Friday, November 30, 2007

Firsts

With his first teeth -- now he's got two! -- le Petit has a few more firsts to check off the list.

This week I took him on his first bus ride. He loved it. He stared out the window, utterly absorbed by the passing scenery, before drifting off to sleep. It turns out that being snuggled against Mom and in a moving vehicle is just about perfect for getting him to nap. (Oh, how I wish I could explain to him the necessity of car seats! Or convince him that holding onto Mom's hand while sitting next to her is just as good as being in the Bjorn! Though car trips have been going better recently, I will admit.)

During the entire ride he was perfectly relaxed, while I was a nervous wreck. In my primitive new mom brain, public transportation = germs everywhere, and I wrapped him up in my coat as best I could to shield him from imagined biological weaponry. Someone at the back of the bus coughed and I jumped.

This is Paris, so naturally his first bus ride couldn't go off without a hitch. Sure enough, the driver stopped early and announced that he could go no further, as protesters (striking students?) were blocking the route. Luckily I'd brought my local map, and it turned out we were only ten minutes away by foot from our destination. I wondered if le Petit would have his first brush with the CRS, or French riot police, as well as his first bus trip, but we didn't see any protesters and I figured the bus driver was just anxious for a coffee break.

We were on our way to our first La Leche League meeting, in the posh neighborhood near the Madeleine. We were a dozen new and expecting mothers welcomed by the leader in her spacious, Haussmanian apartment, which was a happy mess of nursing literature, books and CDs, and toys. Le Petit wore his "Je bois mon lait à la source" (I drink my milk at the source) t-shirt for the occasion. The meeting was wonderful for both of us, and I think le Petit enjoyed seeing other breastfeeding moms and babies almost as much as I did.

The meeting lasted into the late afternoon, and it was dark when we left. Minor problem: I had no idea where to catch the bus on the way back, or even if the buses were running or if service was blocked because of imaginary protesters. I decided to hike it on foot. We hadn't gotten our walk in that day, after all. We passed in front of a Starbucks, and I decided that some sinful, calorie-filled coffee drink was just the fuel I needed.

I'm from Seattle, so for me, Starbucks coffee is practically comfort food. I decided it was high time le Petit was introduced to this part of his patrimoine. So I barely blinked when I handed over 5 euros for a crème brulée latté, perfect, the sign assured me, for celebrating the holidays. The French Touch.

The barista flirted with me and called me mademoiselle despite the baby I was wearing. I was flattered, and le Petit was either asleep or pretended not to notice.

First teeth, first coffee, first bus, first la Leche League meeting. This week we also tried out the Big Kid Stroller and broke out the size three diapers. What's next, and are we ready?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sleepwalking, part II

Le Petit slept badly on Sunday night. He woke up at half past midnight, just as I was getting ready to go to sleep myself, and it took and hour and a half of nursing, pacing about the bedroom, then nursing again to get him to fall back asleep. I felt like an idiot, for it was likely my fault: I’d just pumped both breasts before getting ready for bed, so he was probably hungry, but since he’s not keen on bottles, I didn’t want to try feeding him from one in the middle of the night. I finally fell asleep with him in my arms at two o’clock, and woke up, my back still propped against the headboard of my bed, at two-thirty. I put him down in his crib where he stayed asleep until six, when he repeated the same two hour circus before falling asleep for another half an hour at eight.

He hadn’t sleep poorly for months, and I was angry. I was grumpy and depressed like I hadn’t been for some time, and I had little patience for le Petit most of the day. The infant distraction merry-go-round of shuffling him from crib to chair to activity mat to sling wore me down like it rarely does. At the end of the day, I almost regretted not being back at work.

I felt stupid, for if I hadn’t been up until half past midnight, I wouldn’t have been so severely sleep deprived. I was ashamed that severe sleep deprivation turned me into such a beast. I felt like a rotten mom.

My husband and I griped at each other on Monday night for no particular reason other than he’d slept as badly as I had. Le Petit was fussy and ill-humored as well, probably for the same reason. But he fell asleep early, and slept very well, and the next day all was well with us again.

