Saturday, March 29, 2008

License to D[r]ive

As I was sitting at home this afternoon letting useless worries chase themselves around my head, I suddenly grasped that clichéd wisdom of focusing on the things you can change instead.

I am going back to work now, and there isn't much I can (or even honestly think I should) do to change that in the short term. I've found a nanny, and I need to trust her to do her job. I need to trust that le Petit and I will both find a solution that works for us in time.

The Big Thing I Can Change kicked me in the rear. If I finally get my French driver's license, my commute will be cut from one hour and fifteen minutes to a much more reasonable forty minutes. That will be an hour and ten minutes more each day I get to spend with le Petit. I suddenly felt the difference that will actually make.

So why haven't I done something as simple and obvious as getting my license, you ask? It isn't nearly as simple here in France as you would think. You must contract with a driving school to prepare for both the written and practical exams which, unlike their American equivalents, are actually tricky. Your driving instructor arbitrarily decides how many hours of practice you need before you take the practical exam. Rumor has it that many are in cahoots with the test inspectors so that you fail at the smallest error and are sent back for more instruction. The whole experience is long and expensive. And, I keep reminding myself, I don't even have a car.

What was holding me back, however, wasn't the headache of the logistics or the money it would cost. It was, simply and honestly, that I am a true wimp.

After five years of living in France and despite my mastery of the language, I am still afraid to make phone calls. I try to unload all administrative tasks on my husband. I'm getting better at screwing up my courage, but in general if I am not absolutely-positively-there's-no-way-around-it required to arrange something, I won't. I even have trouble making hair appointments, and walk around shaggy-headed for months.* That's how bad I am. The dirty little secret is that I wasn't much better back in the US.

But now I am Mom, and I have no excuses for not facing the hard stuff, especially when the so-called hard stuff is peanuts.

So as I was sitting around feeling anxious and scared I looked at le Petit, who was particularly cheerful and smiley today, got myself out of my defeatist funk and called not one but two driving schools. I found out that it will cost:

80€ - inscription fee
200€ - preparation for the written test
80€ - written test fee
45€/hour for driving practice, with a minimum of two hours to evaluate my current level
120€ - practical test fee

Which comes to a grand total of 570€ if they determine that my driving skills aren't as rusty as they, ahem, may actually be. Exactly when was the last time I tried to parallel park? But that doesn't deter me. I'm fired up and ready to do this, and I will sign myself up on Tuesday of next week.

Then, hopefully in a couple of months and despite my fifteen years on the road I'll get to wear the A for apprenti on the back of the car, marking me as a novice driver. Oh yeah, and car, what car? I cannot legally drive my husband's company car on a regular basis, but my mother-in-law has offered to look into insuring hers for me (!!!).

Of course, since my epiphany this afternoon I've started dreaming of buying this or this and driving off into the sunset. Or perhaps, heady with my newfound guts, I'll get my motorcycle permit. I already can see Parisienne Mais Presque on an oh-so-European Vespa. Or heck, why not a Harley-Davidson?

You see, once I finally get going, I'm gone. Hit the road!

*This is also because, try as I might, I cannot find a good hairdresser in Paris and have resigned myself to going gray before I get a decent haircut. But that's a topic for another post.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Countdown

I'll be going back to work in two weeks and three days.

Irrational fears and anxiety are starting to kick in.

How can I leave my le Petit? Taking care of him twenty-four seven seems so much more important than taming computer code for a living. At the moment I am unable to see the positive side, and all I feel awaits me is a gaggle of whiny colleagues and an hour plus commute. What did I ever see in this job?

I instinctively feel that letting go and trusting that he will be safe in the greater world is important. I need to trust that there is someone else who can be a substitute for me, at least during the nine hours of my working days. Why is this so hard? And when will it get easier?

I'll give it a month. Forty days. After that, we'll see, I'll reevaluate, and perhaps, just perhaps, give myself the space to change my mind.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Terrassée

Terrassée. This word has been rattling round my brain all day.

I'm not even sure I can provide an adequate translation: brought down, laid low. Saint Michel a terrassé the dragon. I was terrassée all day with a stomach flu that hit me at five o'clock in the morning. I will spare the Internet at large the details, but suffice it to say that I was curled up in a fetal position in bed unable to hold down even the water I forced myself to drink.

