Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Belly


Le Petit and my husband on our last walk around le Parc de Versailles: who says a man can never know what it's like to be pregnant?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Somewhere around here

Ca y est, I've crossed some sort of threshold of belonging, and look more like a vraie parisienne than ever before. I've apparently shed my American skin and now look at home enough that people, everywhere, wherever I go, are asking me for directions.

Am I finally chic enough to fit in? Is it the haircut? My new Prada glasses? Have I finally figured how to knot a scarf à la française? I'd like to flatter myself, but it is probably just because my new status as mother is making me leave the house more often during the day, and almost always with le Petit in tow. Everyone knows that a young mother with a baby is usually not too far from home, and likely knows the neighborhood.

I've always dreaded that part in a language course when you learn to give and understand directions. I'm bad enough at giving directions in English; I forget street names, I mix up my left and my right, so my troubles start before I even tackle vocabulary. Trying to keep track of words for landmarks, of when and where to turn gauche or droite, all quickly escapes me and I feel trapped in a linguistic labyrinth as well. It doesn't help that I still don't know how to say block in French, so I can't translate my only accurate measure of distance.

So, when someone comes up to me with a friendly, "Excusez-moi, madame, mais savez-vous où se trouve..." I'm flattered that I look knowledgeable, but I also cringe. I try to pay close attention what, exactly, they're looking for. I repeat it back to them, partly to gain a bit of time. Then I slowly start explaining the route as best I can.

"Uhmmm, the Marroniers retirement home? Okay, well, you start going in that direction," I indicate one of the gates to the park. "Then, it's right away on your left." Whew, that one was easy.

Once I'm thanked and the person is on their way, I panic and wonder if I didn't screw up and send them in exactly the wrong direction. I repeat my explanation to myself while tracing the route in the air, which may make the person think twice about trusting me if they happen to glance back.

A couple of times I've judged the request too complicated and my knowledge of local geography too shaky for me to even attempt to respond.

"The cemetery? I know that it's that way, somewhere," I say, vaguely indicating a direction. "Against the train tracks," I add, hoping the only piece of information I was certain of might prove helpful. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you anything else."

Once my lack of confidence was so patent that, despite a perfectly good response (with a street name for once, to boot!), a woman turned and headed off in the opposite direction. She left me wondering, was she really looking for the post office, or was it just a test?

"That's it, I've unmasked another one!" I imagined her muttering as she walked away, "An American tourist, disguised in fausse parisienne!"

So I'll keep practicing my gauches and droites and studying the municipal map until I can pull it off flawlessly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The House of Brownie

A long line at the bakery yesterday left me staring for some time at the hand-lettered signs in the pastry case. It was no surprise to me that the American dessert fad that has hit France has not spared our local boulangerie. I wasn't expecting, however, to find a uniquely American touch: the brownies and muffins nestled amongst the croissants and brioches were decorated with superfluous apostrophes.

Although we all learn in school that apostrophes are used to indicate possession (Kathy's house) or build a contraction (it's = it + is), there's a large segment of the American population that throws them in, willy-nilly, wherever there's a word that ends in S. It's almost as if we wish them to be not just useful but ornamental.

Alas, the French seem to have recently picked up on this American mistake, and I've started seeing decorative apostrophes cropping up everywhere. Perhaps it's because the possessive apostrophe doesn't exist in French, and French schoolchildren have to bend their brains around possessive phrases in English to avoid saying "the dog of Jenny is bigger than the cat of Sam." Those that grasp the concept soon get carried away.

Our local boulangerie proudly sells brownie's maison, muffin's maison, and something labelled drop's, which looks like a flattened croissant sprinkled with chocolate chips. The maison designation indicates that all these delicacies are homemade, although at 2 euros apiece, I'm still not tempted.

So, I ask myself, is brownie's house bigger than muffin's house? And why don't the poor chocolate chip cookies maison earn their own apostrophe, do they look tasty enough on their own?

Today when I saw a Sécurité System's truck parked in the neighborhood I wondered, why is it that our worst habits are the easiest to export?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

La reprise

I love to run. I've been a distance runner since middle school, when I realized that despite my natural lack of coordination, I could learn to like at least one sport, after all. I was soon hooked, and I've missed it ever since I temporarily gave it up over nine months ago, on my doctors' advice, at the end of my first trimester of pregnancy. I kept using the stationary bike at the gym for a while, and kept hiking and walking, albeit slowly, up until le Petit was born. Five days after his birth, I was out walking again as much to stay sane as to get back in shape, since la promenade was and still is one of the most effective ways of getting him to sleep. But I hadn't started running again, and was waiting prudently to have finished (almost) all of the pelvic floor reeducation sessions that are routinely prescribed postpartum in France.

