Friday, September 28, 2007

Besitos

France has a new political scandal. Well, it isn't exactly a huge political scandal and if you ask me, it's more worthy of 7th grade than the pages of Le Monde.

So don't tell anyone but, like, oh my god, President Sarkozy has been caught passing notes in class!

Yes, it's true: on his way out of a ministerial meeting Sarkozy was caught on film carrying a handwritten letter which, when magnified by some resourceful paparazzi, contained the following message (very roughly translated by yours truly):

"I feel I haven't seen you for an eternity and I miss you. Millions of besitos."

The handwriting is reportedly quite feminine. The press has already had fun in the past dissecting the first couple's rocky marriage. What to think? The official explanation is that the letter is written by Isabelle Balkany, the wife of a prominent (and notorious) mayor of a Paris suburb, to her good friend, Sarkozy's wife Cecilia. But French grammar watchers will note -- as does the article in Le Monde -- that if this is the case, the participe passé of the verb voir does not match the direct object: "J'ai l'impression de ne pas t'avoir vu," if indeed the person who hasn't been seen is feminine, should be "J'ai l'impression de ne pas t'avoir vue."

The implication is that while extramarital adventures can perhaps be expected of a politician, such a basic grammatical mistake cannot.

The country of Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle seems rather far away, does it not?

Some Thoughts on Poop

In response to my e-mail announcing le Petit's birth, a friend of mine wrote:

"I think the most striking thing that hit me about being a new parent was the focus on scatology. How much do they poop? How often do they poop? What does the poop look like (poop that looks exactly like deli mustard indicates a healthy baby). It was through this period that I realized I wasn't nearly as anally retentive as I thought, because all that thinking about poop was really starting to make me uncomfortable."

It's true. Thinking about poop almost seems comforting because it is so much less stressful than worrying about sleep, for example. And breast-fed baby poop is an entirely different substance altogether. It doesn't exactly smell good, but it doesn't exactly smell bad, either. For me, it is the easiest of the inevitabilities of parenthood to accept. He eats, he poops, I change his diaper, the cycle starts over again.

Poop makes an impression on parents. I remember that my mother used to describe the sickly orange-brown color of Seattle's Metro bus logo as "baby poop brown." I always thought it bizarre that the diapers that she'd changed all those years ago (and I am an only child) had made such a mark in her memory. Now I understand. Some days I'm afraid a good dirty diaper is the most exciting thing the mother of a newborn has to talk about. I'm not expecting to feel nostalgic, but still, this poopy phase is going to stick in my mind.

Of course, I can look at all this poop much more objectively now that I've found a reliable way to get the stains out of le Petit's clothing (and on rare and dramatic occasions, mine): my mother-in-law's secret laundry weapon, le savon de Marseille, a traditional French bar soap. Just rub the dry bar on the stain, throw the item in the laundry as usual, and voilà! The stain disappears magically on the first try! I think back to those first weeks when, using commercial stain removers, I washed the same baby blanket *three* times without getting the poop out. It felt like the same kind of fruitless lather-rinse-repeat cycle that I was going through at night trying to get le Petit to fall asleep in his crib. (Ever heard insanity defined as "trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?" By that definition, we parents are all nuts.)

I've learned to appreciate diaper changing, at least when le Petit is in a good mood. I sing to him, I tickle his tummy and massage his feet, and talk to him in my ridiculous mommy voice. "You're Mister Poopy Pants, aren't you?" I tell him, and he grins at me, proud of himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dessert

Le Petit and I went for a long walk into Paris today. On our way back, we passed in front of an elementary school just as a mother and daughter were walking out.

The mom was explaining what there was for lunch, and I only caught the very end of the discussion:

"No, you can't have Nutella for dessert. Nutella is for snack time. Dessert is yogurt or fruit or, from time to time, cake."

I passed them by on the sidewalk, smiled, and said, "Maman is right, you know."

"You've got to explain it to them early," her mother said, grinning back.

Damn right, I thought to myself. Learn what you eat and when, and learn it young. I love this country!

Right now

I've got to write down some of the things le Petit does right now because in the next umpteen years that I'll be responsible for his care and feeding I'm likely to forget the details.

He's sleeping in the Bjorn as I write. He just lifted his head up four or five times and, without waking, let it drop heavily back against my chest. It makes an impressive thud each time, and I wonder what strange, unconscious wiring is responsible for this useless reflex. He ends up in exactly the same position, his head turned to my right. He seems to prefer this side and I wonder if it's because his ear is just over my heart.

