Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Le lit de grand = no go

Here's something new parenting has taught me:

Any plan that terminates with you in the middle of your child's bedroom at 3 o'clock in the morning, an Ikea instruction manual in hand, cannot be considered a success.

Le Petit's crying over the baby monitor woke us up on Monday at 4 am. We waited a moment before my husband peeked in when, trying as he might to peer into the dark bedroom, he was greeted by a heart-stopping thump. Le Petit had launched himself over the crib rail. It was not his first attempt at escape, but it was certainly his most dramatic. Our minds were made up: the transfer to the big boy bed would take place that evening.

I dreaded it all day. I talked about it incessantly to my colleagues, who all, whether parents or not, could care less. (Did I mention I need more mommy friends? I do.) I rehashed the plan for an hour with my mother-in-law. By the time bedtime rolled around I was a nervous wreck. But le Petit, when he discovered that the side was removed from the crib, jumped all over it and looked delighted. Perhaps the situation was more promising than I thought.

We did our bedtime ritual as usual, and I put le Petit down, anxious but hopeful. He immediately rolled over and bumped his head on the corner of the new side. He melted into tears. I picked him up and snuggled him next to me on the mattress on the floor, but he was no more comfortable. For the next three hours (3!) he tossed, turned, flung himself from bed to floor; alternately climbed on my back, feet, and head; squeezed himself into a tiny corner of bare wood floor next to the window; and stumbled around in the dark, confused. Meanwhile, I sang, patted, snuggled, begged, explained, and nothing helped. It seemed that the whole concept of sleeping anywhere other than his four-walled crib was completely foreign to him. Since he's never coslept with us except for a few desperate weeks when he was a newborn, a big person bed just didn't compute.

At eleven-thirty, we both dazedly wandered out into the living room where my husband had been anxiously waiting since half past eight. Valiantly mastering his brimming frustration, he offered to take over, and I was more than happy to accept.

The next two and half hours were grim. With me, le Petit was searching for sleep but otherwise calm; with his father, he screamed. I kept reminding myself that he was with a loving and calm adult (for my husband remained admirably calm throughout) but I hid under the covers in my own bed, curled up in a ball listening to desperate calls for maman. My husband finally helped le Petit calm down by leading him around the apartment for the third time in a row, showing him that everyone in the big, wide world was asleep, and bringing him back to his favorite chair for a story. They cuddled, he accepted to be placed in his bed as usual, contentedly rolled over to get comfortable and...

BOOM. He fell out of bed onto the mattress on the floor. I could hear the poor, exhausted child startle himself awake with a scream. He was tired enough to allow a couple more attempts, but it soon became clear he just wasn't ready for the big boy bed.

And that's how we found ourselves -- or rather my husband found himself, as I read le Petit his umpteenth bedtime story while in tears -- reassembling an Ikea crib at 3 o'clock in the morning.

He's been back in the crib ever since. We covered the floor with blankets, pillows as well as a mattress, and we're reasonably sure le Petit is good enough at climbing out now that he won't hurt himself. We've also discovered that if we run into his room at the first squeak, he doesn't try to climb. The plan now is to wait until the apartment is sufficiently reassembled to find room to put a big boy bed in the room along with the crib, and then to aim for a gradual transition.

The last two nights have been peaceful. The work in the kitchen in advancing. Tomorrow is a holiday. I still can't see the floor in the living room for the plastic sheeting and appliances, but I feel like I can finally breathe again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Parisienne's dream kitchen, part I

My stove and my washing machine are sitting on my balcony covered in plastic; my dishwasher and dryer are in the middle of the living room. Renovating a kitchen while living in a 600-square-foot apartment is not for the faint of heart, but add a toddler in the mix and one might question one's sanity. It doesn't matter to me, for I've been complaining, pestering and cajoling--err--respectfully negotiating with my husband ever since we bought the place three years ago (we moved in as renters), and I'm thrilled to say our remodeling project is off the ground.