As le Petit started sleeping well and my life started getting back into a routine that I could recognize, I began to miss my daily runs. I was jealous each time a runner passed me and le Petit in the stroller, especially since fall is the most beautiful season to be a distance runner. Especially on clear, cool days, when the sun gives more golden light than heat and you get to chase dry, rustling leaves down the sidewalk. So, last week, with all but four of the ten reeducation sessions finished, I decided to kick the dust from my running shoes and try a short, five kilometer loop around the island near our apartment.

I left le Petit with my mother-in-law, who conveniently lives in the neighborhood, and headed out, promising myself to be back in a half an hour lest something happen that required the immediate intervention of Mom. I know the route by heart and could probably run it, push a stroller, or Bjorn it with my eyes shut, but it seemed longer than usual. My breathing was difficult. I felt every one of those nine months of time off, but enjoyed myself anyway. I can back feeling high, thrilled to have reclaimed a part of my old self. And le Petit wasn't even too difficult with Grandma while I was gone (he'd eaten just before I left, so I was more concerned about her nerves than I was about him).

"Didn't even hurt!" I bragged on my return. And it didn't, at least not that night, but I ached the day after, and even worse the day after that. But the day after that I threw caution to the wind and headed out for another loop. After all, the first one went so well...

After a couple kilometers, I felt like I did at the 38th kilometer of the Paris Marathon. I was still running, but other runners were passing me as if I were on a walk with the stroller. I suddenly, self-consciously realized how unsexy I must look with my post-pregnancy thighs in my running tights. I stopped caring how I looked at around three kilometers, when I stopped gratefully at a red light, leaned on a lamppost and moaned quietly to myself in pain. My breathing was no worse than the first time and most of my body was okay, but my legs felt like they'd been off playing rugby without my knowledge.

I was too proud and too tough to stop and walk back, but I decided that for a few weeks at least, I'd limit myself to running once on the weekend.

Funny to think that just over a year ago I ran the 20 kilomètres de Paris, accompanied by my husband and -- although we didn't know it at the time -- a very tiny le Petit. When I think about that, I realize I have every reason to be patient with my body. It's done quite a lot this year.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

La grève

Today is my first serious transit strike à la française. The kind of strike that paralyzes the country, that can bring out the French equivalent of the national guard, that can bring down a presidency. Seven Métro lines are shut down completely, eight more are running with extremely restricted service, and only the fully automatic Line 14 is operating normally. Regional trains are stopped as is Paris' commuter rail, and even the high-speed TGV is seriously affected. If you want to know whether or not you can make it to your destination, good luck finding out on the web: both the website of the RATP, the Parisian transit authority, and the website of the SNCF, the national rail service, are overwhelmed with traffic.

This time around, I'm more fascinated than upset. Since I'm still on maternity leave, I can enjoy the drama without any stress, as I have nowhere to go but for my usual short walks around the neighborhood. Since my suburb has as many offices as apartments and most office workers took the day off, it is strangely calm today, not unlike a typical day in the middle of August. Luckily, my husband's office was transferred to our neighborhood over the summer, so he is now only a five minute walk away and had no trouble going to work this morning.

This strike may decide Sarkozy's fate, as it is the direct result of public sector reforms that he is trying to push through early in his presidency. Rail and transit workers have special retirement benefits that in some cases have existed since the days of coal-burning locomotives, benefits which allow them to retire years before the average French worker. They're striking to maintain these privileges, and for what I think is one of the first times in French history, they're striking without the sympathy of the majority of the French people.

Ironically, the 35-hour work week which was created by the left has taken the teeth out of periodic transit strikes. Instead of working a simple 35-hour week, most salaried employees receive extra days off, called RTT days, as compensation for working normally up to forty hours. These extra days can often be taken off with little notice, so many people in Paris simply didn't go to work today, and those who did work showed up late and left early. If the strike drags on for a week or more -- and most unions have already voted to continue it tomorrow -- it will be an entirely different story. Things could degrade further if the students take to the streets as many have threatened to in protest of proposed university reforms.

I think that this time around most French want change, and a backlash of public opinion will stop the strikes before a week passes. I can't say, however, and with nowhere to go at the moment, I can't help but watch with curiosity.