When he falls asleep while nursing his head will drop slowly into my lap; he'll often continue to move his mouth in the air or against my belly. If he wakes up a moment later, as he often does, he'll sometimes look up at me with his forehead wrinkled, confused, as if he just noticed he'd misplaced something, like his keys or his glasses. That nipple must be here somewhere, he seems to say. Other times he'll wake up with a start, eyes filled first with bleary surprise then panic like a train passenger who has just realized he's dozed off and missed his stop. If I'm feeling indulgent (which depends on how many times he's just done this, or whether or not I have a good book within reach), I'll nudge his head back up, cradling it with my elbow. When he knows the nipple is again somewhere close by, he'll start frantically turning his head from side to side and throwing it forward randomly. It reminds me of when I'm blindly looking for something at the bottom of my purse. Once the nipple is again safely in his mouth, he closes his eyes and seems to sigh in relief.

When we give him his bath he looks incredibly serious and alert, like he's trying to make a good impression but is not enjoying himself at all. I suspect that when he's older he'll have much the same expression when he goes on job interviews. He curls one arm back behind my husband's, who holds him under his armpit, and he seems to grip on with that hand for dear life. I am in charge of soaping him from head to toe and I always wash that hand last, carefully uncurling his fingers to avoid scaring him.

He gets lint between his fingers and toes, and dirt under his fingernails. I suspect he's gardening in his spare time.

He's started grabbing my index finger while he's nursing if I place my hand next to his head. If he doesn't find my hand he'll grab my shirt or my necklace. Sometimes he'll start patting my belly with his other hand. He does it all absently, but I wonder if he's just making sure I'm not going anywhere without him.

He smiles slowly. The sides of his mouth curl up first, then his lips part and his toothless gums appear, and finally a dimple shows up on each cheek. I think the dimples aren't symmetric, and I think he gets this from his father. I'll have to make my husband laugh tonight to find out.

Sometimes he'll start to smile but only the corners of his mouth will move before he gets all serious again. I think he's trying to make us work harder as parents. "That's my little guy," I'll tell him, my voice in full, high-pitched Mommy mode, "You got a smile for me?" And I'll try to tickle his belly even though I'm pretty sure he's still not ticklish.

He's already changed so much, and three months haven't even passed. I look at his first baby pictures and I almost don't recognize him. Never before has right now seemed so damn short.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Keep on dancing

Today le Petit had a Bad Nap Day. Again. One of those days when he decides that he won't sleep for more than 45 minutes at a stretch, and largely prefers just drifting off for fifteen minutes here and there after nursing.

I decided he was tired when his good mood suddenly soured at eleven o'clock. I nursed him, he dozed, waking up startled each time he realized his head had fallen into my lap and he'd lost the nipple. I felt like a human pacifier. Luckily, I had a good book to read. I kept hoping he'd end up in a deep sleep as he does now at night, but I gave up after an hour. I decided we both needed a change of scenery, and I needed to stretch my legs, so I started pacing the apartment.

I ended up spending the entire day nursing, pacing, and letting him cry briefly in his crib as I grabbed something to eat or went to the bathroom. From time to time he was in a good enough mood to let me sit down on the couch with him on my knees, where he showed off his newest skill: grabbing a set of plastic keys with his hand. (I'm not entirely sure that he does it on purpose yet, and I suspect he thinks I'm a raving lunatic when I start clapping and cheering each time, but I was duly impressed.)

My mother-in-law came by to look after him for an hour while I went to a physical therapy appointment. He'd just nursed -- he'd pratically spent the day doing nothing but that -- so I knew he wouldn't be hungry while I was gone. He impressed grandma with a huge, poopy diaper, followed by a screaming fit. She gave me a frantic phone call at the end.

"Don't worry," I said, realizing that I'm no longer so impressed by his fatigue meltdowns. "Just keep walking around with him in your arms and he'll eventually drop off."

Sure enough, when I got home ten minutes later, he was asleep and my mother-in-law went home perplexed but relieved. He stayed asleep for twenty minutes before waking up again, screaming.

Another round of nursing and pacing later, I decided that I needed to make things more interesting. I put on Dire Straits and started carefully dancing around the living room with le Petit propped up with his head on my shoulder or cradled belly-down in my arms. The CD finished, his eyes were still open, so I put on Sheryl Crow.

I was busy turning in circles around the coffee table and singing along rather badly to "Every Day is a Winding Road" when I realized he had finally fallen asleep. I leaned back on the futon and grabbed my book, letting him rest on my chest with his arms and legs hanging limply at each side.

Was it the bad singing? Was it the clumsy dancing? Or did he just decide I'd made a good effort and deserved a break? I suppose I'll never know.

And anyway, he was awake again thirty minutes later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blessed

It seems impossible, but every day I love him more.

His crib is next to our bed for the moment, pushed between my side and the wall. I can lean over and watch him sleep, or just lie in bed myself and listen to all the marvelous noises he makes. When he's in a deep sleep he makes no noise at all, but just after I put him down or just before he wakes up briefly in the middle of the night he'll sigh and stretch and make small squeaking noises. I'll peer over the rails and find him completely turned on his side, or on his back with his two arms curled up beside his head like a bodybuilder. His lips are parted just slightly and his eyelids with their delicate, long eyelashes flutter.

