Sunday, December 30, 2007

Slide

Ice skating is all the rage in Paris this year. When a number of years ago the city of Paris and many of its suburbs started putting up temporary ice rinks for the holidays, Parisians seemed skeptical. A sport for which you had to rent funny shoes and risk looking ridiculous isn't a sure win in Paris, as the few bowling alleys can attest. Perhaps it started catching on when a splendidly festive ice rink was built a few years back on the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville, a short walk away from the heart of the hip Marais neighborhood. However it happened, skating is now almost as much a part of the Parisian holiday experience as a stroll down the Champs-Elysées.

Our city hall, which spares no expense to avoid being upstaged by other municipalities and especially the Socialist mayor of Paris, put up the most elaborate ice rink I've seen yet. With a giant snow globe in the middle, it was the centerpiece of a holiday fair that included train rides and bungee jumping for the kids, cabins with spiced wine and sweets, and all manner of kitsch surrounded by swathes of cottony artificial snow, groves of Christmas trees and wooden cutout reindeer. A bleak, 1960s concrete square, abandoned most of the year by all but surly, loitering teenagers, was transformed into a sort of life-sized gingerbread house of holiday activity.

Oh, if only they'd spent this money on the municipal daycare centers, I thought to myself. Nothing to do but enjoy it anyway.

My mother-in-law, who is always game for this sort of thing, agreed to go skating with me. It's actually somewhat of a tradition. Save last year, when I was three months pregnant and terrified of falling, we've gone almost every year since the rink has been open.

As we stumbled toward the rink entrance in our rented skates, I started to wonder if this had been such a good idea after all. The distance across the rink to where my husband, le Petit, and my father-in-law were waiting and watching us seemed rather far, and I wasn't sure that after a two-year hiatus my feet still knew what to do. But we'd already paid our three euros so there was no way out but forward.

I hesitatingly launched myself on the bumpy ice and tried keep my balance. I advanced slowly as swarms of kids darted around me. I looked back to where my mother-in-law was holding onto the rink wall for dear life.

When we finally reached the other side, my father-in-law declared us both ridiculous. "You should stop now, you're embarrassing us!" I suddenly understood the difference between thirteen, when I'd learned to skate, and thirty-one: back then, I was afraid of making a fool of myself, now I was just afraid of breaking my neck.

Looking around, I also realized that we were the only two people over twenty who weren't accompanied by small children, and my mother-in-law was easily the oldest skater by twenty years. As we continued to stumble around the rink, gradually graduating to gliding without picking up much speed, I started noticing, too, that Paris ice rink etiquette has improved over the years. The first year they built the rink, it was anarchy. As many people skated clockwise as counterclockwise, there was much giggling, but also more than a few pile-up collisions. This year the majority of skaters were headed in more or less the same direction, and there were even uniformed personnel to maintain order. Yet it still looked a bit like Place de l'Etoile at rush hour.

After forty-five minutes of having some fun despite the constant butterflies in my stomach (perhaps a sign I'm getting Too Old For This After All) we decided to throw in the towel before either of us fractured something.

At the skate rental desk, the woman looked disappointed to have lost her most respectable customers, including the only one with grandmotherly silver hair, so soon. "But you only just got here!" she protested.

Yeah. No, that was definitely enough for this year. But I made a mental note to take myself to the rink more often next year, just to warm myself up for the year when I have to teach le Petit to skate. He's yet to figure out crawling, so thank goodness, I have some time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cutting in Line

Want to know how to get red carpet treatment at at least one of Paris' museums? Show up with a baby. My mom is visiting, and we decided to go to the new Quai Branly Museum, which houses art and artifacts from traditional cultures from all over the world. Since it opened recently, it is hugely popular, and since it was both a Saturday and the vacation week between Christmas and the New Year, the line at the entrance easily promised an hour wait.

We were ready to give up and make other plans for the afternoon when my husband noticed the priority line for disabled persons, pregnant women, and -- lucky us! -- young children.

Five minutes later le Petit was flirting with a docent and we were next in line to buy our tickets.

I'm going to have to try this out at other museums, but if it works elsewhere, it may just be the best-kept secret of Paris tourism.

