Friday, December 09, 2011

All I want for Christmas

Le Petit decided to pretend to be Santa Claus, or as he usually says, the père noël.  I was to be the père fouettard, the anti-Santa.  As we walked back from Grandma and Grandpa's house across the square lit brightly with Christmas lights, le Petit pretended to distribute presents as I handed out imaginary lumps of coal.

"So, Santa," I said, joining my hands and holding them open like a book, "I have a letter for you."  Le Petit stopped and listened attentively.

"Dear Santa," I began, "What I really want for Christmas is..." I hesitated, wondering if I should pretend to be a kid and ask for Legos, or just be myself, silly and honest.  

"What I really want for Christmas is... a bigger apartment!"

"But Mommy," le Petit explained slowly, as if I were a child too young to understand the rules of the game, "You can't ask Santa Claus for an apartment.  You buy an apartment. With moneys [sic]!"

-----

I've had a few thoughts on the subject of the apartment, and whether or not a new one will figure on my Christmas list. I'm beginning to think we'll stay put for another year.  We were lucky to find a warm, loving nanny for Mademoiselle (shared with another local family), and the two seem to have become quite attached.  Meanwhile, le Petit has settled into school and made friends.  Both kids profit greatly from having their grandparents live right next door.  Since a bigger apartment means moving farther out into the suburbs, I'm thinking that we should wait one more year -- time for le Petit to finish his last year of nursery school, and for Mademoiselle to hopefully be ready to start her first.

-----

We'll be heading back to Seattle in a week.  It will be my first trip back home for the holidays in over ten years.  Le Petit expects to see Santa and his sleigh from the window of the airplane, since I've explained we'll fly real close to the North Pole.  I warned him last night that the other people on our direct flight may very well be close friends of Santa Claus and thus likely to report him to the big guy in the red suit as pas sage if he doesn't do his best to keep reasonably quiet and avoid kicking the seat in front of him.  I'm not sure he buys it.  Which is good, because otherwise I might feel guilty.

He's asking a lot of questions about chimneys and just how Santa intends to make his entrance.  Since we don't have a fireplace, will he try to squeeze down the aeration conduit in the bathroom?  I reassured him that no, he wouldn't try that, certainly not with his big bag of toys.  He'll surely just ring -- very quietly, so no children can hear -- and come right on in the front door.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Birthday girl

One year is a long time.  I'm telling you.  Don't ask my mom, because I'm pretty sure I know what she'll say.  She'll tell you this year has gone past in a heartbeat, in less time that it takes me to push a high chair tray's worth of broccoli on the floor.  But I'm telling you otherwise.  I'm telling you like it is.  And you can trust me because I'm still short.  In my experience, few people are telling the whole truth when their head passes the top of the dining room table.

One year ago I was barely blinking the glare of the fluorescent lights from my eyes, skin to skin next to my mom -- not that I knew to call her that then -- nursing, which was new, but kind of familiar.  The shapes and colors and sounds were erasing memories of a simpler place before, where I didn't feel cold, or hungry, or lonely, or... but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Things had been tight, it was time to move on, move out.  I would figure the rest out as I went along I decided, and though I didn't know it then, I was lucky to be born a second child so my parents weren't rank beginners.  My big bro -- le Petit, you call him?  He ain't so petit to me -- had broken them in real well.  One of these days I'll have to thank him for it.

Once I figured out that this big, warm Mom shape was pretty reliable -- she had me convinced a week or two into the gig -- I could get down to the serious business of growing.  For a few weeks, I was mostly working my arms and legs, swinging them around, getting the hang of them.  I can't say I had any big plans yet, but I had a hunch that synchronizing my limbs might come in handy wherever I went next.  At the same time, I started making more sense of the things I saw; colors emerged from the shades of gray, and gosh darn it, if there weren't things out there to grasp.  So I opened my hands.