When he's asleep in the Bjorn, as he is now, I can bend down and kiss the top of his head. It is so soft and smells so sweet and warm. He sometimes squirms and stretches his legs and kicks me gently in the thighs, then lifts his head and lets it fall back against my chest, all without waking. Even if I thought I could transfer him to his crib without waking him (which I don't), I want to keep him snuggled close to me, so he feels as safe and content when he wakes as when he fell asleep.

He has a full, dimpled, open-mouthed smile that he often gives me when I change his diaper or when I'm sitting with him propped up against my knees. I get the feeling that it's involuntary and spontaneous, that he smiles despite himself. The joy of living, or perhaps the joy of being with the people who love him the most, just hits him suddenly and he can't help but grin. I feel the same way.

Every day now it hits me just how much I love him, just how much I love his father, and how happy and grateful I am just to be here with them both.

So the grin, maybe he gets that from me...

...but the dimples, they're definitely from his father.

Un vrai petit américain

It's official: le Petit is now a Yankee. I explained to him that this means that he's an American and NOT that he's a fan of that New York baseball team I won't mention: I lived in Boston too long to let him get confused.

Yesterday we got his passport photos taken. There are only a few studios in Paris that will take American-format photos, but I found one within walking distance of our apartment. It was still a bit of a hike to get there, but le Petit was in a good mood. He remained calm, happy, and awake up until five minutes before we arrived, when he calmly fell asleep without a fuss.

I then, of course, had to wake him up for the photo. When the photographer saw us arrive, he was skeptical that he'd be able to take a decent photo. "How old? Two months? It won't work. He'll need to have his eyes open and his head straight. And, of course we'll need a white background." Luckily I'd brought along a white pillowcase to drape across my lap as I held him up. After four or five tries, the photographer had a decent shot, which I find positively adorable. I think le Petit already looks like a serious and seasoned traveler.

This morning we had a nine o'clock appointment at the American Embassy to turn in all of the paperwork. Once more I had to wake up le Petit from a sound and happy sleep, this time at seven-thirty this morning. Despite that, he was patient with us as we took him through two security checkpoints and into a classically American, Department-of-Motor-Vehicles-style waiting room.

Two interviews and 140-odd dollars later he's all signed up to receive his very own Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Social Security Number, and American passport. He also was given a little American flag by the vice consul himself, which I promptly stuck onto the back of the stroller.

Un vrai petit américain indeed. I'm going to start teaching him to sing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sieste à tout prix

According to my mother, I was a terrible napper as a child. One of my earliest memories is of standing up on my bed in the afternoon and peering through my bedroom window down at my parents gardening outside. I think I was screaming at them. Why sleep when the daytime world is so darn interesting?

My (weary) mother told me once that later on I'd grow up and wish I could take naps and no longer be able to. I didn't believe her.

She has gotten her revenge.

I am grateful, oh so grateful, that le Petit has decided to sleep very well in his crib at night, waking up only once or twice on most nights. It takes a good hour or two to nurse him to sleep, but once he's down I can usually get a solid three or four hours of sleep myself. Bliss! Alas, now that I'm no longer as stressed as I was in the first few weeks of motherhood, I'm no longer functioning on adrenaline and I've reverted to my previous sleep requirements: eight hours a night is ideal, seven is acceptable, six is enough for me to function, albeit in a fairly rotten mood.

I've been getting an average of six hours of sleep a night for the last week, and on Friday I was starting to get seriously grumpy. I was mad at myself for being grumpy because now that le Petit is sleeping in his own bed at night, I feel the heavens have given me a huge gift and I don't deserve to complain about anything else for at least a month.

My father and his wife are visiting and have been doing their best to help my husband and I get some rest and some time to ourselves. On Friday morning, they looked after le Petit while I went to the hairdresser and even managed to get him to take a forty minute nap in his crib. Miracle! Alas, he didn't make it through more than one measly sleep cycle, and by early afternoon was fussy and generally making himself unpleasant. Like mother, like son.

Time for the Bjorn! I strapped him in and started pacing the apartment. I've discovered a particularly twisted part of infant logic: the longer they've gone without sleep, the harder it is to put them down and the angrier they are about the whole idea. Luckily, I've built up some strategies, some parental sleep subterfuge, and I was pretty sure I could win this battle. Pacing wasn't working so I started pacing AND bouncing. I started adding in some workout moves from my body sculpt class, some lunges and leg lifts. (I've decided I'm going to put together a colic workout video. I won't promise a calm baby or buns of steel, but I find there's a certain satisfaction in working on two lost causes at the same time.)

After fifteen minutes or so he was finally KO, and I was feeling pretty worn out myself. "It's too bad I can't sleep in this thing," I mentioned to my dad's wife, and she asked, "Why not?"