Even worse than just feeling miserable like I haven't since I was in labor, I was worried I'd lose my milk due to dehydration, and terrified le Petit would come down with the same thing and end up in the hospital.

What would I do without my mother-in-law, who thankfully had the day off today and came over to look after him? The poor Petit who didn't understand why Mommy couldn't play with him when he woke up after one of the best nights he's ever slept in his life, but a Grandma fix cheered him right up. What would I do without my oft-mentioned mommy friend who talked me down from my misery and anxiety? And my husband, who skipped his German class and came home early to take care of the little guy while I slept like a lump in our bed?

Once more I have to stand (if I could comfortably, that is) in awe of the French medical system. I called my doctor at nine-fifteen, he saw me at ten. And I was grateful to have a prescription-happy French doctor, for the list he gave me to take off to the pharmacy was nothing short of miraculous. Now I'm drinking flat ginger ale and things are starting to look up, but send some get-well thoughts my way anyway, and some stay-well thoughts for le Petit.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter in Troyes

Easter found the entire family together once more to celebrate in a tiny house in Troyes. Three generations, eleven adults, and two babies gathered round the table on Sunday for a lunch of roasted lamb, asparagus, white beans harvested from last year's garden, and lemon meringue pie. And chocolate. The table was dressed with sachets of traditional chocolate eggs, fish, and seashells. I have been craving chocolate almost continuously since le Petit was born, so this year I appreciate this holiday more than ever.

The garden was dressed in its spring Sunday best with neat beds of white tulips and yellow daffodils. All was covered with an inch of heavy, wet snow on Sunday and Monday morning which looked magical in the early sun but melted by noon. By Monday afternoon, the sudden, rainy giboulées of March were back, with intermittent dark skies and hailstorms for the drive back home.

To me, all is green and bright back home, even under storm clouds. The dreary freeway that rings Paris, le péripherique, is almost cheerful at this time of year as forgotten daffodils and tulips start to bloom on the grassy slopes between the concrete walls. It's perhaps not enough to make me happy to be back home, but a bit of a consolation as I wait for the next occasion to escape to Troyes again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Among the stately houses abutting the Parc Monceau is the most discreet of museums, the Musée Nissim de Camondo. The elegant portal doesn't call more than the necessary attention to itself from the street, and it would be easy to walk right past without a glance. Paris has more than its share of museums, what is another hôtel particulier with its collection of furniture from three centuries past?

What I learned when I entered is that it is more than a house and its contents, and more than a shrine to a rich collector's self-regard. It is a monument built by an immigrant to his country of adoption, and a memorial to his son who died for that country. It is a house that is inhabited in the most civilized manner by ghosts.

Moïse de Camondo was born to a Sephardic Jewish family who had built a banking empire in the Ottoman Empire. He moved with his father, Nissim, and his uncle to Paris as a child, and the family acquired two hôtels in the newly created and supremely elegant Haussman neighborhood, the plaine Monceau. When Moïse inherited his father's property, he razed it and rebuilt a new house that would be the setting for the jewel that was his collection of eighteenth century French furniture and art.

Unlike other house museums that I have visited (I've by no means visited many, but the Gardner Museum in Boston comes to mind), there is nothing eclectic about the Camondo collection. Each room is perfectly composed with just the right palette of colors and textures. Even the exceptional pieces do not stand out more than they are meant to; marquetry, porcelain, paintings and rugs are all placed just so. Camondo was clearly a perfectionist, of the kind whose mania is balanced with an uncommonly skilled eye. I would have loved to see him at work at an auction, or leafing through antique catalogs with the attention of a painter in front of a canvas.

I am about as ignorant a visitor as possible. My wanderings through French history thus far follow somewhat of a drunken path. I don't methodically learn, but rather stumble into subjects and periods, and I have so far only surveyed the eighteenth century from afar. I know even less about decorative arts than I do about history. So all I had was an instinctive sense that this collection just fit. It felt more alive to me than many rooms that I've seen in more typical historical settings, such as the palace of Versailles.

The eighteenth century that lives in these rooms is the eighteenth century of the Enlightenment, of human progress and the expansion of knowledge. Its porcelain plates decorated with precise paintings of Buffon's birds stand ordered in a windowed cabinet, witnesses to the advancement of science, while its Vigée Le Brun portaits look down on visitors with insouciant optimism. Nothing suggests the upheaval of the end of the century. Nothing, that is, except the very existence of the collection. How many of these beautiful objects would have drifted here were it not for the whirlwind current of the Revolution?