I am embarrassed that I have such little patience, and that one night of bad sleep for whatever valid reason – teething, hunger, nightmares – left me angry and selfish instead of loving and concerned about le Petit’s welfare. I’m doing my best, but sometimes that best seems startlingly pathetic.

Thanksgiving

Le Petit got his first tooth last week. I noticed it on Thanksgiving. It was an otherwise unremarkable Thursday for us here in Paris, but I was looking for a reason for it to be special, and there it was, the tiny white end of a tooth poking out of le Petit’s bottom gum. No wonder he’s been drooling so much lately, and chomping on everything that he can grab. At not yet four and a half months, I can’t help but be proud of his precociousness.

First tooth, first Thanksgiving. I say it was an ordinary day for us, and I suppose it was, for we didn’t do anything particularly festive. I had an acorn squash hanging around which we roasted for dinner along with onions, potatoes, and a couple of chicken legs; it wasn’t turkey, but it was as close as I could find on a quick trip to the neighborhood supermarket. Yet it felt like a special day for me anyway, and I was tuned into the home country all day as I thought of my friends and family getting up, watching the Macy’s parade on television, stuffing up the turkey and enjoying the anticipation all afternoon as the delicious smells from the oven filled the house.

In my family, we eat our Thanksgiving turkey with sauerkraut, a tradition started by my German grandmother. It sounds crazy, but it works surprisingly well. I explained this to le Petit as we went on our daily walk.

“Today is Thanksgiving,” I told him. “In America – and you are American, so you’d better learn this – this is a day we eat way too much food, but not just any food. Turkey, stuffing (bread stuffing, because any other kind is for losers), pumpkin pie (you’re going to love pumpkin pie, I promise you), and, in our family, sauerkraut.”

I went on to tell him that not only do Americans eat too much on Thanksgiving, but they give thanks for all of the things they’re grateful for. I then told him all the big things I am grateful for, starting with him and his dad. It took me the entire length of the island in the Seine, half of our favorite four kilometer walk, for me to get to the end of my list, and I only covered major items. Family. My mother-in-law’s constant help and support since le Petit’s birth. My dad’s visits to Paris this year. The time le Petit and I have had to spend together, just mother and son, before I go back to work in the spring. There was just so much to say, I didn’t know how to share all this joy I felt with him.

He was eventually lulled to sleep by my one-sided conversation sometime after I reached the end of the island and segued into an explanation of Christmas and Santa Claus. When he woke up back at home, I apologized that, alas, one tooth would not be enough to sample any turkey this year, or even any pumpkin pie. He just grinned at me his one-toothed, drooly smile, and didn’t seem at all disappointed.

I'm back

It's a long, boring story of how, but I've finally got my internet connection back. As a bonus, I got a new modem with wireless, so I can hopefully do something about the spaghetti wire that has invaded my living room. It needs to be taken care of before le Petit starts crawling, anyway.

The internet withdrawal was painful, but recovery has been swift.

I've got a couple of posts to add that I wrote in Word during my forced blog exile. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Débranché

I have so much to say right now and my stupid internet connection is broken.

I'm trying to get a very quick post in from my mother-in-law's computer while she looks after le Petit. Thankfully he's not yet a grumpy, end-of-day mess.

So here goes, Parisienne's cultural pet peeve number one: why is it that it nearly always costs money to call French customer service numbers? As if it weren't enough that the person on the other line is rarely helpful, you have to pay something like 34 cents a minute for the privilege of getting no useful information.

Thus it was with my internet provider yesterday. Although they admitted to doing some maintenance work in the area, so that might be the problem, but they aren't sure. We have another number we can call if we want to complain and get a refund.

Hopefully I'll be back online by the end of the week. In the meantime, I'm storing up a bunch of posts with good ol' Microsoft Word.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nounou

It looks more and more as if we're going to have to find a nanny, after all. We still have no news from the crèche, and I'm starting to admit to myself that I will have to go back to work eventually. In order to continue nursing le Petit exclusively without the headache of pumping my milk at work and dragging it home in the train, I will stay at home until at least the end of March. At that point, he will likely be eating enough solids to only need a single bottle of my milk during the day, or so I'm hoping.