Yeah, why not? I made a nice mound of pillows on one end of the couch and tentatively leaned back. I felt more pregnant than when I was pregnant, kind of like a listing cargo ship. I decided I was tired enough to make it work. Le Petit put his chin to one side, splayed his limbs out like a frog and continued to sleep.

Five minutes after my dad and his wife left to go for a walk, just as I was ready to put down my book, le Petit opened an eye. He looked at me serenely, still happy to be snuggled next to Mom. "Dammit," I thought, "Go back to sleep you little poop."

Eventually he started to fuss and I took him out of the Bjorn and unceremoniously plopped him down next to the mound of pillows. He started to smile and talk to me.

"Yeah, you are too darn cute, but you know what, you're even cuter when you're asleep," I told him in my high-pitched Mommy voice with just a teensy bit of sarcasm. He continued smiling at me, confused. I curled myself up in a U around him and closed my eyes as he babbled and flailed his arms and legs and whacked me periodically in the face.

When he got tired of his baby aerobics, I put him back in the Bjorn and decided to try something new: vacuuming. "Babies just love white noise," I explained to him, "It's in the owners' manual." He was unconvinced but calm as I vacuumed the living room, but decided he'd had enough and started crying before I could attack the hallway. "Didn't you read the owners' manual?" I asked him, exasperated.

I was irritatedly shoving the vacuum cleaner into a corner and le Petit was starting to genuinely scream when my dad and his wife walked through the front door. With hardly a word I grabbed the keys from them and left. "I think I need to go for a walk," I managed before slamming the door shut behind me.

Le Petit screamed in the hallway. Normal, I thought. He screamed in the elevator, and all the way out the front door of our building. Again, normal enough. But he broke his own rules and continued as we passed in front of the office building across the street, through the square, and halfway over the pedestrian bridge to the bank of the Seine. There he caught his breath for a few minutes before starting to howl again as we crossed over to an island in the middle of the river.

On our way we passed office workers on the sidewalk chatting and holding their cigarettes and plastic coffee cups. We passed nannies pushing strollers with quiet, complacent, pacifier-sucking babies with bored, bovine stares. We passed a couple of punky teenagers with oversized t-shirts and sagging jeans. And finally, on the island we passed in front of an elementary school just as class was letting out and hordes of chicly-dressed moms were picking up their equally chicly-dressed children. As le Petit continued to scream louder and louder, I was more and more aware of the spectacle we made as we passed by.

Le Petit has lungs. I mean, I know I'm his mom and these things are supposed to impress me, but I honestly think that he's decibels beyond any of his colleagues. He's obviously destined for a career on a stock market trading floor or as an opera singer or perhaps just as a particularly rowdy football fan. When people turn to stare, I try to tell myself that they're just looking at me in pity and they understand that there's nothing his poor, long-suffering mother can actually do for him at that moment. Thankfully, he's usually screaming loud enough that I can't hear their advice to me or their comments to each other.

At first, I hugged him close, murmured reassuring words (though I doubt he could hear me) and kissed him repeatedly on the top of his head. By the time we passed in front of the school, my arms hung at my sides and I stared emptily in front of me, ignoring him altogether.

He suddenly stopped crying and looked up at me with his huge brown eyes. Two long, wide tear traces still shone on his cheeks. "You know what? You're a pain in the ass," I told him. "But I love you anyway," I guiltily added. And then, just like that, he closed his eyes, let his head fall forward against my chest, and started to sleep.

And it lasted just long enough for me to walk back home in peace.

Les coquettes qui allaitent

I found a web site I simply love: www.mamanana.com, a French nursing wear merchant. Most or all of their items are American, I think, but they bring a particular French touch to the concept: they stress that you can breastfeed your child and still be stylish, chic, coquette, and they explain precisely how to do it.

After two months of wearing nothing but jeans and t-shirts, this was exactly what I needed. I bought the top cache-coeur and the robe flamenco, both in black, plus a nursing bra that doesn't actually look like a nursing bra. I particularly appreciated all of their hints for choosing a flattering fit for different post-maternity curves, with very specific dos and don'ts. It turns out that the top and the dress are so comfortable and flattering I'll likely wear both of them long after I've finished nursing.

I also bought le Petit an outfit that announces proudly that he drinks his milk at the source. Never too early to vaunt that you're un vrai gastronome.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Joy

Everyone tells you that the first few weeks are difficult. When I was pregnant, all my friends with children told me variations of "it's so much easier when they're on the inside." I knew that for me it would be true enough: I had an "easy," happy pregnancy, but I was anxious about le Petit's arrival. Before he was born I kept telling him to be patient with his mom, that I had no idea what I was doing and would surely be a klutz at first. I promised I'd apply myself and learn fast.