In the same way, the house is the picture of early twentieth century comfort and rationality. It is doted with a plush elevator, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and vast, tiled bathrooms with modern fixtures. At the opening of the last century, it must have epitomized a belief in progress and technology. Yet the house was finished on the eve of the First World War. Camondo hardly had the opportunity to open his new home to society before everything in Paris was placed in suspension.

The house never lived the life it was meant to. When Moïse's only son Nissim was killed in combat, he retreated into reclusive grief. He left the house and all of its contents to France, to be preserved as a museum after his death in 1935. The museum would be named for his son.

The shadow of this ghost haunts the last floor. In the immaculate study the only thing that does not belong to the eighteenth century is a framed black and white photograph that sits on a desk of a handsome young man in an airman's uniform. But the shadows fall deeper still. Moïse's daughter Béatrice outlived her brother and her father, and married and had two children. Their portraits are the last leaves of the Camondo family tree, which is displayed in a sober corner of the hallway. They all perished at Auschwitz.

Most of the monumental windows of the house overlook the Parc Monceau, and beyond the hedge delimiting the garden I could see joggers hurrying past, glimpses of the twenty-first century Paris I know. The spring sunlight would briefly illuminate a patch of carpet or reflect in a gilt mirror before darkening again in a March squall.

The question I didn't dare ask was answered by the audio guide. Why hadn't Béatrice and her family left France before the Holocaust? The answer left a lump in my throat. She felt French. Her brother died in the Great War, and four generations of her family had made France their home. She thought that her French identity would protect her.

I understood why Moïse de Camondo constructed with such care his slice of the eighteenth century. We are both immigrants. I'm certainly less remarkable than he, and I hope that I will live out my life in less extraordinary and uncertain times. But he must have wanted, as I do, to hold in his heart all his new country had created of beauty and exception. What is more exceptional than the France of the Enlightenment, when it was as never before or since a beacon to the world?

Shadows crept in despite his intentions, and now melancholy inhabits the house alongside the beauty. It makes the ideal that he sought shine more brightly, perhaps. As I left, I carried a little of both.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Divide

I realized tonight that I only have two more weeks with le Petit before I have to start the adaptation period with the nanny.

The cocoon we've built together over the last eight months will be torn open, and I am not certain I'm ready.

I feel like I'm marching back to work because I have to, because it's my duty. I've been programmed since forever that life is full of unpleasant realities, and the endless succession of workdays is as unquestionably necessary as the endless succession of schooldays that preceded it. I so take this for granted that I cannot project myself into a future without a job, an office, and a career of sorts. The daily grind is reassuring. It is part of my identity.

Yet something has happened, and suddenly projecting myself into a future of long days away from le Petit isn't easy to do, either. Over the last months I've learned to understand him. He's no longer an exhausting mystery to me, but a bright-eyed, smiling, intelligent being whom I love more than I ever thought possible. He still exhausts me, but it is a exhilarating exhaustion, and I finally feel like I'm doing something honest with my life.

I have days when I want to just sit down at a desk and puzzle out computer bugs, since it sounds so much simpler than figuring out a baby. And days when I just want to communicate with a group of adults, even if our only interaction is fifteen minutes of mid-morning chatter around a coffee machine. Mostly I just wonder to myself, who will I be in two or three years when le Petit goes to school and I am no longer so intensely needed?

We left le Petit with family for forty-five minutes this weekend while my husband and I went out for a run. We left him with someone he did not know terribly well, and we made the mistake of attempting to sneak out without a word of goodbye. Before we'd even closed the door he had started to cry and he cried the entire time we were gone. When we returned, we learned that every time he was carried into a new room he would look around for us frantically. Even after we came back he sobbed inconsolably, and at the look of terror on his face we understood that the worst of his fears had materialized. He'd suddenly learned that Mommy and Daddy could just disappear and he could do nothing to make them come back.

Eight-month separation anxiety, the books all say; they all go through it, it passes. None of that reassures me when I think that I will have to start leaving him with a complete stranger in a matter of weeks. Yes, we will start slowly, and over a couple of weeks I will work up from leaving him a short hour to leaving him the entire day. I will not make the mistake of slipping away again without a goodbye. We trust the nanny, and we feel as comfortable as possible with the situation.