Le Petit was more than happy to be carried around the museum in the Bjorn. He slept most of the time, and when he woke up, we were able to find a discreet corner to nurse.

Next stop: Musée d'Orsay.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even... wait a second, this is our house, Christmas 2007, and we've got a five-month-old baby. So if Santa did land on the roof, there was no way we could have heard a reindeer hoof for anything.

We arrived at the family house in Troyes on the 23rd and sequestered ourselves and our pile of luggage and baby junk in a tiny attic bedroom. The good news? Where we built our nest, you couldn't hear any of the ruckus from the dining room. Even the noise from an invading army would be filtered to a murmur, so there was some chance le Petit would sleep through Christmas Eve dinner as all ten of my in-laws tried to out express one another at the top of their lungs.

The bad news? Le Petit had no intention of sleeping in his folding crib in a strange room. At home, when I place him on his back in his crib he promptly flips to his side and curls up in his favorite corner. A half an hour later, I'll invariably find him on his tummy, often with one arm over the crib bumper and his hand grasping the bar. He's now so comfortable in his Very Own Bed that I can often put him down only half asleep and he'll find his thumb and his favorite position and fall asleep all by himself.

The folding crib is a different story. First, he seems to have some trouble flipping to his tummy from his back with the new mattress, and I don't dare place him on his tummy myself. Second, he doesn't have his beloved crib bumper to snuggle up against. I hear him scratching his fingernails against the nylon mesh looking for something familiar to hold onto, finding nothing, and it makes me feel terrible for the little guy.

Dinner on the 23rd was punctuated by crying made all the more strident by the tinny speaker of a baby monitor. As my husband and I took turns pacing the attic floor with le Petit in our arms, his relatives sped through four courses of soup, pot au feu, salad and dessert. When we managed to get le Petit down, he'd stay asleep for a mere thirty minutes before waking up again hysterical. This lasted well beyond dinner, into the wee hours of the morning. It felt like August, when we visited Troyes in the worst of the oh-my-god-I-have-a-newborn shell-shocked phase. We were sleepwalking once again.

It was heartbreaking, because the second I picked up le Petit he stopped crying and buried his head in my shoulder, already asleep. I considered tucking him in with us, but the two ancient twin beds we'd pushed together were really not safe for him. I'd already nearly fallen through the gap onto the floor myself. So we both slept for an hour or so with him in my arms, my back propped against the headboard, until I finally managed to transfer him to his crib at four in the morning. We all woke up at eight, exhausted.

My husband and I were both irritable, and he was frantic, convinced that This Was It, le Petit's sleep had been irreparably disturbed and we wouldn't get any sleep at all in the new year. He was also upset that I was the only one who'd been able to calm him: as my husband paced the attic with le Petit to give me a chance to eat, he was treated to ungrateful I WANT MOMMY howling.

We did what most calm, rational parents do on such occasions, and started yelling at each other. I eventually decided that the best thing for me would be a shower and a walk in town, so I left the boys to fend for themselves. I came back to find le Petit fast asleep in my husband's arms.

My mother- and father-in-law arrived that afternoon. When we described our painful night, my mother-in-law exclaimed, "Oh, the poor thing!" with grandmotherly concern. "Poor thing him? Poor thing his poor parents!" responded my husband.

It was with much apprehension that I put le Petit to bed at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve. I'd made my mother-in-law promise to keep the meal on schedule even if I didn't appear. To add to our chagrin, le Petit's cousin, a baby girl born a couple weeks before him this summer, spent dinner dozing in her bassinet and sucking on her pacifier.

The same circus ensued as the night before, but this time I had the moral support of both my husband and my mother-in-law. We tromped up to the attic one after the other to comfort le Petit when he woke up and to discuss strategy amongst ourselves. By the third wake up, we were all at a loss. Le Petit was in my arms, eyes open, wide awake and looking at us as if to say, "You're all here. Where's the party?"

Minutes before, my husband and I sat at the dinner table and endured everyone's advice as my mother-in-law sat upstairs with a screaming le Petit.

"Let him cry, he needs to learn," came from my childless brother-in-law (he'll learn for himself soon enough, bless him!)

"Bring him down here, he must be scared upstairs by himself," came from the mother of the pacifier-chomping cousin.