However anxious I'd been, the first six weeks were even more difficult than I'd imagined. I need sleep, I need predictability, or so I thought: I improvised, we made it. On le Petit's two-month birthday I still felt more or less the same way I did when I finished the Paris Marathon: exhausted, amazed that I'd survived, and wondering if I'd just signed up to do the stupidest thing I'd ever attempted in my life.

But somewhere along the way le Petit started smiling. And talking to us. He addresses us with such earnest "arreughs" that we can't help but pay attention.

I'll also admit that after a month and a half of being taken care of by my husband, my mother-in-law, and my husband's aunt, I was dreading my husband's return to work full time. I didn't know how well I'd do on my own all day with le Petit. Indeed, the first days were stressful, tiring, but slowly I learned the tricks I needed to make it work.

And then one day last week it all clicked into place. I went to the hopital for a postnatal meeting and ended up as the only mother who showed up, so I had a private consultation with the children's nurse. She gave me some breastfeeding advice, then reassured me that in general I was doing just fine. And it suddenly occurred to me that she was right.

After the meeting, le Petit and I went on our near-daily walk along the Seine. It was a beautifully sunny day, and Paris was bathed in a kind of golden sunlight particular to September. Le Petit was hungry so we stopped in a park. We sat on a bench along the river, where le Petit stared up happily at the trees and I watched the barges go by. He finished nursing and I sat him on my lap and leaned over him and held him close.

The stress and fatigue of the last two months evaporated, at least for that moment, and all that was left was joy. The joy of being his mother. The joy of sharing a perfect autumn day with him for the very first time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

La crèche

I have no reason to complain, I know: French law gives me an automatic ten weeks of maternity leave in addition to the six weeks before the due date. I or my husband can take an additional three years of unpaid leave and be guaranteed our jobs will be held open when we return. I decided to take off until January so I could stay at home with le Petit until he's almost six months old. Long enough, I figured, for me to breastfeed him and delay worrying about bottles (or to build up a supply of frozen breast milk, which is my current strategy). We'd been assured that a place in our town's excellent municipal day care would most certainly be available by then. After all, we'd put our name on the waiting list a full year ahead of time, when I was merely three months pregnant.

Alas, French government administration is rarely so simple to navigate. I should have known. On Friday, I trudged over to city hall with le Petit in the Bjorn to pop into the office de la petite enfance and see if I could find out any news.

It turns out that we're on the waiting list, despite the fact that we put our application in the first day it was possible, that both of us work full time, that le Petit is our first child, and our town has supposedly some of the best and most plentiful crèches in the Paris region.

"Where are we on the waiting list?" I ask, naively.

"We don't give numbers," they explain, "Because it depends on so many things..." Like how well you know the mayor, I think to myself.

"The best thing is for you to do is make an appointment with madame l'adjoint maire in charge of daycare. She can explain."

I made my appointment. She's apparently not available until early October, so I have plenty of time to uselessly worry about it all. The other, very common option in Paris is to find a nanny, but I'd concerned about leaving Petit with someone I will most likely know very little about.

So I'm preparing myself to beg, plead, perhaps bribe (okay, so I don't have the nerve, or probably the pocketbook) to get a place. Why do I fear this will be a very French experience?

Luckily, my mother-in-law is on the case, and has already canvassed neighbors, colleagues and friends to find a good nanny if we end up needing one.

And, after all, we have three and half more months...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hippie baby sling

It worked! Le Petit has been asleep in the sling for most of the evening and I have both hands free to eat dinner and write blog entries! The key was to nurse him in the sling until he fell asleep. We'll see what he truly thinks of it when he wakes up, but I'm hopeful. I'm already imagining myself carrying him around the trendy bobo neighborhoods of Paris. We'll be hitting the organic food shops in the 11th arrondissement together to pick up fair trade baby food. Or something.

Now, how do I get him out of this thing so we can both (hopefully) sleep through the rest of the night?

Off roading

Today the perfectly clear blue sky that eluded us all August finally graced Paris. Although I napped with le Petit until noon, trying to make up for a particularly fragmented night, there was no question of staying in the apartment all afternoon.

We load up the car with baby gear and baby. There is always a stressful rush to see if we can get le Petit downstairs to the parking garage without a scene that makes us even more popular with the neighbors. Inevitably we forget something. Often we find ourselves a few blocks away before we realize we have no idea where we're actually going.

"Bois de Boulogne? Or Forêt de Saint-Germain?" my husband asks. "Those are the only two places we can go with the poussette."

Le Petit looked up at me skeptically from his combination car seat and stroller bed where he was calm, for the moment. Since he was born, I sit in the back seat and my husband plays chauffeur to both of us. The theory is that I can help calm Petit should he start crying. In practice all my attempts at calming him are in vain, and I'm left to face his imploring, tear-stained, upside-down face as he looks up from where he's buckled in next to me. I used to try and stroke his tummy and face and explain in a gentle voice that I couldn't hold him until we arrived. Now I often pull up the stroller sun roof so he can't see me, cross my arms, and slump against the window in frustration.

