both of them unthinkable.  I was mostly being a good sport about it.  Last night I was even relishing the change of pace, and congratulating myself on getting both kids ready for bed thirty minutes ahead of schedule.

Today, though... today violent thunderstorms were forecast in the Paris region, as well as everywhere else within day trip striking distance.  I didn't feel up to attempting a museum with a three-year-old. We'd go to the mall, I decided instead, buy clothes for a friend's wedding we'll be attending shortly, and do our grocery shopping.  By ten in the morning I was in a terrible mood; the kids were fighting over everything, scribbling on things that weren't meant to be drawn on, screaming.  My husband happened to call.  Why oh why hadn't he taken out the recycling before he left? I scolded, as I wiped up dribbled milk from a badly-closed milk jug in front of a half-emptied recycling bin.  It wasn't about the recycling.  It was about everything else.

How many times do you need to ask a seven-year-old to put on his socks?  How many hours does it take to get two kids to the breakfast table, or out the door?  I wanted to hide in another room and just read a magazine, or be able to take a shower without negotiating a preliminary ceasefire, but no.  We finally went to the supermarket after lunch, and both kids wanted their own rolling basket.  Mademoiselle wandered off once or twice and I had to search for her briefly but frantically.  Le Petit grabbed items out of his sister's basket and put them in his own when she wasn't looking.  They both insisted vociferously on carrying the same block of cheese.  My children are loud, and I feel like I only barely have them corralled when we are out shopping; I do my best not to lose my patience but by the time were were back in the car I Lectured them both with a capital L: my father the lawyer could hardly have done better.  It was still stiflingly hot, and I was grumpy that the threatened/promised thundershowers still hadn't arrived and we could have done something worthwhile outside after all.

Le Petit looked disappointed, truly.  To his credit, he had honestly helped me out at the end, loading items onto the belt from the baskets at the checkout as I filled three heavy bags.  He wanted so much to be good (sage, the word in French, is so much more satisfying).  I proposed a do-over.

After dropping off the groceries, we went back to the BHV, the department/hardware store which is my happy place of sorts.  I needed a strange kind of light bulb, a drain snake and other odds and ends and had a vague idea of hitting the craft section for some rainy day supplies.  And... both kids were wonderful.  Le Petit set the tone, being helpful, attentive, listening to me immediately, compromising when necessary with his sister.  We bought big capital letters for them to paint tomorrow -- the first letters of their names -- and they are both so excited.  As we drove home fat, heavy raindrops finally started to fall on the windshield.

After dinner, an involved search for a lost Lego, bedtime, ten goodnight kisses and two glasses of water, after cleaning the kitchen and putting the house back together, it was finally quiet.  I swept the floor.  I considered folding laundry.  Then I went into Le Petit's room, as I'd promised to check on him, and heard him breathing slowly in his sleep.  I'd checked on him earlier, and rubbed his back when he was half asleep; he'd seemed so reassured that I was there and it had made me so happy that when I came back a second time I bent over to kiss his head in his sleep.  In the dark I missed his forehead and accidentally kissed his ear, which woke him up briefly.  He rolled over immediately and reached out to hug me, whispering good night again.

I feel like what I owe my kids is to see them really truly the way they are at any given moment in time, and understand what they need from me there and then.  I want them to feel understood, really truly understood.  That's the theory.  In reality, at many a moment in time I'm worrying about what the woman next to me in the supermarket aisle is thinking, or I'm forcing myself to put down the smart phone (but I barely got to browse the web all day!), or I'm working down my to-list, or I just don't want to listen to another seven-year-old observation or answer a three-year-old "why?"  I don't wanna get down on my knees and play Lego.  I don't wanna drink another pretend cup of tea.  Don't wanna don't wanna don't wanna. Bad attitude mommy.

Tonight  through the open window of the kitchen in my mostly-silent house I heard two things: the music from the fountain show (the rain had stopped) and the brief cry of a baby.  As I leaned out the window to hear better, I found myself jealous of the parent with that baby, wishing it was me who was comforting an infant in the middle of a hot summer night, nostalgic about how time slows down and all the priorities you have shift or disappear because someone small needs you and no one else.  I never thought I'd miss that.  I know that some day I'll miss the way my kids are now.  I don't miss the relentlessness that comes with it... but I now know that I'll forget that part.