But still, the first few months were kind of dull, truth be told.  I kept falling asleep in the middle of my meals, but what can you do?  I was trying so hard to roll over, it was wearing me out.  The rest of the time I just stayed put, following with my busy eyes from my swing or my baby chair or my activity mat the constant movement around me.  I pretended to be interested when Mom made me sit and watch her work out to her exercise video, or peeked her head at me from behind the shower curtain in the bathroom.  OK, so she could sometimes make me laugh.  

What I lived for, though, were the walks, facing out and taking in the world, or snuggled against Mom in the scarf.  She walked and chatted and I swayed back and forth, adrift in my own ocean, remembering an even simpler place long ago, before the creatures of the planet evolved and invented the drama of being born.

Summer came.  I sat up.  I grabbed pebbles. I ate sand.  I wasn't too convinced by the real ocean, loud and cold.  But I watched from the shore.  When Daddy carried me in the Bjorn I felt as tall and as strong as a big person, and people noticed me and talked and I answered with smiles that told them they weren't wasting their time with me. 

Halfway through the year, self-propulsion became my obsession.  I learned to crawl in my own unique way on two hands and one knee, pushing with my foot and my leg bent off to one side.  I gave that up for pulling myself upright along the furniture, and then I let go... and now I walk.  I make it look easy now, but when I think back on how I got here, I fall down in astonishment on my padded, diapered behind.

What's next?  Talking.  So many words are on the tip of my tongue, you wouldn't believe it.  At least with my first word I have "maman's" full attention, and with the next my proud "dada" now knows he's also "papa." Then I've got some score settling with my big brother.  His toys are my toys and my toys are his toys and I saw already that he won't keep his grubby hands off of my brand-new birthday presents.  I also want to find out just why so many things are no -- why can't I lean backwards on the edge of the couch?  Or pick up shoes and parade them around the house?  Or eat the crumbs I find under the dining table? 

Mommy talked to me quietly tonight just as she always does when she nurses me to sleep, but tonight the script was different.  She kept saying "a year ago..." and repeating "so exciting, so exciting."  "You arrived, and you were in such a hurry," she said, but the way she told it, I almost felt like she was talking to herself.  Then I started to drift off to sleep because nursing still makes me so tired, and with all the champagne and foie gras and chocolate cake shared with Grandma and Grandpa tonight, it was a full hour past my bedtime.  Eventually my mom's voice was same warm, soft murmur that I remember from one year ago, when I was first blinking on the outside.

I remember it.  I really do.  And I tell you again, one year is a very long time.

Happy Birthday, Mademoiselle.  Forgive me for giving you your words, because I can't find my own to thank you for the love, peace, joy, and wonder you've given me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

You might be an Expat if...

...on the Sunday after the fourth Thursday in November you find yourself up at one a.m. making cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie from scratch, and ripping up bread cubes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The one where I finally get the driver's license

Ca y est.

The République française, represented by a cheerful, bespectacled test inspector, has deemed me competent to operate a motor vehicle.

I can hardly believe it.  Especially since I don't have the paper in my hands yet, I've so far only received an overjoyed call from my driving instructor yesterday.  The driving school got the results, which, as the secretary explained to me when I later went in, are theoretically supposed to be transmitted directly to the school headquarters unopened.  But, V, my instructor, is like a kid and can't wait.  He discreetly opens up the results and then calls his students to share the good news.

It wasn't such a sure thing, you see.

Tuesday was my second attempt to pass the driver's exam.  The stress had been eating at me for weeks, making me grumpy with the kids, absentminded at work, even slowing me down during my lunch hour run with my colleagues.  I didn't want to blog about it for fear of jinxing or simply humiliating myself.  So I stopped blogging, more or less.  As the date came closer, my appetite even started to suffer.

Out of proportion?  Ridiculous?  Embarrassingly so?  Yes, yes, and yes.  It was like my head was stuck in gear and my foot was slipping and I was going to lurch forward and stall out and...

Anyway.