Finding a nanny, or nounou, will be at the very least a serious administrative headache. In France, most nannies are employed directly by parents, and since everything here that has to do with employment is complicated, I'm expecting to be soon trapped under a mountain of paperwork. There are agencies than can help, but they charge a lot for the service.

We'll have to carefully calculate our financial options. I would prefer to hire a nanny just for le Petit, so he can stay at our apartment during the day and get plenty of quality one-on-one attention. That's expensive, however, and naturally the more experienced the nanny, the higher the cost. Part of me wants to spare no expense for the little guy, but part of me wonders at what point the whole cost-benefit analysis breaks down. At some point, my salary and the nounou's just wouldn't be different enough to justify my working outside the home.

I think (I hope) I'm exaggerating. Here in France, we can deduct a nice chunk of the cost of child care from our taxes. I probably should look more closely into a garde partagée, a nounou shared between two families, the classic Parisian child care solution. The drawback is, not only do you have to find a person to take care of your child that you trust, but you have to find another family that you trust and get along with, as well. There are other annoying details, such as since the children will be ferried from one family's house to the other on alternate weeks, you have to buy all of the baby equipment, high chairs, cribs, and the rest, in double. And everyone has to agree to go on vacation at the same time. The headaches accumulate.

The last option is home day care. Assistantes maternelles look after one to three children at their homes, and you drop them off and pick them up just as you would at the crèche. I don't know why, but this is the hardest for me to imagine being comfortable with, although if I found someone who was highly recommended, I could change my mind.

I've started to wonder if a good nounou or assistante maternelle wouldn't be better, after all, than the crèche. Le Petit would have someone devoted to looking after just him, or him and a couple other little ones, in a calm apartment. He'd be taken outside for walks every day. Perhaps he'd be better off than in a noisy day care center, with dozens of children running around, big ones and little ones all vying for the overworked staff's attention.

I'm already grateful that there wasn't any room in the crèche for January, for otherwise I would have had to go back to work before I was ready. My current plan, pending a dreaded discussion with human resources next week, is to negotiate a return to work in September 2008 at the latest, and at the end of March at the earliest. This will give me some time to continue nursing le Petit, to hopefully find someone I truly trust to take care of him, and to watch him grow up a little bit more. But will I ever really be ready?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

To belong

I was planning to go to bed early tonight, but I found myself glued to the television in front of Envoyé Special, a French news magazine that I turned on by chance. The topic? How one becomes a naturalized French citizen.

The reporting almost gave me goosebumps, I remembered so clearly my own experience back in 2002 when my husband and I defended my citizenship application at the French consulate in Boston. At the time, a citizenship demand for the spouse of a French citizen required only one year of marriage, plus basic proficiency in the French language. Since then, the requirement has been upped to five years of marriage, and applications are scrutinized much more closely than they were only a few years ago.

The consul was kind and the interview passed smoothly, despite my anxiety. I already knew my response to the key question of why I wanted to become French. We were making plans to move to France, a move we hoped definitive, and I couldn't see myself living long-term in a country where I couldn't participate in all aspects of public life. How would I feel if I couldn't vote? If I hadn't the same nationality as my children?

The interview was conducted in French, and although I was shy and unsure of myself, my language skills passed muster. I remember that the consul smiled at the end and said kindly, "Vous vous débrouillez bien en français, comme même," meaning that I managed well in the language. Since my husband had instructed me better in French slang than in proper French vocabulary, I didn't immediately recognize the word débrouiller. Then it clicked, and I just barely stopped myself from exclaiming, "Oh, you mean démerder!", the rather informal equivalent.

My application was accepted by the Boston consulate, and forwarded for final approval to the national processing center in Nantes. I had a long wait, but it happened easily none the less, comme une lettre à la poste.

Tonight, the reporters followed several people in very different situations as they applied for French citizenship, and none of them had as easy an experience as I. I was especially touched by the story of a woman born in Algeria who had lived in France since she was four. She'd grown up and been educated in France, spoke French perfectly, and, to me at least, was more completely French in some ways than I could ever hope to be. Her application was almost rejected, however, because her three-year-old son was born to an illegal immigrant father. When she learned that despite this she would be granted citizenship, she was in tears.