Tomorrow is my do-over.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Time Machine

Tonight as I dug Le Petit's pajamas out from under a mound of pillows and blankets, he grinned and whispered, "Hey Mom, do you know why my bed is like that?" I couldn't guess.  "I turned it into a machine to speed into the future!" he announced, giggling. "And it worked super well! Yeah, I hid under the covers, and it was four... what does the nine mean again?"  He pointed at the clock propped up on his bookshelf, with the wooden face he painted himself and the handwritten numbers I outlined in gold so that they stand out on the dark blue background.

"Forty-five," I say.

"Yeah, four forty-five.  And then when I came out it was... four... sixty... no fifty... where is the sixty again?"

We went over the minute-hand part of telling time again -- briefly, because it was past bedtime and I wanted to have time to read Dr. Seuss before lights out -- so I'm not sure that any of my explanation stuck.  What I might have explained is that I have a mechanism for speeding into the future, the best ever invented perhaps : it's called having kids.  And... I'm enjoying the ride.

[Le Petit told me this in French, as usual, so I'm doing my best to capture the spirit in English.]

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Le Car

It took me one hour and forty-five minutes to drive to an offsite meeting this morning. I'd planned for an hour, which was more than it took me yesterday, but then there was an accident on the A13, and after thirty minutes of inching ahead I cut over to the A86 and got stuck in the tunnel under La Défense. There I sat for a long time breathing concentrated diesel fumes on an underground off-ramp in Nanterre, stuck in a single immobile lane while motorcycles and scooters zipped past me on the shoulder to the left.  My only entertainment was listening to the honking fits provoked by cars squeezing in around me at the last minute, since Chante France on my car radio ("Your favorite French songs! Sing along at least once a day!") was reduced to static.

I arrived at the off-site meeting in a terrible mood.  And yet, I have to admit the frustration was tempered with a certain satisfaction because I can drive in France.  I can not only drive in France, I can drive in Ile de France, the region around Paris.  I can even drive in Paris proper if I have to (though I'm still not sure I'm brave enough to attempt Place de l'Etoile).

There are aspects of my life now that once felt strange and are now commonplace, like firing off e-mails in French, debating French politics, or vociferously defending my design decisions to my French boss.  There are other things I do regularly but which never quite feel natural, like consulting a French doctor.  And then there are things that once upon a time in a faraway land were everyday but now feel unfamiliar. Until recently, driving was one of these foreign activities. For eight years I didn't drive at all before finally suffering though obtaining my French driver's licence.  Then we moved to Versailles, off the Métro grid, part of another suburban world.  Sure, I can still walk to get bread, or a little farther to get downtown, or to the Opera at the Château (one of my favorite places for a night out, in fact), and my husband takes the train to Paris most workdays.  But I work in another suburb a short drive away, and a car just makes more sense than relying on an infrequent bus.

In September, my mother-in-law generously loaned me their second car, an old Renault Clio which since her retirement had been sitting in an expensive municipal parking garage and not getting out much.  When my husband told me the news, he was surprised at my lack of enthusiasm.

"Don't tell me you're scared!" he scolded.

"It's not that!"  I protested.

It was that.  It was totally that.

So I reluctantly began to take the wheel each morning, more stressed out at first that I'd been with my freshly-minted Washington State licence at age 16.  By October, my heart rate was finally approaching normal on my way to and from work.  By November, I was brave enough to drive into the heart of Paris to meet my sister-in-law for dinner -- leaving the car in a handy, overpriced underground parking garage, but still, it took courage.  By February, I was going on solo runs to hardware stores and to IKEA (one of my biggest motivations for relearning to drive, I must admit).

So it was that in this age of ecology and interdependence and the Eiffel Tower disappearing behind a curtain of smog, my life was transformed for the better by the automobile.

Mid-February, I had to admit, however, that the loyal Clio had a problem.  Periodically while driving it would lurch, make a horrible noise, and drop into a lower gear.  Eventually the automatic transmission light starting coming on as well.  I got it checked out at a local garage, with the diagnosis that the transmission would need to be replaced and it would cost far more than the car was worth.

"You know, automatic transmissions... especially on French cars..." When I mentioned the situation to my colleagues, they all seemed to think I should have expected as much.  Who else but an américaine would require something so contrary to true esprit of French engineering?  That's when I would proudly explain that it was my mother-in-law's car and that *I* would have been perfectly happy to drive a manual and by-the-way-my-parents-only-had-manual-cars-so-I-had-to-learn-the-hard-way-and-it-was-uphill-both-ways.