In honor of the strikes, le Petit decided he'd try out a new mode of transportation today, the Moby wrap. For the very first time he agreed to let me take him for a quick tour of the neighborhood in it, holding his head up for the first half of the trip, then letting it fall against my chest as he slept for the second. It'll be years before he has to worry if the Métro is running and for the moment, Mom is more than happy to work without pay, every day of the year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Naissance

Last week, quite by chance, I walked down a street I almost never take. I was pushing le Petit in the stroller and he'd just nodded off to sleep when I realized where I was: rue Danton, about five blocks from the hospital where I gave birth. I trembled when I realized that the last time I'd taken that street was the day le Petit was born.

I've been meaning for some time to put virtual pen to paper and write about that day, but finding time for writing and reflection is difficult with a newborn in the house. The day seemed so huge, so transforming, that I wasn't yet sure how to approach it in words, anyway. I knew I shouldn't wait too long, however, because the memory was falling farther out of focus with each passing day.

Where to begin? I almost want to back up to the very beginning, to the day I learned le Petit was on the way, or even before that, to the day when I finally felt ready to become a mother. Or I could simply go back to the last weeks of pregnancy, when I waited at home both terrified and impatient. I probably should write about all that eventually, but for now, I'll just start simply on the morning of the day le Petit finally arrived.

I slept in that day, and quite soundly, until 10:30. I wonder if my body knew what was in the works and decided I needed to rest while it was still possible. Not that it's uncommon for me to get a nice, late grasse matinée in any time I can! I woke up, lethargically made coffee, ate a yogurt and two full english muffins smothered with butter, then sat around in my pyjamas feeling a little uncomfortable. I sat down at the loom and tried to weave a little bit of le Petit's baby blanket, but soon gave up, for I had cramps. Nothing serious, I thought, just a dull, nagging abdominal pain I attributed to being a pig at breakfast.

My mother-in-law called to ask if I'd like to get together for lunch, go out for Italian food and eat lots of pasta, labor-inducing home remedy number one hundred and two. We decided to meet at noon, and I headed to the shower to get ready. The hot water made me feel a bit better, but the cramps were more frequent and were getting decidedly worse. After I got out of the shower I spent a few minutes curled up in bed holding my belly, trying to soothe what were now regular waves of pain.

I still had no idea what was happening to me.

The contractions I'd experienced for the last few weeks had been nothing like this, so I decided to blame the coffee.

I got dressed and went to my mother-in-law's house. I described my symptoms, and we decided that instead of going out to lunch we'd drop by the hospital, just in case. I found I'd lost my appetite, anyway.

The hospital was ten minutes away by foot and it was a cool and cloudy but pleasant July day. We decided to walk. I took a route I never take, entirely by accident, and found myself on a street I barely know: rue Danton. The pain was bad enough that I hadn't been paying attention to where we were going. I had to stop and sit for a while on the low wall of a flower bed. As I rested I wondered if I'd gotten us both lost, and if my mother-in-law would consider that I'd failed my first test of motherhood.

After more painful, waddling progress, I saw a cross street I recognized, and we were soon at the hospital. I explained myself at the reception desk. We were instructed to wait in the hallway until someone could come and escort me to the labor ward.

I was still half convinced it was nothing, that we'd be laughed at and sent home.

I explained my symptoms to the nurse who then told me nicely that I'd simply have to repeat it all to a midwife, that she was only there to give me a urine test. When I went to the restroom to take the urine test I found I was covered with blood. Everywhere. I almost felt embarrassed, like I was supposed to be neat and clean and organized, and I was falling apart. This wasn't at all what I had planned: first of all, I thought one always went into labor at night. I expected to be sitting in front of the television with my husband when the contractions started. I'd recognize them, time them, then when they were spaced by the proper interval, I'd calmly take a shower with the prescribed pre-op soap, we'd grab my two pre-packed suitcases and we'd head for the hospital. Calmly. On schedule, and following the script.

I was flustered and timid when the midwife arrived, and my French was faltering.

The midwife was unimpressed. "We'll hook you up to the monitor and time the contractions," she said, businesslike. I was led into Labor Room #2, helped onto a bed, and the monitoring belt was strapped to my belly. The sounds of my uterus were soon piped through the monitor's audio, punctuated by the staccato beating of a tiny heart. It sounded like the bubbling of a fish tank dubbed over the rhythm of a distant train. I'd already spent hours listening to it over the last weeks of my pregnancy, and it was familiar and comforting; it might have lulled me to sleep if it hadn't been for the cramps, now quite painful, that left me curled up in a ball on my side, groaning. As I struggled to find a comfortable position, the monitoring belt started to slide down my back and my contractions were captured irregularly. I didn't care.