"Calm down, it's your stress he's reacting to," added my husband's aunt.

Everyone kept adding their helpful advice and observations all at once until my husband simply exploded.

"Shut up, everyone," he screamed, in an outburst impressive even by the cacophonous standards of his family. "Don't you see, he's not like that one?" He motioned to the baby in the bassinet. "His sleep is disturbed, and that's it, if we screw it up it'll be back to the way it was back at the beginning, so we do NOT want to experiment now! Understood?"

Everyone stopped talking for a second, shocked. I felt I needed to explain, so I gently added, "The one thing that we can't really hear right now is advice, no matter how well-intentioned."

We both fled upstairs. Le Petit calmed down in my arms, to suddenly become a content, alert baby with no intention of falling asleep.

"I'll put him in the Moby," I suggested weakly. "It's the only way to make it through the evening." We hadn't even started the salad yet. There were three more courses, then we'd open presents; it would be impossible to finish it all in thirty-minute chunks.

Le Petit grinned at everyone once we came down the stairs as if to say, "You see? I got the better of them once again!" No one could resist grinning back, no matter how much my husband and my mother-in-law begged everyone to ignore him so that he could sleep. Sleep? Le Petit was too busy craning his neck to take in all the action. Quickly judging our cause lost, I took him out of the Moby and let him sit on my lap and le Petit became the life of the party.

He smiled at Dad and Grandpa from across the table. He showed off his two teeth and drooled into my napkin. He didn't complain a second, and was calmer and happier than I'd ever seen him past nine o'clock in his entire life. Sometime between the cheese course and dessert someone shouted out a Merry Christmas. When we at last got around to opening presents, it was well past midnight.

Le Petit cared not at all that it was way beyond his bedtime: the first present offered was for him, and he tore into the wrapping paper with gusto. He needed a little direction to open it, and I'm not sure he understood that the present was inside and wasn't the wrapping paper itself. No matter. Once we pried the bits of crumpled paper from his fists and showed him the prize, a luminescent rubber ducky with colored LEDs, it went into his mouth as well.

"It would have been a shame for him to miss this," admitted my mother-in-law, and my husband and I agreed.

At one o'clock we stumbled back up to our bedroom, still apprehensive about getting le Petit to sleep. Lucky for us, all the excitement had thoroughly tired him out, and he fell asleep almost immediately and stayed asleep for the rest of the night.

We all woke up the next day jolly and well rested.

And a most merry Christmas was had by all, indeed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Get ready

I really should be in bed, but I needed a few moments of "me" time after a day made crazy with holiday preparations. Plus, we're off to my husband's family's house in Troyes tomorrow as early as we can get organized and packed. Once we leave, I'll be five days without a computer. No blogging, no e-mail for five whole days. This will be tough.

So if you're curious to know just where I'll be in those long days of radio silence, imagine this: eleven adults, two five-month-old babies, and one small house built circa 1920 with three principal rooms, if you generously count the bedroom and attic. No couch, just a giant dining room table, the dignified centerpiece of any French household but slightly less comfortable for lazing around after a huge meal.

And huge meals there will be. We'll arrive with half of the family on the 23rd, and my husband's aunt will have prepared something "light" for lunch and dinner, maybe a pot au feu or a choucroute. Naturally, this will be followed by salad and she'll do her best to push a cheese course on us, as well.

On the 24th, the rest of the family will arrive. We'll eat an equally big meal at lunch because, well, everyone's finally reunited. But we all know enough to save room for what's next: Christmas Eve dinner consists of homemade mini-quiches, foie gras, turkey, potatoes, chestnuts, salad, the cheese platter of your dreams or nightmares, and a frozen chocolate bûche de noël dessert. (I'm always a bit disappointed by the bûche, which comes from a chain store, but my mother-in-law's foie gras is a tough act to follow.) All this is heavily irrigated by a thoughtful selection of wine, which I'll be avoiding this year since I'm still nursing.

We'll go to bed late, sleep as much as we can but for the indigestion, and then eat a very light breakfast. For shortly after noon is Christmas lunch: oysters or boudin blanc (or for the gourmands who are sneaky enough, both), a pièce de résistance that could be lamb, roast beef or duck, salad, the same deadly cheese platter, an architecturally stunning chocolate patisserie, and a plate of candied fruit.