Quickly I started shopping for a new-to-me car, thinking at first I'd buy used, then learning that with a trade-in of the Clio I could get a shiny new Citroën C3 for a very good price.  Me... in a new car.  In a new French car.  There was something enticingly exotic about the idea.  I looked at a Toyota as well, but the price and my motivation just weren't there.  Toyota is just so... California.

When I was in elementary school in the eighties we hosted a French-speaking Belgian exchange student.  The same year, Renault started marketing the less-than-iconic R9 in the US as the "Le Car." This annoyed our exchange student to no end.  "Why do they call it 'Le Car'?" he would ask, "It's ridiculous!  It isn't even le.  It's la voiture."  Naming issues aside, it wasn't a success and Renault disappeared from North America leaving nothing but a crappy reputation.

Citroën, my husband insists, is a different matter: "It's like the difference between Ford and Cadillac!" he told me, and when I looked doubtful, he cited the famous Traction and the classic DS. The cute llittle C3 which will be mine in May has compact curves that remind me a bit of the Deux chevaux, which though before my time, remains the only French car most Americans of my generation can recognize. There were plenty of C3s stuck in traffic with me this morning. I admired them, reassuring myself at the same time that when I'd ordered 'Shark Gray', I really had picked the best color.  And it'll be a manual transmission... of course.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Home improvement

I have a new obsession: home decor.  It started as a coping mechanism when we were in the midst of the interminable process of buying our apartment last spring.  I spent my theoretical spare time surfing Apartment Therapy and bringing home decorating magazines, projecting myself to a point in the future when my only concern would be paint color.  The apartment purchase and sale closed, we moved, and now we've been here nine months.  I'm still obsessed.  

"What do you think of this table?" I asked my husband, handing him my phone with the browser open to Le Bon Coin, the local equivalent of Craig's List.  My husband has learned, I think, that the best strategy is to humor me, so instead of making an noncommittal "Hmmm," he told me what he really thought.  

"Only 250€ for the table and the chairs! That'll be gone fast."

"So you like it?"  I said hopefully.

"Not really. It's too dark."  

"It's walnut.  Like that bookshelf."  I pointed to the entryway.

My husband, with remarkable diplomacy, managed to explain what he liked better about our current dining room table, a beat-up round IKEA table in pine with a central leaf that's a different color, without starting an argument.  He humors my obsession within reason, and perhaps it is because he knows I'm serious: I've picked up two chairs and a twin bed this year.  I'm ready to start selling things, too: out with the flat-box crap, in with the real stuff, I say.  If it is second-hand, all the better: the thrill of the bargain hunt, and it's ecological, too.

I come from a long line of the house-proud and decor-obsessed: my grandmother's favorite pastime was trawling garage sales and antique markets to complete or start new collections.  She once told me solemnly, "If you only remember one piece of advice from me, let it be this: if you can't find anywhere to put something, you can always hang it from the wall."  (Did she know somehow that someday I'd move to a tiny Parisian apartment?)  My father and stepmother's home is like the coziest of museums.  And I remember distinctly that as a small child I used to regularly come home from school to find that my mother had completely rearranged the furniture in the living room.  

Like all obsessions, it can be a tiny bit unhealthy.

In a couple weeks, we'll have the three bedrooms repainted (involving ripping out wallpaper and replastering, making it worth giving it to pros), new carpet put in, and new curtains.  I'm thrilled.  Meanwhile I've got a project list which involves light fixtures, refinishing chairs, building shelves, and spending a weekend of quality time cleaning grout and recaulking bathrooms.  This has replaced blogging.  This has replaced reading.  

"I think I'm trying to escape reality," I told a friend recently.  She looked surprised.  "Escape what reality exactly?"  I couldn't answer. Maybe things feel too good, so focusing on imagined imperfection at home reassures me.  Maybe things are too serious, and I need something frivolous to occupy myself.  Maybe it's the ten previous years of living in a 700 square foot apartment that are catching up with me.  Maybe I'm just, as we'd say in French, slightly grave.  

I brought home a deluxe metal window planter this evening for my new kitchen herb garden.  I invited the kids to help me fill it up with potting soil and then plant rosemary, thyme and coriander.  Dirt was all over the kitchen floor and all over the kids, and I didn't mind; I decided to count it as keeping perspective.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Plus ça change, first grade edition

After lights out, after asking for a second hug and kiss goodnight, Le Petit had something to tell me.