Here are some "before" pictures:

Part of what earns me the "presque" after the "parisienne" is that I won't live without my dishwasher, washing machine, and clothes dryer. Most French hang their clothes to dry, a more economic and ecologically-friendly solution, but I refuse to turn my apartment into a jungle of hanging underwear or wait three days to put on a pair of clean jeans. Alas, since the apartment is small, the appliances all end up lined up in my kitchen, giving it the chic look of an aisle on the exposition floor at Darty.

The machines stay, but they will be capped by a wooden counter top which will both tie the kitchen together visually and keep me from dropping utensils into the no-man's-land behind.

Note the dirty white floor tiles, which really are that ugly in real life. They date from the construction of the building fifteen years ago, and have the dings and cracks you'd expect from life in a rental unit.

(For the record, who puts white tiles on a kitchen floor? Is this some conspiracy to make empowered, modern women feel like incompetent housekeepers? I have better things to do than vacuum and mop every two days.)


Opposite the row of machines was an old, sturdy workhorse of a bookshelf. It was a simple storage solution when we moved in as renters, but open shelving in a kitchen gets dusty and grimy, and keeping a toddler from emptying the shelves is a losing battle. Since the kitchen isn't wide enough for standard cabinets on both sides, we're replacing the bookshelf with narrow-profile cabinets from Ikea.

(Our downstairs neighbors are most likely cursing us and our remodeling project at the moment, since we unfortunately timed it to start in her ninth month of pregnancy while she's at home all day, uncomfortable, miserable and tired. I'm hoping they'll ultimately be grateful when le Petit no longer can throw pots and pans on the floor.)

The stove, a major point of contention. It cooks well, but I want one that mounts in the counter top and has a child lock. My husband rightly points out that this stove is practically new -- bought in 2003 when we moved in -- and was top of the line when we bought it. Our compromise is to take it to Troyes to replace the 1960s-model gas stove in the family home.

The sink, stove, fridge, and a few paint samples we put on the wall. The sink is in stainless steel and thus perpetually stained by Paris' hard water. The cabinet under it is warped particle board with a shelf that is prone to collapse when le Petit pounds on the doors. No one is sad to see them go. They'll be replaced by two cabinets from Ikea, one with drawers (drawers! In my kitchen! Finally!), and a white porcelain sink. The cabinets themselves will match the current wall units, a classic white style called "Stat."

The wall tiles in the picture are a nondescript gray, vaguely reminiscent of 1980s RER stations. I was thinking of donating them to the RATP, but as of this evening, they're history. We bought some white tiles that are ever-so-slightly pink, a warm tone that will be reflected, we hope, in the terracotta floor tiles we chose.

The walls will be painted a light sage green. To save money, we are doing the paint and plastering ourselves. In these pictures you can't see how damaged the current paint is, but we have our work cut out for us.

The chantier (sounds so much nicer than "construction zone," no?) should be finished by mid-May, when we leave on vacation. Whether my appliances will be out of my living room by then is anyone's guess.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another brilliant parenting moment

As of today our kitchen remodeling project is in progress, and I promise more exciting details and even pictures soon. But yesterday I was a wreck, tired from staying up too late the night before to empty the kitchen of its contents, and anxious over le Petit's new talent as an escape artist.

Would my kitchen ever be emptied in time? Would le Petit vault from his crib in the middle of the night and rummage through the boxes littering the living room? The anxiety kept me tossing and turning into the wee hours, even while le Petit slept like a baby like a hungover college student in the room next door. So by Wednesday afternoon I was exhausted and clinging to the hope that nap time would give me the time I needed to rest, regroup and reorganize.

Le Petit had other ideas. Immediately after I put him in his crib he managed to pull himself up to a precarious perch on the rail despite the thin mattress I'd borrowed from his pack n' play. Oh no. I was hoping that mattress would buy me another month of tranquility, but instead it made his crib even more dangerous.

I helped le Petit out, then stretched out on the mattress next to his crib and pleaded, "Come over here and sleep next to Mommy." I needed a nap badly myself, after all; it seemed like a workable compromise.

Meanwhile le Petit started running around the room at full speed, scooping up toys and showing no signs of winding down. I buried my head in a pillow and yelled "@#!&."