I wonder, how would I have felt if my application hadn't been accepted? France now feels more like home than Boston ever did, and I sometimes feel my country of adoption has a deeper hold on me than my country of birth. Sometimes I'm overcome by a strange sense of vertigo, when I almost forget that all my roots rightly tie me to somewhere else, very far away. This doesn't mean that I ever want to give up being an American, and I suppose I can't rule out moving back some day. I love the United States, but it just feels quite far from who I am right now.

I'm not always sure I juggle my two identities well. Now it's become all the more important, because I want le Petit to understand and love the two halves of himself, as well. When I talk to him, I speak English. I sing him This Land Is Your Land and Yankee Doodle Dandy. I tell him about the places we'll take him to visit back home when he's old enough: Yellowstone, Maine, the Pacific rain forests, New York, the Grand Canyon.

In a sense, le Petit's birth has made me feel both more French and more American. I realize that his birth here has tied me more closely to this country than any event since my marriage. My son was born in France; he may have an American passport, but it is a Paris place of birth and three very French given names that are printed over the American eagle on the first page. But born an American he is nonetheless, and that part of his identity is something that only I can give him, his motherland, his mother tongue, in the truest of senses.

Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if he grows up and moves to another very different part of the world. Might he meet a Japanese woman and move to Kyoto? Or run off to become a gaucho on the Argentinian pampas? Wouldn't that be my parents' just revenge for losing their only child to another continent?

I end up hoping simply that wherever he ends up, he has the same sense of belonging that I've found here in Paris. And, of course, that he calls his old mom to say hello every once in a while.

I want Mommy

After four months of life outside the womb with me, le Petit has decided that there really is no substitute for maman. Several times over the last few days, he's calmed down almost immediately when I've taken him in my arms after crying inconsolably with my husband or my mother-in-law. This is new. He knows his father and his grandmother well, of course. Up until now, I thought I was only indispensable when he was hungry. Mere weeks ago my husband, with his broad chest and soft cashmere sweater that doesn't smell distractingly of milk, was often more effective at calming him than I.

It's kind of flattering, really. There's nothing like holding him against me and knowing that it is exactly what he needed to feel right with the world. But it doesn't give me any hope of escaping to a restaurant or to the movies any time soon, since my mother-in-law, who is honestly wonderful with le Petit, is now even more terrified of looking after him on her own.

In the meantime, I'll take it as a positive evaluation, proof that I'm doing this mothering job pretty well, after all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Faking it

I'm starting to suspect that parenthood is just one big improvisation, and I feel a bit like I did in high school drama class. I try my best, I imitate the others, and it falls flat. What am I doing wrong? Why aren't I convincing anyone, least of all myself?

Some of the time -- okay, most of the time, lately -- I feel like I get it, but not tonight.

We have this weekend tradition of getting out and going for a walk somewhere that isn't in the immediate neighborhood, somewhere you can only get to by car and thus out of range for me and le Petit during the week.

Le Petit is ambivalent about the car. He'll put up with it during the day, but there's no guarantee it will lull him to sleep, even when he badly needs a nap. Past a certain hour of the evening, he HATES it. He can scream in the car for at least forty-five minutes straight, and probably longer, but that's mercifully the longest it has taken us to get home so far. I sit right next to him in the back seat, but there is nothing I can do to calm him. I've tried talking to him gently, singing to him, patting his belly, sliding one hand behind his back with the other on his tummy, leaning my head in to his to try and fool him into thinking he was being held in my arms instead of strapped into the car seat. He's not duped. He doesn't understand why I can't pick him up, and he's panicked about it.

Every time it happens I tell myself I won't subject him to it again, that I'll plan better next time and we'll get home before dark. Yet every weekend we manage to screw up and find ourselves in a car with a screaming infant. It happened again tonight on our way back from a walk in the forest, and once again, I felt like a complete ass. A failure as a mom.