When the midwife returned after what felt like a century she looked at the monitor's printout and frowned. "Your contractions are still spaced fairly far apart, so we'll probably have to send you back home to wait. I'll check to see how dilated you are first." As she gave me a pelvic exam, I decided that my contractions were just fine for admission, thank-you-very-much. I couldn't imagine waddling myself back home, or even waiting for my husband to pick me up in the car, only to come back a few hours later.

The midwife was surprised to find that I was already dilated four centimeters and announced the news as if I'd just unexpectedly passed an entrance exam. "Finally, you'll be staying with us," she said, to my relief. "Do you want the epidural right away?"

Before that morning, I'd been convinced I wanted a natural birth. I wanted to live my birth experience completely, I wanted to avoid exposing le Petit and myself to unnecessary pain medication and, most of all, I was just damn curious to know what childbirth was like as almost every generation of women has known it. My curiosity was now fading and my courage failing me with each contraction. But I wasn't ready to renounce my choice just yet. "No," I said timidly, "I think I'll wait..." I almost expected the midwife to try to convince or coerce me, but she just acknowledged my response with a thin smile and left.

I was alone. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, and the next hour passed very slowly. I remember worrying if anyone would find my mother-in-law, who I was certain was still pacing anxiously outside the labor ward's doors. She eventually was brought in to talk to me, and hurriedly left to call my husband, who was at work. I spent an hour gritting my teeth, trying breathing techniques with little success, and wondering how long I'd last before giving in to anesthesia.

When the midwife returned and checked how dilated I was, she told me she'd have to break my water to speed things along. When she asked again about the epidural it was with a pointed pause, and I wearily realized my curiosity about natural childbirth was temporarily satisfied. Yes, bring on the epidural. Bring my husband. Bring help, because I'm not doing so well on my own.

The nurse returned to hook me up to an IV. She pricked me twice, while unsuccessfully trying to find a suitable vein in my left hand, then apologetically switched to the right. I tried to smile between waves of pain, and she watched with practiced compassion. The IV finally installed, she assured me the epidural wouldn't be long. She left, then returned a few minutes later to prepare my back.

A lesser but very real reason for my hesitation had been that the thought of having a needle inserted into my spine frightened me much more than childbirth itself. I was still anxious, and I'd given in relatively early in part for fear of not being able to hold still long enough between contractions. I currently had a few minutes to catch my breath in between, and I hoped it would be enough. I wondered with terror if the nurse who had just floundered my IV would be aiming the needle, even though I knew it couldn't be the case.

My fear overcame my tact and I asked anyway, "You're not going to be giving me...?"

"No, no, the anesthetist will be here shortly," she replied, offended.

My relief was greater than my embarrassment.

My husband arrived just before the anesthetist, and I had just the time to explain to him weakly that the pain was worse than I'd expected before he was chased from the room. As the doctor prepared something that I mercifully couldn't see behind my back, I started steeling myself. I can hold still, I must hold still, I thought. As another contraction started, I announced it calmly, and when the doctor didn't respond, I repeated myself , insisting fearfully.

"It's okay, I heard you the first time," was her curt response. Aren't I allowed to be panicked? I thought. I caught my breath, the contraction passed. I closed my eyes, and felt a small prick in my lower back, then heard something being taped up. It was over. My husband was allowed back in. Slowly, over the next ten minutes, the pain from the contractions subsided, until I could only detect them by watching numbers flash on the monitor.

If it weren't for the wonderful anticipation, it was almost like waiting for a train. We sat together with nothing in particular to do, talked, and held hands. I started to wonder if I'd made the right decision. Was this labor, or was this just a waiting room? I thought back to the hour before the anesthetist arrived and decided that, if this was like waiting for a train, I'd ignore the wait and focus on the marvelous destination.

I'd charged up my iPod with calming music and birth affirmations, but I found that all I wanted to do was smile at my husband, feel his caresses, and talk. Talk about what was happening, about the before and the after that were being created in the hours that were passing by. From time to time we nervously watched the monitor that was recording le Petit's heartbeats, surveying a flashing number that terrified us when it would suddenly drop off. Finally a nurse explained that he was simply moving, and his heartbeat had been temporarily been replaced by my own. The midwife checked in every hour and announced the slow progress of my dilation. The sun behind the frosted window started to disappear. I began to worry that my son would be born on his due date, Friday the 13th, and not the auspicious Thursday the 12th I'd been counting upon.