We'll then spend the rest of the afternoon somnambulating about the house or, for the more motivated among us, around town. Troyes' half-timbered facades will be decked with Christmas lights twinkling in the frozen air, and no matter how cold it is, there will be other folks out walking off the calories with good cheer.

We'll go back home for dinner, but no one will pay much attention to what's on the table.

Oh, how happy I am to think that le Petit will be helping me burn off my overindulgence this year. Hooray for the holidays, hooray for le Petit's first Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Splurge?

I think I've found what I really want for Christmas. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it may just be the perfect jacket for me and le Petit: the Mamajacket. It's cute and, unlike other babywearing coats and ponchos, it might not actually make me look like a walking lampshade. And it looks pretty classy from the pictures: charcoal grey heather lambswool and cashmere, I could even stroll down the Faubourg St Honoré without feeling too silly. It can even be used as a normal coat when le Petit outgrows being carried around.

Yet it's as expensive as any wool winter jacket and my husband will think I've lost my mind if I mention I want to buy it.

So... what do I do, do I try and sneak out to the one boutique in Paris that sells it this weekend and decide for myself?

Naptime = my time?

I've already spent months waiting for le Petit to become more independent, and then when he does, I almost regret the little itty bitty baby he was before he took the leap. Almost.

It used to be he'd only sleep during the day in my arms or, more rarely, in the stroller and it drove me absolutely bonkers. Well, today for the first time at naptime he fell asleep in his crib all by himself. Grandma was babysitting and, having exhausted all the tricks she knew to get him to stop crying, placed him in bed and he fell asleep almost immediately.

So I'm at home now with a sleeping baby in the other room and this odd sense of guilty freedom.

Nothing else to do but blog, I guess. (I'm telling myself housework would be too noisy and might wake him up. Yeah, that's it.)

I'm feeling guilty because I've been in a rotten mood all day. I really don't do well with lack of sleep, yet I've been staying up way past my bedtime to wring the most "me" time out of the hours after le Petit has gone to bed. I went to bed at half-past midnight last night but laid awake worrying about Christmas presents I haven't yet found, of all things, until one fifteen. Just when I'd almost lost consciousness, le Petit woke up hungry, so I didn't get to sleep until two.

I need to promise myself -- not to mention le Petit and my husband, who suffer from my lack of sleep almost as much as I do -- not to do this anymore.

Monday, December 17, 2007

All I want for Christmas

Parisienne's my-eyes-are-bigger-than-my-budget fantasy Christmas list:

- Chocolate from La Maison du Chocolate, my favorite Parisienne chocolaterie (though there's some tough competition)

- A cashmere sweater from Eric Bompard

- A sexy nursing nightgown (yes, they do exist!) from mamanana.com (I've got it in burgundy, but I'd like it in black)

- A weekend for two in the medieval garden inn at the Prieuré d'Orsan

- A New Year's feast at the three-star Les Près d'Eugénie

Parisienne's fantasy Christmas list for le Petit:

- Some sort of babywearing poncho like this one, but in a better color.

- A German-made wooden farm. Okay, he's a bit little for it still, but we'll play with it in the meantime.

- Kites. We've got to take this kid out to fly a kite. So he doesn't have the coordination and his attention span may still a bit short, and at just over six kilograms, he couldn't hold onto the string in a strong gale. But I know he'd be utterly fascinated with the bright colors.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Birthday to me

Thirty-one is fairly anticlimactic, but no matter. My husband and I celebrated last night, and I opened up a mountain of presents. Chocolate, a lemon and honey gift box from l'Occitane, and a big ol' pile of books from him. What more could a girl want? So I may actually be able to update my "currently reading" list soon.

This afternoon we're going to my in-laws for a Sunday lunch birthday celebration. My mother-in-law is making her homemade foie gras, doused with Cognac and slowly cooked to a velvety mi-cuit. Yeah, I know, you're jealous -- especially since it may soon be illegal where you live.

And my dad gave me a fancy-dancy umbrella to replace the one he gave me in college that I managed to hold onto for an unprecedented seven years before losing, probably in the Paris Métro. I was heartbroken, so I'm going to look after this new one better. Thanks, Dad.