Yet as a knot forms in my stomach, I realize we have no Plan B. If the adaptation doesn't work... if he cries no matter what... if I am miserable and can't handle the separation myself...

I tell myself that I will give it time. We are lucky to have options and some financial flexibility, and I know we will find a way to make it work. I cannot forget that I am so much more fortunate than most other mothers who face the same questions.

But it all forces me to ask what exactly I want out of life and where I will find my happiness and my identity. The worst part is that the answers I choose will affect someone else even more deeply than they affect me, and that little person can't tell me how he feels about it all.

Or maybe he can, if I only I trusted myself to know how to listen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Easter Bunny Blues

I mentioned my last blog post to my husband yesterday.

"It's about the little things that we'll have to explain to le Petit as he grows up, the differences between his two cultures," I said. "For example, what will he think when he learns that in the US a bunny delivers the eggs and chocolate at Easter, while in France..."

"...he winds up in the casserole [stew pot]?" he helpfully completed.

Suddenly the whole bell thing made perfect sense.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bicultural babytalk

I've worried a lot about raising a bilingual child. I envy le Petit who, if we do our job right, will grow up speaking both English and French fluently. I already narrate our days together in English and read to him every day from our shelf of American children's books. It is hard to tell if the "ma ma ma!" he babbles in my general direction is closer to "mama" or "maman," or indeed if it means anything more sophisticated than "I'm teething and I'm bored." I'm not worried. He's got plenty of time.

I can see, however, that things will soon get a lot more complicated.

It's almost Easter, and while I don't expect the question to come up this year, how will I explain that a bunny brings eggs and chocolate back in the US, while church bells do the job here in France? A bunny hopping around with a basket, that I can picture, but how can bells deliver anything?

When he starts losing his baby teeth -- though yes, since so far he only has six, we're still far away from that -- can I expect him to believe that here in France the Tooth Fairy has outsourced her job to a mouse? Would you want a rodent rummaging around under your pillow at night?

I've got a ready answer: EU antitrust legislation. Bunnies, bells, fairies and mice must all compete freely in an open marketplace.

That will not solve what will probably be the most confusing linguistic hurdle for the poor kid. As much as I believe in gender equity, for some reason I refer by default to all stuffed toys as "Mister." Le Petit has a Mr. Bee, a Mr. Whale, and a Mr. Snail. The problem is that bee and whale are both feminine in French: une abeille and une baleine, leading my mother-in-law to refer to the same toys as misses. Even the poor escargot hasn't got a fixed gender: although it is un escargot in French, my mother-in-law uses the much cuter feminine cagouille from her family's Charentais dialect.

I can see it now. I'll ask a three-year-old le Petit, "Where's Mr. Bee?"

"Maman, Mr. Bee is a she! It's Madame Abeille!" and look at me as if I'm the dimmest person he's met yet.

"Okay, Madame Abeille it is," I'll acquiesce, then he'll shake his head and go on to correct my pronunciation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Le Petit à table, part II

It took almost eight months, but le Petit's palate is developing and I can now say that he is a good eater.

(A good eater of something other than breast milk, that is. I can now see why it forms the base of a baby's nutrition for the first year!)

Le Petit loves bread. He no longer simply gums the slices of baguette we give him, but tears off chunks, chews them up somehow and swallows them. It still makes me nervous and I watch him carefully, but he seems to know what he's doing. It must be his French half. If he ends up with a piece that looks chokable, I take it away and he protests vociferously. "What, take the bread from my mouth?" he seems to say, and I remember that that is cause for revolution in this country.

Le Petit loves sweet potato. Boiling up and mashing one fresh doesn't take too long and makes me feel like a good mommy. See? I make my own baby food! Sometimes, at least.

Le Petit loves avocado. I give him bite-sized chunks that he'll sometimes take from my hand. His motor skills are limited and avocado is slippery, so if he's really hungry, he'll just open his mouth and wait for me to pop them in.

Le Petit loves oranges. Although it is hardly on any list of recommended first foods, my husband tears off tiny chunks and gives them to him. He loves it more than just about anything else, and squeals and waves his arms with excitement when my husband shows him an orange he's about to peel. I look the other way.

Le Petit loves Petit Suisse, a decadently creamy, unsweetened milk product that as far as I know only exists in France. It comes wrapped in paper in small, cylindrical plastic pots that you peel open, pop out, and unroll.