The midwife that had welcomed me was soon at the end of her shift, and two new midwives came in to introduce themselves. They were warm and reassuring, and I felt immediately more comfortable than with their no-nonsense colleague who'd been on the day shift. I was almost grateful that le Petit was taking his time. The first, Solène, explained that she was a student, and gently asked if I accepted that she attend my birth. I readily agreed. The second, Fanny, explained that she would provide an experienced second.

At ten o'clock, they declared me to be fully dilated, and folded the bed, origami-like, to allow me to sit upright with my back supported. Nothing to do but wait for le Petit to start his way down the birth canal. My husband and I started talking to le Petit, telling him about all the wonderful things that were eventually waiting for him on the outside: foie gras, vacations in Spain, cuddles with Mom and Dad. The epidural was beginning to wear off, and I started to feel the contractions again in the small of my back. Solène and Fanny explained that I could recharge it, but gently suggested letting the sensation slowly return, making it easier to know when to push when the time came. My husband said nothing, but looked at me pointedly, transferring confidence; he knew that my moment had come to be brave.

He massaged my back for the next hour, held my hands, and encouraged me as the pain got worse. Le Petit's progress was slow, and an eternity passed before Fanny announced that I could start to push. The bed was refolded so I could sit with my back slightly inclined, my legs spread, and my knees bent. As a contraction began I was to take a deep breath, hold it, and push.

I breathed, I pushed, I held my breath as long as I could, and each time it wasn't enough. Fanny and Solène encouraged me in French with each attempt and the phrase they kept repeating, "Voilà! C'est très bien ce que vous faites!" is one of the clearest memories I have of le Petit's birth. I held on to their calm words, trying to convince myself that things were working. My husband both cheered me on and begged me to keep pushing, to keep holding my breath, and it became clear that he was starting to panic.

I held onto the stupidest of worries: would le Petit arrive on the 13th? I kept looking at the clock. It was half past eleven, and I had only a half an hour to go. Preoccupying myself with superstition felt safer than worrying about something real, I suppose. The pushing wasn't working. Would I have a C-section? Forceps? Oddly, I never managed to worry whether le Petit would end up okay. I was blindly certain of that.

A third midwife briefly checked in on us. I missed her worried expression when she looked at the monitor, but my husband did not. Shortly after, the obstetrician hurriedly arrived. A handsome, middle-aged man, he introduced himself with exquisite French politesse, and said he was there to help. I don't know what I said -- I probably simply whimpered -- but I thought I don't care who you are, just help me.

Most of what happened next is a blur. Everyone, the doctor, the three midwives, and my husband, all continued to exhort me to push. The midwives invited my husband, by now quite pale, to sit down, but he was frozen at my side. The doctor ordered him with a forceful, "Monsieur, sit down!," half in English, half in French.

I heard a snip, snip, snip and realized I had an episiotomy. I was barely aware, or perhaps I didn't realize until it was explained to me afterward, that le Petit was guided out with the help of plastic, spoon-like forceps. All I remember was repeating over and over, as I used the last strength I thought I possessed to push, "Help me, help me, somebody help me!" I was no longer trying to speak in French; I was no longer trying to be coherent; I was just trying to communicate my distress any way I could.

Then, suddenly, he was there: le Petit was placed on my tummy, where all of him seemed like a giant head of damp, thin hair, with tiny legs and arms. I held him close for a second and started sobbing in English, "I'm so glad you're here!" My husband started yelling, in French, "He's not crying, he's not crying!" And he was pulled away, shuffled from one midwife to the next, his throat cleared of liquid, and he finally started to cry. I looked at the clock. It was ten minutes before midnight.

I have only the vaguest memories of what happened next, and they all seem disorganized, disordered. My husband accompanied le Petit through the Apgar test and his weigh-in. He was diapered, a tiny cotton hat was placed on his head, and something orange was smeared in his eyes. He was wrapped up and taken out in the hallway to meet my mother- and father-in-law, who'd been waiting anxiously for news for hours. I was sewn up, dressed in a large t-shirt, and le Petit was brought back for his first meal. The midwives helped me place him at the breast.

I felt shivery, happy, anxious, yet not at all in pain. I could hardly believe that the tiny being that had been kicking inside me for so long was now outside, all 8 lbs, 7 oz, in my arms and sucking at my breast as if -- and rightly so -- his life depended on it.