His nursing schedule, such as it is, is also throwing me off. He's hungry far less often, so when I tried to nurse him before we drove back, he wasn't interested. When we got back home he was hungry, but it was an hour and a half before his usual bedtime. We had to decide if we wanted to feed him right away and keep him awake with us until bedtime and then find something other than nursing to get him to sleep, or try to nurse him down forty-five minutes ahead of schedule. We went for the second option, and when after nursing for twenty minutes he looked up at me wide awake and smiled, I knew we'd screwed up. Again.

I put him in his crib anyway, with a kiss and an optimistic "Good night, little guy!" and then let him fuss for a while. When the fussing turned to crying, I gave up and brought him into the living room to sit on the couch and watch television with me. So much for the sacred bedtime ritual, which tonight ended with him in a bright room, hypnotized by moving images. Great, I thought, I'm already using the television to distract my kid. I definitely get mommy points for that one.

At nine o'clock, his usual bedtime, he started rubbing his eyes and squirming, so we decided to try again. Rewind and replay the bedtime ritual: diaper change and cuddles with dad, nursing and a quiet goodnight monologue and lullaby with mom. Predictably, he wasn't hungry, and he wouldn't stay at my (probably empty) breast. I started pacing the room with him, but his eyes stayed stubbornly open.

Lacking the patience to keep pacing and with no other tricks to try, I placed him back in his crib with another kiss goodnight. He squirmed and rolled himself onto his side, pushing his head up again the crib bumper. He started sucking his thumb and fussing intermittently; I laid down on our bed beside him to see what happened. After a few minutes of fussing, he had fallen asleep.

I was proud of him, and not so proud of us. Where was my planning? Where was my patience? Why do I feel so un-parental, so amateurish?

It occurs to me that our parents were probably just as inept at the beginning. We looked up to them as oracles, as the experts that held the sky in place and helped the earth keep turning in the right direction, when they were just overwhelmed, perplexed thirty-somethings, a lot like us.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hippie Baby Sling Part II

If a few months of experience qualifies me to say anything, I'll say this:

I'm beginning to suspect that the keys to parenting a small child are Patience, Persistence, and Distraction.

File this under "Persistence:" le Petit has decided to accept the famous hippie baby sling that he was so reluctant to commit to earlier. He's now so businesslike about nursing that being curled up his head next to my breast no longer distracts him. He'll just peer up at me trustingly, perhaps fuss a tiny bit, then fall asleep after fifteen minutes or so of my pacing the apartment.

Of course, the catch is that I have to keep pacing for some time to be sure he's really asleep, then sit down very carefully and be prepared to jump back up and start pacing again if he starts stirring.

I'm not sure it's really any easier on my back than the Bjorn, but he's so darn cute curled up against my tummy, it's worth it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Snuggle

I remember the first weeks, when I couldn't get le Petit to sleep at night without holding him in my arms. I dreaded bedtime. I thought I was going crazy with lack of sleep, and I sleepwalked through my days, not entirely believing it would ever get any better.

I remember sitting up in bed listening to le Petit's soft breathing and my husband's snoring, wondering why I was the only one awake at four a.m.

I remember getting so annoyed that it took up to two hours to put le Petit to bed that I'd read by flashlight while holding him, just to keep from dwelling on my irritation.

Everyone told me it would change, and I didn't believe it. I read of and talked to mothers who claimed they missed the hours spent nursing and comforting their babies to sleep, or cuddling them during the night. I thought they were completely nuts.

Now, it takes an hour to put le Petit to bed, and it's an hour I cherish. It's an hour I get to spend in the velvet near-darkness of our bedroom, my back propped up against the headboard with a pile of pillows, le Petit a delicious weight in my lap. I still try to put him down awake, but as that rarely works, I usually end up walking him, singing to him, and eventually nursing him to sleep.

One day this week I found myself at the other end of town rushing to a supermarket before it closed to buy diapers. I called my husband, who was looking after le Petit while I was out, and learned the two of them were having a blast together without me. It was already dark, and I thought, it will soon be le Petit's bedtime. I realized, surprised, that I couldn't wait to get home and coax him to sleep in my arms.