So far, if Brillat-Savarin is right, le Petit is true to his heritage. Avocado and sweet potatoes are considered "exotic" and therefore allergenic in France, though they're classic first foods in the US. But how many American babies skip the rice cereal and mashed banana and go straight for yogurt and baguette?

Still, I hesitate to push to any extreme, and prefer taking the culinary route between the continents. My in-laws' neighbor started feeding her children Roquefort at four months old.

"You've got to get them used to new tastes young," she insisted and I nodded. Yeah, perhaps not just yet.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A silver afternoon in Versailles

Perhaps it is because I'm an American, but I am fascinated by Versailles. Weekends are as likely to find us strolling the grounds of the château as anywhere else in Ile de France, and when my husband took this Friday off work, my one thought was to seize the opportunity to see the silver furniture exposition before it was too late.

Picture the Hall of Mirrors, with its cobweb of flowery gold embracing paintings of Louis XIV victorious in battle, and everywhere mirrors reflecting the garden from the nearest fountains to the end of the Grand Canal. Now imagine that it was once furnished with solid silver furniture. It seems too much even for Versailles, an extravagance impossible to picture, gilding the most heavily gilt lily in all of Europe. It wasn't to last long, anyway, as the silver was all melted down in 1689 to pay for the war against the League of Augsburg.

I'd heard tell of the famous silver furniture, and when I learned that an exhibition sought to recreate the rooms clad in that sumptuous silver, I simply had to see it for myself. Luckily for the conservators, silver furniture was all the rage among the royalty of 17th and 18th century Europe. Even though the pieces, many of which were solid metal, were considered a decorative treasury and readily melted down to pay for wars and other national expenses, enough have survived to the present to assemble a brilliant collection to adorn the king's state apartments.

I just finished reading Le Roi-Soleil se lève aussi by Philippe Beaussant. As he describes a day in the life of Louis XIV from his ceremonial and scripted rising from bed to his slipping off for trysts with his mistresses at night, I started to finally glimpse Versailles as it really was. The king's apartments were part of the set of the most elaborate ballet-opera of the time. It was a spectacle written for a cast of the nobility, directed by and starring Louis XIV. Versailles was not just the product of the ego and ostentation of a king, it was a carefully constructed golden cage to keep the court, and thus any opposition to the king's power, a very captive audience.

Les soirées d'appartement were Louis XIV's new diversion for the court after it moved to Versailles permanently in 1682. Billiards, banquets, and balls succeeded one another each evening according to a fixed weekly schedule. When I walked into the first of the suite of official rooms, the lights were low and faux candlelight reflected off silver chairs, candelabras, and mirrors. I could easily imagine the silk satin, the murmuring voices behind fans, the towering plates of fruit and sweets, the hush as the king took to dance.

And there I was in my sneakers and it felt incongruous enough to be comic. Was the ghost of Louis XIV here, and if so, what did he think of me? Or did I even catch his notice between the disciplined line of uniformed Japanese schoolchildren pushing past and the tour guide waving a flower-shaped plush toy over her head?

Then le Petit made sure that all present, ghosts included, would notice us all: from his perch in the Bjorn on my husband's chest, he started to make short cries which carried embarrassingly well above the din of the crowd. He soon started to cry in earnest, and I realized he was overdue for a feeding. We fought our way upstream to the anteroom at the start of the visit and found an empty bench, where I took him into my arms and started trying to find a way to position him to nurse him.

One of the museum guards, a kind-looking man in his fifties, came up and tried to console le Petit, cooing and talking to him in French. I must have looked a tiny bit embarrassed, and then we made eye contact and he understood: "Oh, he's hungry!" he said, "One moment," and he rushed into an adjoining room. I realized that we were sitting in the middle of a chaos of people and the guard wanted to find a calmer place for us. In a couple seconds he was back, and directed us to the relatively secluded alcove of a giant window where he'd placed a bench just for us.

I was touched and thanked him heartily. Thus le Petit nursed in front of a monumental window with a commanding view of the gardens of Versailles, seated on a bench covered with blue velvet while the organ played in the adjacent royal chapel. A meal fit for a king, indeed.