"@#!&" repeated le Petit in his adorable toddler voice. "@#!&, @#!&, @#!&!" he chanted as he bounced on the mattress.

"Please don't say that word, it's not..." I protested weakly as he jumped on my back, "...very nice." I started to cry dramatically and pound the mattress with my fists, but it sounded like laughter to le Petit and he joined in giggling.

After some more useless pleading, I abandoned hope of nap time and took le Petit into the living room. I grabbed the phone, called my best friend and sobbed. (I think she's getting used to this.)

I'm doing better now. Le Petit is sleeping in his crib at night with the old, thicker mattress, and the floor beside him is protected with two mattresses, a mound of pillows and an old comforter. He hasn't tried to climb out at night if we go get him promptly in the morning. We're going to buy a bedrail and a lock for the kitchen door this weekend, take the side off the crib and try the transition to the Big Boy Bed.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sleepwalking, part V

Le Petit just figured out how to climb out of his crib.

Just writing that makes my stomach twist into knots.

He's only 21 months old, and I naively thought I'd have at least another six months of tranquility before I had to worry about convincing him to stay put in a toddler bed all night long. But no, my tall, clever, precocious child just figured out how to scale the side and tumble out to the ground. Ever since he made his first crib break last weekend, our interim security measure is padding (currently a second spring mattress) on the floor, but the incident seemed isolated until today at nap time.

After an hour of singing and playing and refusing to nap, I went in to check on him. Far from being coaxed to sleep, he jumped out of his crib, bounced and rolled on the mattress. I put him back in, he tried to climb back out; I made a couple of futile attempts to convince him to sleep before giving up on the nap entirely.

Alas, the skipped nap made him an exhausted wreck at bedtime, too tired to fall asleep peacefully on his own. He screamed when I put him down and tried to climb out again. He eventually fell asleep in my arms in the recliner and I put him back in the crib asleep. I am terrified he'll wake up and try to climb out again at some point during the night.

I have no idea what to do. This problem couldn't be timed worse, because we're starting a huge kitchen remodeling project on Thursday.

The good news is that the side of the crib can be removed to make a toddler bed. I'm very worried, though, that he won't understand this new sleeping configuration and will either refuse to fall asleep, will roll out and wake himself up during the night, or will use the lack of a side to wander around his room or, worse, the apartment all by himself while we're asleep.

What to do? The options as I see them are:

1) Remove the side and hope for the best. This would mean we would have to get a latch for his door, since he's otherwise figured out how to open ever room in the apartment and I can't have him wandering into the kitchen or the bathroom on his own. I don't want to imprison him in his room, but I do want to make sure I'm awake if he's up and exploring.

2) Transfer him to the pack n' play or use the pack n' play mattress in his crib (and hope he doesn't figure out how to climb out of that too soon).

I'm leaning toward the first option. To me, 21 months is too early for a toddler to be free-roaming at night, and he's typically been such a poor sleeper I dread the repercussions of a "big boy bed" so young, but what choice do I have?

(For what it's worth, although I completely respect it as a solution that works for a lot of families, I'm not at all comfortable with cosleeping. So bringing le Petit into our bed is not an option.)

If anyone out there has strategies for surviving an early transition from the crib, I'm all ears. Or commiseration... or words of support... anything!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stubborn shoes

The screams that shook the walls of the tiny shoe store could be heard up and down the street, all the way from the bakery to the local branch of the Caisse d'Epargne.

Le Petit was trying on shoes, and he was not happy about it.

It was Wednesday afternoon, and I was grateful I'd dragged my mother-in-law downtown to help us shoe shop for I'd never have had the courage on my own.

Le Petit was still wearing the pair of velcro sneakers I'd bought him back in October. They were starting to feel tight and it seemed to me like an awfully long time to keep baby shoes, even ones only worn during brief daily visits to the park. (He's an urban baby and I'm terrified of narrow sidewalks and busy streets, so le Petit spends much of his time outdoors shod in Robeez and confined to a stroller.)