As with most baby-related household decisions, I was ready to leave our destination up to my husband: that way when our plans derail and it all ends in tears, it isn't my fault. I'm sick of both the Bois de Boulogne and the Forêt de Saint-Germain, though, so I open my big mouth: isn't there a nice paved bike path somewhere in the Forêt de Rambouillet?

Forty minutes of driving and twenty-five minutes of crying later, we've arrived and le Petit has fallen asleep in the car bed. We're home free: nothing left to do but snap the bed on the stroller frame and we're off. Alas, we chose the wrong parking lot and the bike path was a good kilometer away, but no matter, we have a detailed map.

We arrive at a crossroads. We can continue on the paved road or we can take a shortcut down a dirt path that looks practicable enough. My husband asks me again for my advice.

"Uhh, whatever you think..."

And we're off. Dirt path becomes grassy rut becomes muddy trail strewn with stones. Even the super-duper third level suspension on the poussette isn't enough to damper the bumps. We start swearing at each other as we try to lift and carry the stroller over a particularly rough patch. I decide it's a damn shame Citroën with their magical hydraulic suspension doesn't make baby gear.

"He's opening an eye, he's opening an eye!" my husband starts yelling. Merde, c'est pas vrai, comment on peut être aussi con!" (Shit, it's not true, how can we be such idiots!)

I look and sure enough, le Petit has opened both eyes and is looking up at his cons de parents. We're still far from the bike path and he's evidently far from falling back asleep. By the time we reach the pavement, he's crying and his father and I are wearily staring at each other in disgust.

We trudge down the path for a good while before breaking out the Emergency Bjorn Backup System. My husband stops to scream and kick the trunk of a nearby tree. Le Petit stays merrily awake for most of the rest of the promenade, falling asleep just before we get back to the car. He wakes up upon finding himself back in his car bed, and screams for much of the way back home.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Making Friends bis

The hospital where I gave birth holds bimonthly postnatal meetings for mothers and their babies. I've gone twice so far, and probably nothing else I've done in the last two months has been more helpful for my sanity.

Like most modern moms I have a shelf of books on parenting. I've decided that within their pages I could find support for just about any parenting decision, from feeding one-hundred-percent vegan organic fair-trade baby food to parking the child in front of the television to watch marathon CSI reruns. The books are helpful, yes, especially when I'm trying to decode le Petit's sleep cycles or figure out how to cut his fingernails, but mostly they stress and annoy me.

The problem is, I expect them to work like an owner's manual, but not a single one explains the model I came home from the hospital with:

Baby boy, 3,840 kilograms, 51,5 centimeters, won't sleep anywhere but next to parents, loves to be stretched out belly down on Dad's forearm, doesn't accept a pacifier, has sixth sense which allows him to wake up within fifteen minutes when placed asleep in crib.

Our friends and family are little help. According to our parents, we were both "easy" children when we were under two. (I suspect they've thrown a rosy veil of amnesia over what happened over thirty years ago. It's a shame for them, as they've missed an opportunity for us to finally be justly grateful.) Few of our friends have had children with similar characteristics, yet they all have advice: "You're spoiling him, he'll pick up bad habits, you should just keep trying a pacifier/put flour in his milk so he sleeps longer/buy a magic mobile that makes ocean sounds/etc."

(To be fair, I have one dear friend from college, like a sister to me, who has offered me tons of good advice for which I'll be eternally grateful. But, alas, she's in Delaware and I'm six time zones away in Paris, and I don't want to bother her constantly as she's busy chasing after a toddler.)

Just when I think we have the most bizarre, incomprehensible baby on the planet, I go to one of these meetings and a find... miracle! Other mothers with the same problems! There's the two-week-old that wants to nurse constantly, the three-month-old that only recently started sleeping in her own bed, the four-month-old that refuses to take naps. Oh yes, one mother confided, she and her husband had eaten many meals with their child in the Baby Bjorn, and they'd learned to put a napkin over her head to avoid sprinkling her with crumbs.

At the end of the meeting, I suggested we all exchange email addresses and phone numbers so we could perhaps meet up and go walking together. To my surprise, all the other mothers were enthusiastic. It seemed that we were all going stir crazy at home, desperate for outside contact. Most of all, we all wanted to talk to others who were with us in the trenches.

Next week I'll send out my first e-mail to everyone and try to organize something. I can't wait!

Making Friends

I return home late in the day, more tired than I should be since I'd managed to steal nine hours of fragmented sleep the night before. A neighbor I don't recognize is bent over her mailbox in the entrance of my building.

"Bonsoir," I say as cheerfully as I can, and hold the door while she picks up her mail.

"Bonsoir," she replies a few seconds later, distractedly and little ungratefully, I decide. I've become French enough to consider the etiquette of greetings very important.