The calm of afterwards felt almost bizarre. We were left alone, just the three of us, to settle in and get to know one another. My husband took pictures. I nervously held le Petit close, unsure that this strange new title of mother I had suddenly acquired actually gave me any qualifications at all. Eventually, a nurse appeared and told us it was time to dress le Petit. Trying to follow her instructions, my husband searched in vain in the two huge suitcases we'd brought for the clothing we needed. The first pyjamas he found were too small, the first hat he unearthed fell on the floor, and it turned out we hadn't brought enough warm items. The nurse shook her head sadly as if to say, these two parents, they're off to a very slow start.

Le Petit was finally bundled up like a small blue and white football. We were placed together on the same stretcher and wheeled up to our room, where I was transferred to a bed and he to a Plexiglas bassinet. My husband lingered for a while before wishing us both a good night, and the midwives and nurses passed to say goodbye, then it was just me and le Petit, all alone in the near darkness of the maternity ward.

So the adventure begins, I thought to myself. I prayed in thanks for le Petit's safe arrival, for what was quickly becoming the most beautiful moment of my life. I then prayed fervently for help. The easy part is over, I thought to myself. Please, God, help me figure out what comes next.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Three months

I have approximately seven minutes to post a quick note in celebration of le Petit's three month birthday. Hooray! He's asleep now, sleeping off the two shots he got today at the pediatrician's office. Alas for him, but he's still too little for celebratory champagne. I'm breastfeeding, so no champagne for me either, but I'm still giddy.

Here's to you, little guy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Binky This

I take some strange pride in the fact that le Petit will not take a pacifier.

Of course, this isn't thanks to us at all, and it isn't for lack of trying. I remember how in the first weeks I would stare jealously at other mothers wheeling their content, pacifier-chomping offspring down the street. Le Petit dubiously accepted the pacifier at first, sucking dutifully for a few minutes each time it was presented, but soon learned that it was a useless enterprise.

No milk? No way! He seemed to be saying as he let it fall out of his mouth as he howled.

We learned what many parents before us have learned -- and as Marie Darrieussecq so eloquently says -- that refusing to take a pacifier is a baby's first way of imposing his will upon the world, of saying forcefully This Will Not Do.

Now, three months on, I'm proud of him for being a discerning, accept no substitutes kind of kid. I think he may grow up to be a Michelin inspector. Anyway, how can I help but be flattered by his "Mom or nothing" attitude? What can I say, he has high standards.

Our collection of "binkies" still sits on a bookshelf in le Petit's room. I'm not sure whether to throw them out right away or keep them for a while as a monument to his adorable stubbornness, to his refusal to have his voice or his will stifled. Will I find this character trait -- which I've assured my husband comes from him -- as cute when le Petit hits toddlerhood? Stay tuned. One thing is certain: the kid's got personality and is determined to wear it proudly, and that I can only admire.

He's still working on finding his thumb, though, and I'll admit I'm standing on the sidelines, cheering.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Allez les bleus

Last night being stuck at home with a baby on a Saturday was a pleasure. Not only was le Petit in a relatively good mood for a near three-month-old, but we didn't mind being glued to the couch for the evening. Anywhere else and we would have missed France's Les Bleus beat New Zealand's All Blacks in what was a nail-biter of a match in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals.

I'll leave a detailed description of the match to those actually qualified to write one, as I don't even truly understand the rules. That's one of the things I like best about rugby: you don't have to know anything about it to appreciate watching it, any more than you have to know the chemistry and technical details of TNT to be in awe watching a building demolished. All you really need to know about scoring can be more or less extrapolated from American football, anyway. I just sit back and enjoy the spectacle of thirty giants crashing into each other and ripping themselves apart for two forty minute stretches. It seems so chaotic, so anything goes, that I regret not trying to play in college (my alma mater has a women's team) since I think it would have been the perfect antidote to my type A personality. Of course, I don't really have the build for it, nor the speed, nor the coordination, so I was probably better off sticking with distance running.

This year the French team has a little bit of Asterix about them, a pocket of valiant underdogs resisting the invaders. It helps that one of their most recognizable players, Sébastien Chabal, looks like a Gaul with his warrior build, thick beard and ragged pony tail. Last night, they certainly drank the magic potion before hitting the field or at least tanked up at half time, since they beat the unbeatable All Blacks. Flashbacks of France/Brazil in the Soccer World Cup 2006 anyone?