Le Petit is skeptical of novelty and particularly fearful of unfamiliar objects forced upon his feet. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, the contents of his nose was dripping down his chin, and he was screaming his indignation with such force that a well-meaning woman came up to us and asked us (half-jokingly, I hope) just what we were doing to the poor child. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law had pulled off one of his beloved lion-faced Robeez and was trying unsuccessfully to squeeze his foot into the first shoe I'd handed her.

I wish I could say that I got down at le Petit's level and reassured him with a hug and some gentle words, but my reaction was split between stifling laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation and standing and staring, helpless. We tried and tried again, but there was just no way le Petit would let a single toe suffer the insult of an unfamiliar shoe. I oohed and aahed the aesthetic merits of each pair, I pretended to squeeze my own feet into them, I commiserated and explained, I begged and promised a quick trip to the playground if he would cooperate, all for naught.

We left the shoe store in shame, walked three blocks, then circled back after deciding to buy an untested pair and try them at home. Then, a determined saleswoman (with two similarly stubborn children at home, she confided) decided to take matters into her own hands. She grabbed le Petit's feet and expertly slid them into the shoes we'd been eyeing. She pinched the toes and the sizing seemed right. It was time for a test run.

But le Petit, who'd been pathetically demanding "Marcher! Marcher! [walk! walk!]" through his tears since we'd entered the store, refused to take a single step once we liberated him from his stroller. He just looked at me and cried tragically. The saleswoman might as well have fitted him with cement shoes and dropped him into the Seine.

I played peek-a-boo, we tried to distract him in front of the mirror, but absolutely nothing would change his mind. Then I saw my last chance: ever since we'd arrived, le Petit could think of nothing but escaping the dreaded shop into the pedestrian street beyond. I picked up le Petit and caught my mother-in-law's eye. "You pay, we'll wait outside," I told her.

Le Petit's crying subsided as he saw we were headed for the door, but the inventory control gate started to beep when we passed. I hurried back inside and stood a protesting le Petit upright on top of the counter to demagnetize the soles of his new shoes. A second later we were outside for good.

I'm fairly certain le Petit's feet started to move before they even hit the ground, for he was off at full-speed, possessed by the wild energy of a liberated prisoner. He ran up to the doorway of an apartment building and pointed at the digicode pad, yelling "Bouton! Bouton!" [button]. Then he ran up to the window an appliance store and shouted out "Ti! Ti!" [petit-speak for television] . He darted left and right, giddy with freedom. The trees were greener, the sky was bluer, the cars were shinier, everything was richer after his escape.

I scrambled to keep up and noted, pleased, that the new shoes seemed to suit him just fine.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Le Petit à table, part III

I have a dilemma worthy of a three-star Michelin chef: a very demanding client whose tastes change without warning and who is not afraid to make sure we note his displeasure with a meal.

OK, I'm exaggerating: le Petit is a better eater than 80% of the toddler planet and I know I'm lucky. But still, I'm currently hating mealtimes. I feel like I keep giving le Petit the same things over and over again, so when he rejects them, can I really blame him?

My goal is to try to make things that the whole family can share: soup, rice dishes (le Petit adores risotto and rice pilaf), roasted chicken, or steamed vegetables (which le Petit can take or leave most days). I rely a lot more than I'd like on avocado, cheese cubes, and slices of ham. Until recently I could count on serving frozen peas when nothing else worked -- I admit I even gave them to him still frozen when he was reeeeeaaaaally hungry -- but lately he just dumps them on the floor. He's also suddenly, strangely no longer interested in pasta.

Meanwhile my husband is on a diet, so vegetables and salads are standard fare at our dinner table. What can I make to keep everyone happy? And what can I keep on hand for le Petit when he decides he's not willing to try my homemade roasted tomato soup that took me an hour to prepare? (Not that I'm bitter about my meal falling through last night or anything.)

Le Petit likes small, soft pieces he can pick up or stab with a fork, but won't eat anything that has the consistency of mashed potatoes. He is usually pretty happy with soup.