As we both enter the elevator, she takes a look at me and Petit, who is stapped to my chest in the Bjorn.

"You must live above us," she says, and not in that how-cute-you-have-a-new-baby way, but the same way she might have asked me if we were breaking down a concrete wall in our spare time.

I try to smile and probably fail.

She continues, "You're on the sixth floor, right? Because we're on the fifth. We hear him sometimes at night."

"Well, we aren't sleeping too well at the moment," I manage.

"You were on vacation last week, no?"

Yes, I admit, we were on vacation. I knew le Petit had lungs, but so much so that I'm interrogated by the neighbors? The walls in our apartment aren't that thin.

"You look tired," she says with what might be tiny note of pity, and then adds just before she steps out, "He's cute... when he's not crying."

Thanks.

L'heure des mamans

It's six o'clock in the evening on Wednesday as I cross in front of the Hôtel de Ville. The suits I saw at noon are now gone, all still prisoners in nearby office buildings until seven or eight. They've been replaced by children, everywhere, all seemingly under six, with their tired mothers in tow.

It is l'heure des mamans.

I realize I'm following behind two women pushing strollers and trying with weary vigilance to survey four other childen old enough to walk. "Théo, come here now, and hold on to the back of the stroller!" The Théo in question continues merrily down the street, oblivious; his mother speeds up and jerkily grabs his arm. She repeats herself.

One of the women is pregnant. If I'm counting correctly the blond heads that seem to be hers, she'll soon have four children. Four children! Right now I can't possibly imagine her motivation.

Le Petit is in the Bjorn, where he has -- finally -- fallen asleep. With his arms and legs hanging down limply I could almost forget he was there, but with disbelief I realize he's my entry ticket to this new club. Now I have something in common with these exhausted women: we're all outside on a late Wednesday afternoon, dragging children from one corner of town to the other, wearing our dark circles like a badge of honor.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

La promenade

You want to take a nice, long walk along the Seine or to the Bois de Boulogne, or just pop out to the grocery store. Here are the rules of the game.

Les règles du Petit :

1) Impressioner le voisinage : Impress the neighbors


Make sure to cry, and loudly, in the hallway where your voice carries particularly well and you're certain to impress the neighbors your parents are most likely to run into regularly. You can stop to catch your breath in the elevator, but save some energy for one last, good howl as you pass in front of the concierge on your way out the door.

Le Petit says: This morning, I was in mid-crise as Mom struggled to get the front door open with the stroller. The nice man who cleans the hallway tried to distract me by jiggling his large collection of keys in front of my nose, but I was undeterred. I kept crying until we passed the pizzeria outside.

2) Attention aux chaussettes : Lose your socks whenever possible

Shake your legs as hard as you can, rub your feet together, twist inside your blanket, bref, do everything you can to make your socks fall off. Especially those hand knit ones from Grandma.

Le Petit says: On our last walk, I lost one sock right outside the front door right before we went back into the apartment building. Sure, it would have been more fun if I'd lost it farther away from the home -- I tried my best -- but it was nevertheless amusing to see Mom retrace her steps, then try to bend down and pick up the sock with me in the Bjorn, especially since she'd already dropped the mail and her keys trying to open the door.

3. Savoir dire merde à la poussette : Put up with the stroller, but only temporarily

The stroller can be fun briefly, but let's face it, the world is more interesting when seen from Mom or Dad's arms. In fact, it gets more and more interesting the farther we get from home, so make sure to wait to cry and express one's desire to get the heck outta this stupid rolling thing and break out the Bjorn Emergency Backup System.

Le Petit says: It's fun to see Mom push the empty stroller back home with me strapped to her chest. This morning we went to the pharmacy and she used the stroller to bring back a rented breast pump. Can't say I wasn't thinking ahead for her -- that thing is heavy!

4. La manifestation contestataire : Make your presence known when it counts

Sometimes you just need to express yourself. You need to explain to everyone how the world is not fair. Or how you're tired, you need to sleep, but the world around you is just too darn interesting for you to shut your eyes just yet. Why do it when you don't have an audience?

Le Petit says: The other day I started getting upset in the supermarket, but waited until Mom got to the checkout line to really start screaming. Mom had me in the Bjorn, so I heard a nice lady nearby ask her, "Have you tried a pacifier?"

"I've tried five pacifiers," was my mom's weary response. Darn right. I hate those stupid plastic things. If I have something to say, no one's going to make me be quiet!

"Bon courage," the nice lady said before fleeing.

Once Mom and I were outside and on the way home, I fell asleep.

5. Non aux siestes forcées : Resist sleep, especially after six o'clock

Yeah, you're tired by seven, but the evening is when things get interesting. Dad comes home and cooks dinner. If you're awake, you can sit at the table and watch Dad cut up Mom's dinner as she tries to eat one-handed. Plus, who wants to miss the chance to get really worked up and upset before going to bed?