"En fait, maman, M doesn't want to be my friend anymore."

M was Le Petit's first close friend this year, and before when he'd talk about the games they'd invent together at recess, a true, broad smile would break across his face.  He's not the kind of kid who expresses his emotions readily, so this made an impression on me.  But M is also a girl, and M's friends tease them for playing together.  "Les amoureux!" they taunt, and they won't leave them be. In the ruthless world of the primary school playground, there are certain rules not to be broken.

Le Petit is in CP, the equivalent of first grade, and since we moved to a new town over the summer, he is the odd man out in a class of kids who all went to nursery school together and he is having a hard time making friends.  It doesn't help that he prefers geography and history to Star Wars and Spiderman, and won't play cops and robbers because he considers it "too violent."  I have a hard time picturing exactly what happens at recess, and I can't always follow the ins and outs of who plays what and where with whom and when from the recaps we get at home.  But what I know for sure is that what Le Petit recounts in brief confidences before going to sleep drags me back thirty years to a playground in Olympia, Washington.

As much as love and friendship are universal, certain strains of human stupidity are as well.

I changed schools between kindergarten and first grade, and I still remember the first awkward day when I walked into the first grade classroom and realized that everything and everyone was Different.  My first close friend that year -- the first friend who understood me, truly -- was N.  He was a boy.  It took a month or so for the other kids to catch on that this was somehow not okay, letting a boy and a girl be friends with each other.  But catch on they did.  I can still hear the chanting, the sing-song "N loves E, E loves N!" that chased us around the playground, and our vehement refusals that felt like betrayals.

I told Le Petit this, after trying my best to give him space to tell his own story.  I think it makes him feel a bit better to know that he isn't alone.  At the same time, my story isn't a particularly optimistic one, because just like M with Le Petit, I was not brave enough to continue being N's friend in the face of constant teasing.

"But you're still friends with him, right, Mom?" Le Petit asked hopefully.  And I remembered that while we were bound by a certain outcast smart kid solidarity through fifth grade, after which my family moved and I once again changed schools, I was never N's friend again.  I've wondered about him over the years, and since Olympia is a small enough town, I've managed to learn that he's moved and has a successful career as a professor somewhere in the Midwest.  I'm curious, and truly happy for him in a way I'm not for almost any of the others characters in the elementary school chapter of my life.  But none of that changes that I was a genuine wimp at the time.

I was less blunt when I answered Le Petit (I hope).  "This happens in life, it hurts bad, it isn't fair, you have no control over the choices or stupidity of others," I then said, more or less, and with a hug I tried to wordlessly assure him that life goes on.  30 years on and counting.

"The problem is, I often find myself playing all by myself at recess."

Those words felt like a kick in the stomach, and I started thinking about my productive, busy days at the office and how at the very same time my little baby is out there on the playground all alone... but I did my best to hide it.

"And what do you do when you're playing by yourself?"

"It depends... sometimes I play hopscotch!"

Le Petit jumped out of bed and gave me a demonstration, hopping on one foot across his bedroom rug.

"And... sometimes I play silly airplane!  That's a game I invented with M... you run around with your arms like this," he showed me, "...and then you run into something and you crash!"

Spinning around his room with his arms stretched out, even though it was dark and I couldn't see, I was almost certain he had that same broad smile.  Everyone survives grade school, I tell myself; that's universal too.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Compass

My husband left for a week-long trip to Barcelona this morning, leaving me busy with two kids and feeling oddly lonely.  A long January Sunday was staring me in the face, so I made plans to meet a friend of mine near her place in Vincennes.  It was a good forty-five minutes away in a corner of the Paris suburbs I'm less than familiar with, but I thought I could swing it.  Le Petit would be coming with me, after all.

The little gray Renault Clio that my mother-in-law has generously loaned me, the car which is coaxing me into becoming a confident driver again after almost ten carless years in France, has no GPS.  This is no problem when I drive back and forth to work, which is the great majority of the kilometers I log.  This is no problem when I meticulously plan out my route ahead of time, with Google Map printouts at hand.  But I don't have my husband's sixth sense with Parisian geography, and I still need plenty of warning before heading on the white-knuckle Paris ring road called Le Périphérique, so I don't improvise.  But Le Petit has a bizarrely knack with geography.  When he's in the car with a map on his lap, I am not exaggerating, I feel more confident than when I'm using my husband's car's GPS.