I think of all that thirty-one years of life has given me: a husband who understands me better than anyone else, a beautiful son who gives me so much joy, a home in a country I love. I feel pretty darn lucky. Even without the chocolate.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Why nursing is surprisingly difficult

I just love breastfeeding. I know it is THE best way of beginning le Petit's gastronomic education -- only the very best for this kid! -- but it also one of my very favorite parts of the mother-baby bond we share right now. It's also darn practical: I barely have to open both eyes when he wakes up for a late-night feeding, and a bottle is one less thing I have to worry about forgetting when we leave the house.

In other words, I couldn't imagine feeding him otherwise. It seems so simple and natural, I find myself sometimes wondering why more moms don't do it, and why some give up after mere weeks.

And then I remember the beginning. I had a relatively easy start: neither of us was too tired out from labor, and le Petit understood right away how to latch on. I had the full, enthusiastic support of my husband and my mother-in-law. I was at a hospital that had decent lactation support, and was committed to helping moms breastfeed. And yet.

No one warned me that newborns often want to feed twenty-four seven in their first few weeks of life. Or if anyone did tell me before le Petit arrived, I didn't hear them. For the first six weeks I was sleep deprived and miserable, shell-shocked and a bit resentful of this little being who wouldn't sleep anywhere but in my arms, couldn't be left alone in his crib for more than twenty minutes, and wanted to nurse ALL DAY LONG.

And I was lucky. I didn't have milk supply issues or sore nipples. Le Petit wasn't colicky and didn't have any gastrointestinal problems. I didn't have to go back to work right away, and my husband, mother-in-law, or my husband's aunt were able to stay with me every day during the first month.

Still, being a mother those first weeks was the hardest thing I've ever tried to do in my life. If someone had told me that giving le Petit formula would have made him sleep through the night, I would have caved right then and there. I might not have even felt guilty.

Sometimes I secretly wondered if giving him formula would turn him into the mythical "easy" baby, the one everyone seems to have except you. The one who stays in his baby chair and only cries to eat every three or four hours. The one who sleeps through the night at the maternity ward. The one who doesn't transform his parents into quivering basket cases with dark circles like shiners.

When your instincts start breaking through the static of extreme sleep deprivation and you start getting that most babies are just not what our industrialized world tells us they should be, well-meaning friends and relatives give you all sorts of bad advice to throw you back off course. The key is to find the people who give you good advice and call them as often as they're willing to talk to you. Luckily, I had a good friend who talked me through those first weeks and who encouraged me to follow le Petit's lead, to hang in there and things would get easier faster than I feared.

When this friend told me a month or so before le Petit's birth that if I had any problems with breastfeeding, I shouldn't hesitate to call her day or night, I thought it was sweet but unnecessary. What was so hard that I'd have to bother her at some ungodly hour of the morning? My breasts would make milk, the baby would nurse at my breast, simple as that.

Suffice it to say that her number is now the only one I have on speed-dial. She talked me through tears and guilt when, faced with slow weight-gain at his ten day weigh-in, I had to decide whether or not to follow advice to supplement with formula. She stopped me from panicking when le Petit cried hysterically during a feeding because (I thought at least) my breasts were empty and I had no idea how to get him to sleep. She's given me advice on pumping, on how and when to introduce solids, and has helped me become a confident breastfeeding mom.

Without her, and without the moral support of my mother-in-law (who breastfed her children herself, but thirty years later doesn't remember enough details to give practical advice), I don't know where I'd be. Probably in the kitchen at four in the morning mixing up bottles of formula.

This woman-to-woman support is crucial for breastfeeding moms. La Leche League and other mothers' groups aim to provide this and the work they do is wonderful, but somehow, nothing replaces having some good friend on the other end of the phone talking you through the hard stuff like a sister.