Le Petit says: Since I've been going to bed with Mom and Dad at eleven, Mom's been trying to get me to sleep from six to eight. She uses her favorite tool, la promenade, but I see that one coming. I'll drift off for a half an hour in the Bjorn, but how can I fall asleep for long when I know the best part of the day is coming up?

Mom says: Let's face it, I'm outsmarted. At least le Petit is determined I get some exercise.

La Rentrée

Remember how you felt in late August, counting down the last days of summer before the big day back to school? You were used to sleeping in late and watching television to all hours of the night, and you dreaded the coming nights of homework and enforced bedtimes. Yet you were also tired of summer, of daytime television soap operas and game shows, of seeing the same neighborhood kids every day. Despite yourself, you felt the excitement building for a new year: you bought all the bright, new school supplies on the list, and you couldn't wait to show off your new back to school clothes. The summer was almost over, but that was as it should be, no?

With practically everyone on a three week vacation sometime in July or August, "back to school" is a national phenomenon in France. There's even a name, and you hear it everywhere from late August to mid-September: La Rentrée. Starting in July, business starts falling into a midsummer torpor as tasks are postponed: "We'll just have to look into that again at la Rentrée," is everyone's excuse. Paris empties in August as beaches everywhere in Europe fill up. It's impossible to see your family doctor, and almost as difficult to find a baguette. It seems that absolutely everyone has spead out their towel on the sand and is indulging in trashy tabloid magazines that detail "les vacances des stars."

That all was nice for a few weeks, but now the time has come for serious things, for fall fashions, for the new books touted in la rentrée litteraire, for the upcoming grape harvest. And, of course, back to school and back to work.

Our neighborhood is almost equally divided between office and apartment buildings, and at noon today flocks of dark suits invaded the sidewalk cafés, the boulangerie and the park. I walked around in my jeans and beat up tennis shoes, my hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, le Petit strapped to my chest in the Baby Bjorn. I felt out of place. I got a few smiles from those that weren't plugged into their cell phones. I hope they were jealous...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Born to Bjorn

This is a first for me, a blog entry written with le Petit asleep... in the Baby Bjorn baby carrier on my chest. Not ideal, but at least I have both arms free. I've heard tell of other high need babies whose mothers spent the three months of their maternity leave with them strapped on their chests, trying as best they could to do housework, keep up with e-mail, and stay sane. Alas, I'm short and the Bjorn leaves the baby's feet dangling down too far for me to sit very comfortably, but I'm getting the hang of it.

I bought two fancy-dancy hippie baby carriers from the US, a sling and a wrap, but either I'm incompetent at adjusting them (it's more challenging than it looks) or I waited too long to try them out, because le Petit will have nothing to do with either of them. In fact, trying them out has proven a good way to ruin his otherwise good mood, which I'm loathe to do. We've heard far too much crying lately.

We've begrudgingly accepted that le Petit sleeps much better in our bed than anywhere else at night. His night wakings had increased to the rhythm of once an hour to half an hour, which neither of his parents could handle. When we finally gave in and put him in bed from the beginning of the night he slept four hours straight, then five the next night, and finally a record of seven. That much, at least, is positive: we all get enough sleep now to function. I still usually have to nurse him to sleep before carefully putting him down and cuddling up next to him, as being next to me is sufficient for him to stay asleep but usually not enough for him to fall asleep. It all leaves me wondering when I'll be able to get him into his own crib, or if he continues to sleep with us, how I'm going to start moving his bedtime up to a reasonable hour without going to bed myself at eight or nine.

In the day, he'll rarely nap anywhere but in the stroller or the car (if I'm lucky) or in the Bjorn (if I'm desperate). We've got three books on infant sleep and they all predict dire results if a child gets used to falling asleep in a moving vehicle, next to a parent, or on the breast. So, in addition to being fed up and frustrated, my husband and I are worried that we're messing up le Petit's sleep patterns for years to come.

As a friend points out, no one goes to college needing to be driven to sleep in the back of a car or nursed to sleep by their mother. But what happens when I go back to work in January and le Petit goes to day care? He will suddenly be left alone in some crib to howl it out. I'm worried that the personnel will be so frustrated that he'll be sent home for "failure to adjust."

I look down at him now, peacefully asleep with his head against my chest, and I know he hears my heartbeat and feels safe. I carefully take off his warm hat -- we were ready for a long walk outside before he fell asleep before I opened the front door -- and he barely stirs. His soft, thin hair stands up like a halo. His long eyelashes move and his breathing is audible and irregular; he must be in REM sleep. What is he dreaming of? The ten minutes he wailed as I walked back from my failed attempt to get him to sleep in his stroller this morning? Or, and I dearly hope, something happy: being curled up next to Mom at night, or talking baby talk (Arrrreuh! Geu!) with Dad. His mouth moves, and I'm not sure, but I think he may be smiling.