I still get frustrated when comforting le Petit means pacing our apartment endlessly, or when he wakes up immediately when I try and place him in his crib. But now I know that, even when it takes forever in the moment, this time I'm spending with him will be over all too soon. I'll take my snuggle time while I can, and appreciate it as yet another gift le Petit is giving me.

T-O B-E-D

I heard these five letters recited above my head many, many times in my childhood. I think my parents quickly realized that spelling it out didn't fool me for a second, but it was a tradition. A tradition started by my father's pediatrician, when his mother received a directive to send her own sick child off to bed.

T-O B-E-D.

I remember being disappointed to leave the World of Adults, where all the cool things happened far beyond my bedtime, or so I believed: the fun television shows, the interesting conversations. Now, of course, I'm more than happy to crawl into bed at the end of the day, but first there are dishes to do, laundry to fold, mail to sort. Now that we have a few hours of time without baby to ourselves every evening, I realize that some day le Petit will be convinced that everything worthwhile happens after he's asleep.

Okay, so my husband and I did watch a rented film together last night for the first time since I came home from the hospital. And I do use the time that le Petit sleeps in the evening to get in blog entries, now that he's doing a twenty-minute power-nap routine during the day. But would he really find any of this worth staying up for?

I sneak into his room and see him curled up in a corner of his crib, his hands pulled close to his head, and the first thing I think is how I want to curl up in my own bed, in the same calm, dimly lit room, and join him.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Emmerdé

We had a spectacular baby poop accident this morning. This may be something that only a new mother can find hilarious and endearing instead of simply disgusting. You've been warned. Although I told the whole story to my mother-in-law on the telephone this morning and she could hardly stop laughing, but then again, she's as in love with le Petit as my husband and I are. Le Petit needn't do more than drool and smile at the same time and the three of us are all cheering.

This morning le Petit woke up at nine o'clock with a series of short cries. My baby sleep intuition told me to leave him be so he could either wake up fully or fall back asleep, since I've discovered that if I don't let him wake up by himself he'll often spend the entire morning in a bad mood. My mommy guilt reflex made me pick him up after a minute of fussing. I realized I'd made a mistake when he didn't even open his eyes in my arms.

I nursed him half-asleep, then got up to change him. He gave me a huge smile on the changing table. Not a very wet diaper this morning, I thought to myself, as I lifted his bottom half up by his feet. Then suddenly, just as he was perfectly aimed to do the most damage, there it was: a stream of very liquid orange baby poop. All over me, my pyjamas, the cute-but-useless terry cloth changing pad cover, a couple of towels, and the white area rug.

"Help!" I yelled to my husband in the other room, who luckily hadn't yet left for work. He rushed in to hold le Petit on the changing table, legs in the air, while I ran off to the bathroom to wash my hands.

I could hear my husband swearing in French.

"Mais merde, get something! I have to leave for work..."

"What?"

"I don't know, whatever. Paper towers. Quick, quick!"

I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the roll of paper towels.

"Oh no, c'est pas vrai... he just peed all over himself! On his face!" I ran back into the bedroom and found my husband trying to pull a soaked onesie over le Petit's head. "I have a conference call in five minutes!" And I think, what would I do if he didn't work five minutes away?

Le Petit, finding himself dumped unceremoniously into his crib in nothing but a hastily placed diaper by two screaming parents, started to howl. "Oh, little guy," I told him in my best cheerful mommy voice, "It isn't your fault! We were just surprised, and we're trying to get everything cleaned up." He stopped crying and looked up at me, relieved. I found him some new clothes, and my husband quickly dressed him. Five minutes later my husband was out the door, and I picked up le Petit for some reassuring cuddles before heading off to start a load of laundry.

The washing machine has more than paid for itself in the last four months, and I wonder once again what I'd do if we didn't have a clothes dryer.

Home from work this evening, my husband admitted that while sitting at his desk this morning he discovered a merde stain on his forearm. "Luckily no one was there to see it. That's the beauty of conference calls..."

And the beauty of parenthood, indeed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I love Versailles

It was a little over nine years ago that I discovered Versailles.