So I've made it my goal to try and support all the moms I know who want to breastfeed through those first difficult weeks. I'm no expert, but I've discovered how to find information when I need to, and I can at the very least lend a sympathetic ear. I understand well why some moms decide not to breastfeed, since it isn't always easy today and few of us know what to expect. I've heard of so many moms who wanted breastfeeding to work, but lacking support and punctual advice, couldn't continue. It is now so wonderful for me and for le Petit that I'd like every mom and baby to find their way through the tough part to the payoff.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Five month visit

Le Petit had his five month visit to the pediatrician today. He arrived in style in his new Ergo baby carrier. (I'm such a geek. Five months ago I could barely imagine needing one carrier, much less owning four. But the Ergo really is pretty neat: easy to snap on, and it keeps le Petit in a seated position with his legs high enough for me to sit down myself. Plus, it will work in a front carry, hip carry and a back carry.)

My mother-in-law came with us, and I was grateful for her help, since juggling le Petit, a diaper bag, my purse, and two winter jackets while listening attentively to the doctor would have been impossible on my own. Our appointment was early enough in the afternoon for le Petit to still be in a pretty good mood. He was calm and relaxed on the examination table while the doctor carefully checked his heartbeat and breathing.

I gently held back his arms when he started to grab at the hand holding the stethoscope, but the doctor told me, "Let him express himself! He's not in my way." I was once more reassured that we've found a pediatrician who knows how to speak Baby.

He was unconcerned that his weight gain, which has never been huge, had slowed a bit further over the last month. Just fine for a breastfed baby, he told me, after reminding me again how my milk was the very best thing for him. (Le Petit, who lives up to his name, has only had an above average weight at one point in his life. Inconveniently for me, it was when he weighed 8 lbs 7 oz at birth.) He didn't blink when I confessed that le Petit still nursed five or six times a day instead of the "normal" four for his age. And when my mother-in-law started fretting that le Petit often won't nap, the doctor just shrugged and explained that if he sleeps well at night, perhaps he simply doesn't need too much sleep during the day.

Three happy people left the doctor's office. My mother-in-law, as inveterate a worrier as myself, was reassured. I was once again in awe at this beautiful little guy who's changed so much and has so changed my life over the past five months. And le Petit was just happy to once again be outside in the big world, where there are so many interesting things to look at.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Leap

It looks like I'll be going back to work at the beginning of April. It's still months away, but I'm already dreading it. I will be a wreck at first, I know it. I'm so used to being with le Petit all the time, I can't imagine being separated from him on weekdays, and I honestly don't know how I'll make the adjustment.

And of course, I still don't know who will be taking care of him during the day.

As I've bemoaned in previous posts, we did not get a spot in municipal day care, and here in France, there are pretty much no other day care center options around. The only private center nearby is a corporate center, and my employer would have to agree to sponsor le Petit by paying the equivalent of a fourth (!) of my salary. There is, ahem, no chance of that. We looked into a private bilingual center in Paris proper, but it is both inconveniently far from home and prohibitively expensive.

So, we're looking into the tried and true Parisian child care solution: the garde partagée, or shared nanny. My mother-in-law found out that a neighbor of hers was looking for someone to share a nanny with her two-month-old son. It would be convenient: just five minutes away by foot, on my husband's route to work, and just upstairs from Grandma. Yet it was with a huge knot in my stomach that I arrived to meet with the other mom this afternoon. Would we get along? Were we looking for the same things in a nanny, and did we share more or less the same parenting philosophy? And would my natural timidity and deference keep me from asking the right questions?

We spent an hour together chatting, and I think it could work. We both want a nanny who can create a reassuring and stimulating environment for our kids, and we both realize how hard this can be to find. We are both nursing moms and want to introduce healthy, fresh foods when we start solids. And we're both equally paranoid about security, especially about babyproofing windows.

So. I feel a lot lighter. I may be able to sleep a bit better tonight. But the hard part is far from over. The other mom has already interviewed three candidate nannies and found one she likes; the final decision, of course, will only be made after we've met with her as well. That is, of course, if both families agree that we're right for one another. We'll all meet up, both couples and our babies, in a week from Saturday. So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I am more and more certain that when I do go back to work, I'll only go back four days a week. France's generous parental leave law allows me to choose this unilaterally, even if my employer is less than enthusiastic. I feel it may be the only way for me to find the balance I need between work and motherhood. The more time I spend with le Petit, the more I want to keep at least one special day together. Wednesday will be Mommy day, it will be English day, it will be cuddles and long walks and reading books together day. It will be the day that helps me get through the rest of the week.