Le Petit was calmer but hardly quieter after he ate, and we finally realized that he wanted to be carried facing out so he could admire the apartments for himself. He found the chandeliers particularly fascinating, and stared up with his mouth agape. "Ha! Ha! Ha!" he cried in joy or amazement, or just happy to hear his own voice echo about the high ceiling. He smiled at everyone who wandered past. He looked over the furnishings with a proprietary air, staring intently at a pair of lion statues and the silver throne as if they were placed there just to amuse him. He was holding court himself, my Petit, and I could only think that if the ghost of the Sun King was looking on, he would smile.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Room of one's own

How to fit two adults, a loom, over a thousand books, a far-from-flat-screen television and a baby in a 600 square foot Parisian apartment:
  1. Double shelve the books. Otherwise, six bookshelves may not prove enough. Start discreetly, so your spouse doesn’t notice until it is too late.
  2. Hang it up. My grandmother, an avid collector of antiques of all shapes and sizes, once told me confidentially, “Remember, if you can’t find somewhere to put something, you can always hang it on the wall.” Lately I’ve taken this advice to heart. Neither the bedroom doors nor the kitchen door open completely anymore for all the stuff neatly hanging on coat hooks behind.
  3. Don't forget the space under the bed. Skip the box frame and get a bed with slats. Buy rolling drawers from Ikea. Sleep soundly, knowing your shoe collection, your summer clothes, and your wedding dress are safely stored underneath you.
  4. Buy a second home in the country. This is Parisian storage secret number one. So what if between winter ski and summer sand you hardly spend any of your vacation in your charming stone farmhouse in Burgundy? If it can store last season’s clothes and your baby’s old car seat, it is worth the investment. Alas, we don’t have the money for this solution yet, which brings me to:
  5. Give it to family. Grandparents, remember, nothing says “I love you” like “I would be happy to store your coffee table.”

Monday, March 03, 2008

White nights

Last night just as my worried thoughts were dissolving into more peaceful dreams, I heard that too-familiar first cry over the baby monitor.

I rolled over and blinked at the clock: 12:20 a.m. It has been taking me longer to fall asleep lately, and le Petit has some sixth sense that allows him to wake up just after I finally drift off. I groaned and cursed aloud, then squeezing my eyes shut, let him toss and whine for a few minutes. Sometimes he resettles himself. This time he didn't. I got out of bed, found my sweater, and went into his room where I scooped him up from his crib and sat down with him in the recliner.

To think that beat-up old leather recliner was almost thrown out in the Great Reorganization that preceded le Petit's arrival! I've spent hours in that chair, so grateful for the footstool and the arm rests that let me nap with him in my arms. Last night, however, I was wide awake and unhappy, and not about to doze off with a smile on my lips in some portrait of maternal bliss.

Le Petit fell asleep at the breast, but each time I gently pulled him away he squirmed awake. I eventually got frustrated and put him half-asleep in his crib where he promptly woke up and started to scream, while I ran off to my bedroom to bury my head in my pillows and scream myself.

My husband dutifully climbed out of bed and headed to le Petit's bedroom. We have a good cop/bad cop routine, where he takes over nighttime parenting when my patience has worn out. In my husband's arms, le Petit alternated all-out screaming with desperate sobbing. I admire my husband, because when le Petit knows that Mommy is somewhere in the house, all his cuddles and attention are rejected. I eventually took a deep breath and went back in to take over.

It took three attempts at nursing him down and almost two hours before le Petit was finally asleep for the night. In the middle of it all, my husband and I had the cry-it-out discussion. Again.

My husband, in his frustration, told me that le Petit simply needs to learn to fall asleep on his own without the breast, and if that means letting him cry, so be it. The trouble is, we know our son too well. His crying only escalates. Five minutes of crying would accomplish nothing, nor would ten, nor would thirty, if his protracted fits of fury in the car seat are any indication. He will not give up, and on a certain level, I bless him for it: this is a child who will make sure his needs are met.

My husband is not cold or uncaring when he suggests letting le Petit cry. This is the dad who takes middle of the night diaper duty, who has cooked every dinner for the last nine months, and who proudly carries his son around town whenever he can. He just wants so desperately to take care of all three of us that he's searching for a solution, and a solution simply doesn't exist at the moment.

I've read the books. I know the advice. But I simply can't put le Petit down awake right now. Left alone in his crib at bedtime, he cries inconsolably. I also can't prevent him from waking up at night and staying awake for hours sometimes.