I was on my first trip to France, and I was visiting Paris on what felt like a whim. I spoke no French, had known my future husband for only a few months, most of them transatlantic, and it took all of my courage to book a ticket from Boston to Paris.

My future husband took me all the places a dashing Frenchman would take a young American he wished to impress: Montmartre, the Champs-Elysées, the Pont des Arts, the Eiffel Tower ("I want to take you to kiss on the top of the tower," he declared one morning), Versailles. Stereotypical? Trite? Sure, but at an impressionable twenty-one years old, I fell for it. And I probably still would.

I knew nothing about Versailles, save a photo of the chateau's facade I vaguely remember next to a discussion of the Versailles Treaty in some history textbook in high school. Yet off we went, one gray November morning in my future mother-in-law's old Peugeot 205. Coming from Paris, we crossed all of town before we actually saw the chateau, so my first impression was of wide, tree-lined streets and prim apartment buildings, not Grand Siècle monuments.

"This is a nice suburb," my husband explained to me, and then tried to explain exactly what he meant. The town of Versailles is a demographic apart, with no analogy in America. Very Catholic, very understated wealth, with a sort of left-leaning propriety. Large families. Long, illustrious last names. Thus is the image, at least, and there is substantial truth behind it. When you wander around Versailles, you are likely to see mothers with three or four children in tow, the girls with bowl-cut hair, wool coats, plaid skirts, and neatly-pressed blouses with half-moon collars, the boys with tiny crew neck sweaters and dark trousers. Children are named Enguerrand and Anne-Sophie; they go to scout meetings on the weekends, and are more likely than the average French child to say "please" and "thank you."

Versailles is a suburb, as it lies clearly in Paris' sphere of influence. Indeed, the major neighborhoods of Versailles are Rive Droite (Right Bank) and Rive Gauche (Left Bank), although the Seine is miles away from town. They're named after the train lines that lead to the capital. Nevertheless, it feels like a city in its own right, with a cathedral, a major food market, plenty of shops and good restaurants, and a mentality of self-sufficiency, perhaps self-importance. It has never forgotten that it, too, was once the capital of France.

If you ask a Parisian about Versailles, you will not get an indifferent answer. Most see it as a bizarre, old-fashioned, ultra-Catholic enclave. Boring. Conservative. When I told people how much I liked it, they shrugged, and blamed it on my being an American.

For some reason, on that day back in 1998, I tried to project myself in the future and briefly imagined living in Versailles with the man I was rapidly suspecting I would marry.

Fast-forward to 2003, when my imagined life in France became real. After we moved to Paris, I fell in love with Versailles slowly. When we started looking for an apartment to buy back in January 2005, I was still on an I-must-live-in-Paris-proper-or-I'm-a-loser kick, and Versailles was the other end of the world. My husband convinced me to consider it, and we started to look seriously. We visited dozens of apartments, including a seventh-floor walk-up with an unobstructed view of the chateau and its park, as seductive as it was impractical. I was just barely talked out of jumping (headlong) for that one, and I'm grateful now when I imagine dragging a stroller up six flights of steps.

We eventually decided that we couldn't yet afford what we wanted in Versailles. Every place we saw within our budget had a significant drawback: too far away from public transportation, too small, too funky, too close (in one case, five feet away) to the train tracks. At the same time, the apartment we'd been renting in a respectable, up-and-coming suburb just next to Paris came on the market at a very interesting price, so we bought where we knew and put our Versailles plans off for a few years. I don't regret it at all -- my husband's office has since been moved to the same suburb where we live, and my in-laws, whom I love and who have helped us immeasurably since le Petit arrived, are two blocks away.

But I still imagine that some day we'll move. Versailles has its gravitational pull on me, I know it. A promenade in the gardens during the Grandes Eaux Musicales was one of le Petit's first outings after his birth, and we've been back to the park countless times since. He's been nursed beside the Grand Canal at least three times, and he visited the Galerie des Glaces in utero. Each time we've been we've discovered something new, some corner of the park or the chateau or the town itself that we didn't know existed, and I can't wait to show it all to le Petit when he's old enough to understand.