Sometimes I wonder if going back to work at all is the really the right choice. Yet my job has been part of my identity for ten years now, and I can't see giving it up entirely. At least not yet, not without having tried to integrate it into my new life as mother first.

Am I at the edge of a precipice, ready to throw myself off into the abyss with an untested parachute? It feels that way. Of course, it also felt that way when, a little over a year ago, I stood in my bathroom staring in disbelief at a second pink dot on a home pregnancy test. I doubt I'll ever really be prepared for any of these huge, important things in life, but sometimes you've just got to close your eyes and jump anyway.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

McDo

I almost let an important anniversary pass by without acknowledgement this month: my McDonald's free birthday. On Thanksgiving weekend ten years ago I went to McDonald's for the very last time. I wasn't yet a full-fledged food snob, and I hadn't even met my French husband, much less adopted his disdain of all things fast food. I'd just hit the drive-in with a bunch of friends on our way back from a trip to Nantucket and suddenly had the revelation that what I was eating was essentially disgusting.

So I decided I wouldn't eat it any more. And after a few years of systematically avoiding McDonald's, it became a point of pride. Of course, now that I'm a yanquis in Paris, I just love bragging to my French friends that I won't set foot in a McDo, as McDonald's is affectionately known here.

Ten years! Not bad, huh? I thought of this today after a television commercial had me mesmerized for a good thirty seconds trying to figure out just what they were selling. Cowboys galloped across the American West with canyons and buttes as a backdrop, and aerial shots of silver mountain streams. Thirty years ago, it could only have been an advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes, but today? I was clued in that it was a food product by the mangerbouger.com government health message discreetly displayed at the bottom of the screen, but I had to wait until the last five seconds to get the pitch. McDonald's was using the American dream to sell their latest burger. What else?

I'm a little bit chagrined that in the country of haute cuisine, McDonald's is so successful. But I try to look on the bright side. Sure, it can only contribute to an epidemic of obesity and a loss of traditional culinary values. But if it gives this country a much needed network of free and relatively clean public restrooms, there is one heck of a silver lining.

Bobo babe

Le Petit has decided he loves his Moby wrap carrier. Or maybe I've just finally figured out how to wrap it properly. Either way, he spent a good part of the day snuggled in it, first craning his neck to watch me clean the kitchen, then hiking across town with me to the big supermarket.

I love it because it's easier on my back than the Bjorn. I also like that it can be adjusted so that le Petit's little hands are tucked in and I don't have to squeeze him into mittens. But then, of course, there's the bobo effect. Bobo = bourgeois bohemian, kind of a cross between a yuppie and a hippie and a common species in Paris, especially in the eastern arrondissements. They're much more likely to be cruising around Paris on a Vélib' than driving a fancy car, or wearing a fair trade organic baby wrap than pushing a stroller. (Although, to be fair, the latest fancy-dancy, all-terrain, get-back-to-nature strollers do have some serious bobo appeal.)

So I make fun of them, of course. But now that le Petit has decided he wants to be carried all the time, I'm getting into the whole granola earth mother thing. I "wear" him proudly. I'm way in touch with my kid, I keep thinking smugly, just see how happy he looks. And then when he starts fussing anyway because he's tired and having trouble falling asleep, I feel just a teensy bit silly.

I ran into another mom at the supermarket today. She was just in front of me in the checkout line with a full shopping cart and an unhappy baby in a car seat on the floor. "He's four months old," she answered when I asked, "and would much rather be in my arms right now."

I sympathized, and I later helped her as she struggled to open a door with the full cart in one hand, the baby in the other. We chatted a bit, exchanging the usual baby stats that new mothers love, and then she mentioned my baby carrier.

"It makes things so much easier," I told her. "I can even do a bit of housework!" realizing I never thought I'd say that with such enthusiasm.

"I've got one myself," she said, "but I haven't used it yet," so I explained how le Petit took some time to warm up to his.

"I've got a Bjorn, though. Saves your life!" I heartily agreed. Beyond the aesthetic and the trendy, there's the practical. I've gotta admit, all those bobo mamas are on to something.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cultural differences I cannot explain

1) Why do the French love pink toilet paper? It's everywhere. Even people you wouldn't expect to have pink toilet paper have it, like my down-to-earth mother-in-law.