Le Petit enjoys watching rugby, or is at least captivated by the fast-moving, brightly-colored shapes that dance across the television screen. I, his dear mother, live in fear that he'll grow up to actually play the game and get his cute little ears torn from the sides of his cute little head. If he inherits his father's build, which his 8 lbs, 7 oz birth weight would seem to predict, he could make a decent player. If he doesn't inherit my (severe lack of) coordination or his father's shortsightedness, that is. His attention span will have to expand somewhat, as well: by a few minutes after half time he had fallen asleep in my arms nursing. He woke up with a start when my husband bounded from the couch cheering after the French scored a try.

As usual, the French public was morose and resigned before the match, then jolted out of their habitual pessimism by the victory. Dare we believe? The French team will play England in Paris' Stade de France next weekend, and although it won't be easy, I think we can do it. Best of all, if we make it to the finals -- yes, a giant if -- the good news is that headbutting the opposing team is not only authorized, but an integral part of the game.

Le Petit was apparently as worn out by the game as the players, since he fell asleep quite quickly last night despite the honking cars and screaming fans in the street below our apartment. After I put him down he stirred and started to whimper, and I was ready to admit defeat and take him back into my arms. But I waited just a minute longer and he snuggled into a (what I can't imagine was actually) comfortable position pressed up against the side of his crib, closed his eyes, and was out as if he'd just be KO'ed on the field. And he stayed that way until 7:30 this morning.

Il faut y croire, my friends, you just gotta believe.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Birthday

My blog turns one year old today.

I can't remember exactly what was remarkable about Wednesday, October 4th of last year, but it must have seemed a pretty good day to start a blog. Fall is my favorite season; it's always a good time for starting new things, embarking on new adventures. Back to school. Motherhood.

A week or so after I started writing, le Petit was on his way, though we wouldn't know for a good month. It's funny to think that that tiny tadpole of a being is now almost five kilos, and quite capable of making his presence known throughout the neighborhood.

Le Petit managed to flip over from his back to his stomach today. He's been pulling himself onto his side for a couple of weeks now, and I think that the 180 was more the result of gravity than a concerted effort on his part. I'd left him in his crib while I was in the kitchen sorting laundry when all of a sudden I heard not just crying but serious howling, so I ran in and found him belly down, neck extended, arms flexed, and madder than hell.

I'm hoping he won't accidently flip over tonight, since it's not only safer for him to sleep on his back, but I suspect waking up on his tum may be for him the equivalent of waking up after a night of partying with a really bad hangover.

He's asleep now, and I should be myself, but I couldn't miss the chance to write an anniversary blog entry. Here's to another year!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hello, helloooooo?

I'm having one heck of a good time writing this blog. Some days a new post has been my biggest accomplishment, after changing ten diapers. I wonder, however, am I talking to myself? I feel like le Petit cooing his "arreughs" in the corner of his crib: I'm not sure I have an audience, but I'm amusing myself anyway.

Still, I'm curious just who, if anyone, is reading this... and some days I'm afraid there's really no one out there. So please, please, please drop me a line at my new e-mail address. Whether I know who you are or not; whether you're a complete stranger, a friend from college, or my mom.

The address is parisiennemaispresque (at) gmail (dot-com). (Encoded, naturally, to avoid getting spam at this brand spanking new address I just signed up for today.)

You'll make my day, honest.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Path

Today I met the adjoint maire in charge of the municipal day care system. She gave us very little reason to hope for an opening anytime soon. She did deign to tell us our theoretical position on the waiting list, seventh, though she couldn't give me any idea of how long a wait that might entail.

Somehow I knew in advance that the meeting would be useless. This afternoon my mother-in-law, le Petit and I walked together to city hall, a 19th century overly-decorated wedding cake of a building in the middle of a square filled with immaculate flower beds. Le Petit and I went in alone together, as my mother-in-law feared (and probably correctly) that if I didn't show up alone with the baby the Powers That Be would question my right to child care.

Once inside, I tried and failed once again to accept the pompous marble and polished brass interior without thinking in disgust, with a very American reflex, "this is how they're spending my tax money?" It didn't help that the building was undergoing what was clearly a very expensive renovation and that despite the dust and paint fumes, a cleaning crew was polishing the grand staircase.

When I arrived, the woman at the welcome desk was busy talking to a couple who was apparently considering moving to town. As they left she handed them a pile of glossy brochures and the spiral-bound municipal directory. "Oh, and don't forget this," she added, "It's the early childhood services guide."

My natural timidity and my lack of self-assurance in spoken French just barely prevented me from adding sarcastically, "Oh, with that, don't bother."