It occurred to me last night that falling asleep is the single hardest thing le Petit has had to learn to do in his short life. I don't want to abandon him to just figure it out on his own, like throwing him in the pool and expecting him to discover how to swim. And I have to admit that he is learning pretty well. We have many good nights, often with only one quick wake up, and the occasional two- or three- hour party in the middle of the night and the bedtimes that stretch to an hour are probably just part of being almost eight months old. If I'm not there for him during this tough spot, what kind of precedent does that set for all the other difficult things he'll face growing up?

In the end, all I can do is set the stage with a solid bedtime routine, a calm presence, and plenty of love. Now when I'm sitting in the old recliner with le Petit curled up in my lap, I will remind myself that these moments of just being with him as he falls asleep will not last forever. Holding him in my arms, feeling his slight weight, listening to his breathing, I'll soon struggle to remember all these things and wish they hadn't passed by so quickly. Now I see how "this too shall pass" becomes "this was over before I had time to cherish it."

It won't be easy to remember all this at three a.m., but I promise le Petit and myself that I will do my best.

Child's play

I've spent 18 euros for a fabric covered foam ball. I've spent 25 euros for a German-made wooden pyramid, with beads, elves, and flowers that spin and rattle. Only the best for this kid. Who cares if we have no money left for his college education?

And yet, what has captured his attention longer than anything else this morning is a half-empty 1.5 liter bottle of Volvic mineral water, which he knocked off the table onto the floor all by himself.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Up

Seven months is almost eight, and le Petit is now standing. He pulls himself up now with ease by leaning against the footstool in his bedroom. Each time he does it he grins at me all self-satisfied as if to say, "Look, ma! Don't you see? Up is cool! Up is the new crawl!" And although it throws open a whole new realm of ouch, I can't help but share his enthusiasm.

No one showed him Up and said, "Hey, kid, this is where you gotta be in a few months." I never put the idea in his head, or not on purpose anyway, though I may have left a few tantalizing objects just out of reach, like a magazine or my cell phone. No, I'm convinced the idea came out of the blue, and now it obsesses him. No matter where we put him down, his room, his playpen, or his crib, down must become Up.

He scans the terrain for handholds. Anything will do. When I lie down next to him, he plants a palm in my eye and firmly grabs my nose. Mom is not a satisfactory jungle gym, however, as I tend to wriggle and cry "ouch!" at inconvenient moments.

Once Up, he's not sure what to do next. Sometimes he glimpses some El Dorado on a higher shelf and starts plotting some acrobatics which he's thankfully still not capable of. Sometimes he sways back and forth and eventually falls, although he's beginning to learn the graceful descent.

He will now grab both my hands and pull himself Up, then take some tentative steps forward. He's far from walking independently, but the idea is already forming.

I shake my head and marvel at how all these basics of being human -- movement, language, walking upright -- are all somehow there, innate, programmed to unfold in the first year or two of life. Up is all le Petit; I have nothing to do with it. I'm just behind him, full of worry and wonder, arms outstretched and ready to catch.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sleepwalking, part III

La java, three to six a.m. Aren't the bars closed at that hour, even in Paris? Shouldn't le Petit learn that late-night partying is discouraged, at least until he's a bit older, say, over six?

Groan. Yesterday was a very nearly perfect day. Le Petit slept in until 10. My husband had the day off work, so we all lazed around the house until late afternoon, when we drove to Versailles for a walk around the gardens. Le Petit fell asleep in fifteen minutes at bedtime, cuddled up in my arms in his brand new sleeping bag.

I, idiot that I am, ignored my new bedtime and stayed up watching Seinfeld DVDs until almost one o'clock. I then found myself awake in the dark with a million stupid thoughts besieging my brain. Thoughts like "You really should fall asleep now. You'll be exhausted tomorrow," "He'll wake up in five minutes," "This will all be worse when you go back to work," and "Just when do you plan on doing the taxes?"

Then, three to six a.m. was a nursing, pacing, crying marathon. At one point le Petit looked up from the breast and stared at me with his enormous brown eyes and started to coo. I understand baby talk now. He was saying, "Hey, Mom, I don't know what brings you here, but as long as we're in this two-bit dance hall together, let's party!"

Right.

I wish my nighttime parenting skills were better, but I confess I left him to whimper in his crib for awhile while I tried to compose myself, going back in when the crying escalated. He finally, finally nursed down at six, when I slumped off to bed and, judging from the imprint of my pillow on my cheek, didn't move again until 11 o'clock this morning.