2) Why do all French babies seem to have little toy giraffes? Most are cheap plastic, but some are plush toys. I think giraffes are more common than teddy bears. My husband doesn't remember any popular television show or cartoon character that could account for this.

Meanwhile, I was reminded on a trip to IKEA today just how creepy it is that IKEA stores are identical the world over. And how do they invent those cheerful Swedish names for all their products? Do they sound stupid yet not improbably ridiculous in all languages, or just in English and in French?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Spoiled

I knew absolutely nothing about babies before le Petit came along. I was more than naive, I was staggeringly ignorant. Although that ignorance is now largely remedied, it still deserves a confession.

I figured that small babies spent much of their time sitting quietly by themselves. I'd seen plenty of them in portable car seats, peacefully sleeping in all sorts of situations. I'd started to think of a car seat as some sort of handy infant carrying case; an accessory, perhaps, like a handbag, complete with a useful adjustable handle. I expected le Petit to spend most of his day in his car seat, and imagined going to restaurants, to friends' houses, and just about everywhere with him.

I thought the sleep deprivation new parents complain about was simply because most aren't as adept as I am at falling back asleep quickly. I imagined le Petit might wake up as often as every two or three hours, but it didn't concern me. I would feed him, then put him back in his crib, and voilà. His crib was set up in the room next to ours, and I had a straight-backed, armrestless chair temporarily placed beside it for middle-of-the-night nursing.

Le Petit arrived, and he didn't want to have anything to do with his car seat most of the time. He didn't want to sleep in his crib at first, or anywhere other than in our arms. He wouldn't stay quietly in his corner. He cried, and remarkably loudly, when he was upset about something, like being out of our line of sight for more than thirty seconds. Restaurants were definitely off the menu for the foreseeable future, even if we had had the energy to go out.

We found a comfortable chair for le Petit's room, then finally moved his crib into our bedroom. We reluctantly slept with him next to me in our bed for weeks before we coaxed him to sleep by himself. I invested in a couple of different baby carriers. Meanwhile, I looked through every book I could find for an explanation of his behaviour. When I found he corresponded most closely to the "high need baby" described in the Sear's Baby Book, I wondered how we would survive.

Then, over the weeks that followed, the strangest thing happened. Le Petit was demanding, that was certain, but I stopped seeing him as difficult. Instead, I appreciated and enjoyed him more as I accepted him. True, it became a lot easier once he started sleeping well and in his own bed at night. Yet I realized belatedly that by asking so much of me, he was forcing me to ask a lot of myself, and it was making me a better mother.

Now when I see zoned out babies being carried around in car seats, I am proud of my child for having such personality. I'm learning to temporarily structure my life around his needs. I've learned to clean the kitchen with him in a baby carrier, to distract him from another room by singing stupid songs, and to take a shower in just the amount of time he'll be happy playing by himself.

I've been warned by many that I'm spoiling him, and that he'll get too accustomed to being in my arms all the time. Others tell me that on the contrary, with all this reassurance, he'll become more independent. I used to worry who was right, but now I no longer care. He's happier, I'm happier, and that's all that matters to me at the moment. I've learned how wonderful it is to do nothing more than cuddle him and walk quietly around the house.

At the last prenatal class I attended, a children's nurse asked the room what babies needed. What a stupid question, I thought to myself. "Milk," was the first answer shouted out, followed by "sleep." Then, someone added "lots of cuddles." Cute, I thought, but I would have said "diapers" -- to me, cuddles were something parents and babies enjoyed, but they didn't make the list of bare necessities. Little did I know that cuddles, too, were a biological need and far higher on the list than clean diapers, according to most babies.

There's still a lot I don't know, much I'm utterly unprepared for as a parent. I knew nothing about babies; I probably still know nothing about toddlers. But one thing I'm sure of now: spoiling does not come from too much attention, but rather from trying to replace affection with toys and gadgets. We've bought tons of presents for le Petit this Christmas because we frankly couldn't resist, but I keep reminding myself that the thing he most wants right now is us. And that is the best gift he could give us, too.