I'm not sure when he started mapping out his world in his head.  By age five he was drawing maps of France at school, from memory.  The summer he turned five I bought him a laminated Michelin road atlas of France on a whim, and ever since he spends most of his time on family road trips with it open on his knees, following along with his finger and comparing his itinerary to the one displayed in the dashboard.  He knows and loves only one app on our iPad: Google Maps.  He used to spend hours following roads to all corners of the earth, especially (for some reason he has never disclosed) Siberia.  He can place all the countries in Europe on a blank map -- all the countries, from the Baltic to the Balkans.  He started to learn to read by deciphering road signs, so desperate was he to learn where roads were going.

Back in September, he went with me on a shopping trip to a nearby shopping mall.  I found myself in the wrong lane and forced to turn onto a highway going the wrong direction.  He calmly talked me through the route to turn around -- he'd done it once before, with Papa -- and the next time, when I went by myself, he wanted to make sure I'd be OK on my own.

"Because, maman, if you get lost I can't come and get you!" he'd warned.

Today before our afternoon outing we looked at the map together on Google.  The A13 to the Périphérique to the Porte Dorée, I told him, and we'd meet my friend at the Château de Vincennes for a walk in the surrounding park.  I got the kids herded down to the parking garage, buckled into their car seats, and was preparing to go when I realized I didn't have the detailed map of Paris.  I considered unpacking everyone to run back in but we were already late, so I explained my predicament to Le Petit and gave him an unhelpful map of the southwestern suburbs (we were headed southeast) and a large, undetailed map of the entire Paris region.

"Do you think you can get us there with this?" I asked.  He thought he could.

By the time we stopped for gas, five minutes later, he'd already corrected my itinerary.

"You're wrong, maman, the exit we want is Porte de Vincennes and not Porte Dorée!"  And he explained my error clearly with the help of the undetailed map.

"You're right, then."  Of course he was.

Later, as I was mustering all my nerve on the Périph amid the swerving cars and motorcycles, I asked Le Petit to advise me on the lane to stay in.

"Don't worry," he said with authority, "You won't exit soon.  First there's the A6, and then the A4, and only then will will get to the Porte Dorée and the Porte de Vincennes."

"There's Porte de Châtillon..." I said vaguely.

"You're far still. The A6 is at Porte d'Orléans."

As he told me all this, I had the distinct feeling he was telling me from familiar memory, as if he were introducing me to classmates by name.  He was not just reading off the map.

A little later, I noticed a bridge.

"We must be nearing the Seine!" I remarked, glad to have finally grasped some landmark.

"That's the bridge over the train," he corrected.  "The train for the Gare d'Austerlitz.  The Seine is just afterwards."

Oh, right.

We exited to a large boulevard and a remarkable mess, the kind that one finds at any "Porte" into Paris, this one made worse by double-parked trucks packing up a large open-air street market.

"Where do I go from here? You wouldn't happen to know, would you?"  I asked Le Petit, prepared to pull over, park and pull out my smartphone if necessary.

"Go straight!" he said, "The château is straight ahead.  You can't see it from here, but it isn't far, I promise."

That's when I remembered that he'd visited the park before -- two years ago, at age four-and-a-half.  Once after that, too, with my husband, at five-and-a-half.  That was enough for him to be certain of his way.

We met my friend, we had a grand time at the Parc Floral, playing on the giant slides and running around the garden.  The weather was mild, there were kids everywhere.  We stayed until closing, and the sun was setting as we headed back to the car.  The Périphérique was slow on the way back, so I let Le Petit choose a somewhat extravagant alternate route, the A4 to the A86 to the N12 with one emergency pee pee stop somewhere after the N118.  

I don't hide how impressed I am with my little navigator, but I try to remind him, too, that it is OK to make a mistake.  "You know, if you ever don't know where we're going, it's fine.  We'll stop and we'll figure it out.  It'll be OK."  I don't want him to think the whole world relies on his sense of direction, and I know that at the moment a good portion of his whole world is Mommy and Daddy.  Even if he knows the world map (it hangs over his bed; there's also a globe on his dresser and three or four atlases in his book shelf), he's unlikely to accurately evaluate his own place in it. It's scary being a kid.

He doesn't seem unnerved by the pressure, or if he does, he doesn't tell me.  Meanwhile, I gain confidence with every outing together, and that is strange: isn't it supposed to work the other way around?