Today is my birthday, and le Petit decided to give me a well-deserved present. Employing his new-found fascination with dials and buttons, he discovered how to turn down the volume on our alarm clock radio until it was silent. So instead of waking up to Radio Classique announcing the latest news of the global economic downturn, I woke up to le Petit babbling to himself over the baby monitor.
"Funny, he's up early today," I thought to myself, for we are blessed with a child who regularly sleeps in. Then I rolled over and looked at the clock. Merde. Eight-thirty! I prodded my husband, who tried to convince me that it was Sunday.
"No, it's jeudi!" I insisted. "Err, I mean mardi!" Five years in France and I still get the words for Tuesday and Thursday mixed up.
Luckily, things are calm at work at the moment and my boss was amused when I called to tell him I'd be late. So it really was a present.
During my run at lunch in the Forêt de Saint Germain, I waxed poetic about the joys of parenthood. "I firmly believe," I explained to my colleague and running partner, "That our children are sent to teach us. We learn as much from them as they do from us, in some ways." He remarked how happy I seemed since le Petit's birth, and I confirmed it.
I floated in on this cloud of contentment when I arrived to pick le Petit up from the nanny, and I was met with a wall of toddler resistance. I was there to frustrate his plans, to prevent him from escaping into the hallway or pressing the buttons on the stove. He threw himself on the floor and started wailing in desperation. As I tried to carry him off to the door, I discovered that 25 pounds of uncooperative 17-month-old can be very difficult to pick up. Just where do they learn to arch their backs and go limp simultaneously?
We dropped by my in-laws' apartment, where all went swimmingly until le Petit and I disagreed about the urgency of a diaper change. He would have nothing of it. Fine, I told him, but that meant we were headed home, and with the aid of my mother-in-law, I somehow overruled his veto of his winter jacket.
My husband was at his weekly German class, so when we arrived home I faced a dramatic solo diaper change. While a half-naked le Petit decided he would flip over and attempt to crawl off the changing table, I tried to keep us both clear of an impressive quantity of uncontained poop as I realized with horror that I was still wearing my brand-new Banana Republic cashmere sweater dress.
"Could you please STOP! I can't deal with this right now," I scolded, then whined, "It's my birthday, you know..."
The rest of the evening went better. Le Petit mastered spoon feeding himself for the first time -- I prudently changed out of my dress before dinner time -- and cooperatively went to bath and bed. He even said a new word: "other."
Part of what gets me about this parenting gig is just how much it challenges me to be a grown up. I'm thirty-two this year, but I feel like I earned fifteen of those years in the last 17 months. I am more giving, more understanding, and I have access to depths of patience I never knew before le Petit was born. I also see more clearly how I am still selfish, thoughtless, or ignorant. It's as if the fog has lifted and I see the path ahead of me.
At the same time, being a grown up has suddenly seemed like less and less of a meaningful qualification. The so-called grown-ups of the world -- of which, as I tread further into my thirties, I'm incontestably a member, alas -- have given us the sub-prime mess, global warming, and the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.
So I'm sticking with my statement that I've got as much to learn from le Petit as he has from me, on this birthday, and probably many more to come.