Once the couple was warmly seen off she turned to help me. She fawned over le Petit, who was calmly looking on from the Bjorn, while I explained I was here to see Madame l'adjoint so-and-so. "Oh, it's for the crèche?" she asked sweetly. "Yes," I said, and almost added, "I suppose I'm the tenth unfortunate candidate this week."

We were directed upstairs to a hallway lined with thick, red carpet and with a view through leaded glass to an inner courtyard. I glanced at the lush garden below and decided it worthy of a palace or at least a royal botanical garden. A row of heavy oak doors faced the windows, each with a polished brass plaque with the name of an adjoint maire.

I knocked on the door labelled Madame so-and-so. No answer. As I stood waiting, I kept thinking stupidly of the old light bulb joke and decided I'd translate "how many adjoint maires does it take..." into French for the benefit of my mother-in-law.

Eventually a trim, fifty-something woman opened the door and motioned for me to follow her inside. Her brusque manner evaporated the meager hope I'd mustered before arriving. She sat down and frowned over my file.

Le Petit was doing his best to seduce her by staring at her serenely with his big, brown eyes. "Oh my," she said, "So this is le Petit? He certainly is alert and observant, isn't he?" The obligatory moment of tenderness over, she started her dry, rehearsed refusal routine.

Yes, she explained, everyone wants day care. Even if you sign up a year in advance, there aren't enough spots, don't you understand? He will have a place eventually. Maybe in a month, maybe next year, maybe in two years, although that's when they start school, you know? So just be patient. And have you looked into a nanny?

I explained, my French and my confidence faltering, that I was not interested in a nanny. I didn't -- and couldn't -- justify why, because nannies are the number one solution for parents of young children in Paris. Most are assistantes maternelles who work out of their home and watch one, two or three small children at a time. They are licensed by the state and monitored for quality by official neighborhood early childhood centers (although I've learned that, like many things "official" in France, the monitoring exists more on paper than in practice). Yet as in most of the western world, and France is no exception, child care is undervalued, and it appears to me that most nannies in Paris have chosen their profession by necessity rather than choice. Many are recent immigrants who have received very little formal education or training and have few other careers available to them; although hiring a nanny is expensive for parents, their salaries are still relatively low. How can one place a price on mothering, especially in the first year?

I know parents who adore their assistantes maternelles, and I am certain wonderful, loving nannies exist. I am utterly terrified of trying to find one, however. The idea of leaving le Petit at a tender five months of age all day at someone else's house, someone I will barely know, makes my stomach cinch.

After the fear comes the guilt: all those other mothers do it, why can't I? Am I simply too lazy to go back to work? For years I belittled women who for what I considered a lack of enterprising feminism wanted to stay home with their children. Now I see how silly I was to criticize, for I've caught myself feeling the same way. It would be so easy for me to just take another few months of leave, to wait for le Petit to be a bit older. Sure, my employer would be extremely unhappy, but I'd have every legal right, and my husband and I could handle the arrangement financially. I am lucky, I'm blessed with a choice, but it still isn't an easy one to make.

I called a friend this afternoon whose parenting advice I value. Whenever we speak she basically repeats back what I've told her, adds her insights, and tells me to follow my instincts. What more can one ask for in a friend? Before I hung up the phone, I had a revelation that I shared with her. In twenty years' time, what do I want to be remembered for? Do I want some former colleague to tell me I was a pretty damn good programmer (which I wouldn't believe anyway)? Or do I want le Petit to tell me I was a really great mom? Obviously the latter, but how do I get there?

The ideal solution -- the one I hope exists in that better world we're supposed to be building for our children -- would be a day care center close to my office where I could drop by a few times a day, or at least at lunch, to nurse le Petit and remind him that I'm close. In a years' time, he'll be happier playing with his little friends than hanging out with Mom, anyway. I'm desperately searching for a private day care center near my office, but they are few and far between in France.

As I nursed le Petit to sleep tonight, sitting in the dark leaned up against the head of my bed, I turned the problem over and over in my mind. I looked for the words to describe my feelings, even if I knew that I couldn't yet find the right action to take. As my mind wandered, I imagined le Petit and I on a path together in a forest. At first, that is right now, I carry him in my arms. Soon he'll walk and I will walk beside him, holding his hand. Before long he'll race out in front of me and I will do all I can to run to keep up. I cannot see ahead of me, but I know the path turns, forks, and loses itself in the fog, and I'll never be entirely certain I've made the right turn.

Is there anything more terrifying than being a parent? Is there anything more joyful? For the moment, perhaps I'll just keep le Petit close, cradled in my arms, and forget about finding the map... that I'm pretty sure doesn't exist anyway.