Readers, if there is there anyone out there with toddler feeding tips or quick, tasty recipes (especially rice-based or vegetarian) we can all eat together, I'm all ears.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

One proud (o)mama

How many toddlers do you know who, before their second birthday, can pick out President Obama from a photo of the G20 leaders?

Well, this proud mama is here to tell you that le Petit can. I'd talked to him often about President Obama back around the inauguration, and pointed out his picture on the cover of the Economist. Actually, le Petit, in the adorable way he uses to learn words, grabbed my finger and repeatedly pressed it to the cover while I repeated "O-ba-ma." That was over two months ago, so I was surprised when one day a couple weeks back le Petit caught sight of the latest issue of the Economist, pointed at our president who was again on the cover, and said "Oh-ba-ba!"

I've decided he's a genuis and well on his way to a brillant career in the diplomatic corps. This week, le Petit was even smart enough to show off in front of my mother-in-law: he spied a copy of the Nouvel Observateur on the floor next to their bed and pointed to the cover.

"Oh-ba-ma!" (His pronounciation has improved somewhat.)

We then showed him a picture of all of the G20 leaders and, after a bit of hesitation, he pointed Obama out with no problem.

(OK, in the first picture I showed him, I'll admit that he pointed out Sarkozy first. An inexplicable confusion from our point of view, but I guess it does at least show some patriotism for his other country of citizenship.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Do you want frites with that?

Thursday lunch saw me sitting with two colleagues at a sidewalk café not far from the office. It was a mild and sunny Spring day, cool enough still for me to not mind sitting outside in the full sun without a parasol in sight.

If it sounds like an ideal of April in Paris, let me share one detail: we were seated outside an English pub and I was sipping a pint of Kilkenny, waiting to be served les hamburgers. When I had ordered the Kilkenny, my English waitress understood that I'd ordered a Coke, and my French colleagues barely stifled their laughter.

I discovered rapidly that I can no longer down an entire pint in one sitting, and the three-fourths I did finish over the course of the meal made my head spin. When our burgers arrived, I watched one of my colleagues meticulously dismantle his and eat it with a knife and fork. The other one followed my lead and, smearing ketchup from a plastic packet, grabbed it with both hands and chomped. I asked him if he always ate his burgers like that, or if it was just for my benefit. He claimed he'd learned at McDonalds. In a nod to French decorum, I ate my fries with my fork.

That evening, I met my sister-in-law for dinner at a bistro not far from the Arc de Triomphe. We are both American, though we've both been living in France for years now, and we were naturally speaking English together as we walked in the door. The waitress had to concentrate to understand me when I gave the name of our reservation in French, and I noted with dismay that she handed us English menus. After six years as a presque Parisian, I always feel a bit deflated when I don't get the menu in French.

When she came to take our order and I addressed her in my best, clearest French, she wrinkled her forehead and apologized with a perfect Californian accent, "Actually, I prefer English." She was an American student working a waitressing gig during a year off from college.

I ordered an entrecôte and was served a steak of American proportions that almost hung off the sides of the plate. I attacked it with purpose while at the same time wondering how prudent it was after the burger at lunch. I still only finished half.

(My excuse: my husband has been dieting for the past two months and has lost over 20 pounds. I'm very proud of him, but I also find myself dieting by association, since we prepare light and mostly vegetarian meals at home. On my girls' night out I was trying to make up for this and went overboard slightly.)

The (French) waiter came by to take my plate away and I looked at him imploringly. "I know this isn't done,*" I said in French, "but is there any way I might be able to take the rest of this steak with me..."

"Ah, you want ze doggy bag!" he said. I nodded, embarrassed. He whisked away my plate and came back with an aluminum container wrapped in plastic.

"How about dessert?" he asked with a smile. "Bien sûr !" we agreed. As he handed us back the menu he added mockingly, "Will this be for here or for takeaway?"

[* "Ca ne se fait pas:" what is and isn't done is a very important concept in France. Sometimes just demonstrating that you know that something isn't normally done wins you a lot of room for bending the rules: in my experience, the only thing the French like more than making rules is breaking them.]