V was determined to help me pass.  He was encouraging, and almost endearing in an odd way, if of a bit of a nervous temperament. After having my confidence ground to a pulp by the first two instructors I encountered, I found V supportive, sympathetic and practical, and I quickly decided I'd stick with him to the end even though he systematically tuned the car radio to RMC, a low-brow French talk radio station.  He still yelled at me to shift gears differently or brake more slowly or why the hell was I in neutral already, but, you know, nicely.  And I had to laugh -- to myself, in between silent tears of frustration -- when he bellowed at me to accelerate:  "Accelère, fort! FORT!"

On Tuesday morning, I met V at the driving school and we left for two hours of driving in circles around the Paris suburb where my test would be held.  The rough edges of the warehouses and tattered apartment buildings were softened by a thick morning fog.  I fumbled with the fog lights.  We drove down the streets that were starting to become familiar, the scene of my previous humiliation in May when I first tried to pass the test, when in a moment of nervous inattention I cut off someone at a stop sign.  This being France, and this being the Paris region, I had to wait six whole months to schedule another exam.  (There aren't enough inspectors, you see.  And then they went on strike. To protest the fact that there aren't enough inspectors.)  As we turned through the fog, I tried to memorize the treacherous "Do Not Enter" signs and tame the butterflies in my stomach.

Why is something as simple as driving so hard, you ask?  I wish I knew.  All I know is that the driving test looms large in the personal experience of most French.  If they passed on the first try, they're ridiculously proud of it.  If they didn't -- which is the majority, I would guess -- they can precisely recount the details of their initial failure decades later.

We parked along the designated sidewalk and waited for the inspector, who arrived early.  He took his place in the front passenger seat and V took his place behind.  I started the car.  We crossed one intersection, then another, and then, carefully checking my blind spot for bicycles or scooters just as I'd been taught, I slowly turned right into a narrow street and firmly hit the edge of the curb with my right tire.

The inspector cringed and sucked in his breath.  I did, too. V grimaced helplessly in the back seat.  Don't lose your cool, I told myself.  I kept going. There were no other mishaps, although the inspector once made a comment about my choice once to downshift to first.  The guy was nice, mentioning that I was in a one-way street before he asked me to make a left turn (one-way streets are not always obvious in Europe), and asking me to take a right "as soon as possible" to subtly warn me to be extra vigilant about Do Not Enter signs.  When he asked me to parallel park, he even chose a spot with no car behind.

"You have plenty of room," he said kindly.

I still messed up on my first try.  I was that nervous.  As calmly as I could manage, I re-positioned the car and tried again.  V made discreet hand motions to clue me when to turn the wheel.

Then, in twenty short minutes, the test was over.  "Stop next to the curb, and that's it," the inspector instructed matter-of-factly.

"How long have you been in France?" he asked as we pulled up.

"Eight years," I answered.

"You're not close to losing your accent, are you?" he remarked with a smile in his voice.

"No, that, I doubt it."  I laughed.  I'm more likely to master parallel parking.

After I stepped out of the car, V and the inspector spent a long moment chatting inside.  The inspectors don't give the results immediately, so I stood on the sidewalk wondering, worrying, deciding that because of the little curb incident and my poor parking skills I was surely sunk.  The test also seemed suspiciously short.  Oh, well.  Though I couldn't explain why, a second failure suddenly didn't seem as catastrophic as it had before.

"I guess we'll be seeing more of each other," I joked after the inspector left and V got out of the car to join me.

He was more optimistic. "Je crois que c'est bon."  I think it's okay, he assured me.  "On verra."  

I was still practically shivering with residual adrenaline when I climbed into the passenger seat, but I felt lighter, almost giddy.  I insisted lightheartedly that I wanted good news.  For Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, after getting V's phone call, I took the kids across town to the driving school to see the results with my own eyes, even though I'll be receiving them soon at home in the mail.  The envelope had been resealed already, but I did pick up my bumper sticker with a big red "A" that will designate me as an apprentice driver for the next three years.  Le Petit watched me place it carefully, like precious relic, in the pocket of Mademoiselle's stroller.  "I'm so-o-o happy!" he exclaimed, imitating me and jumping up and down.

Sittin' pretty

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!  A real post follows this one -- yes, you read that right, a real post, from me, remember me? But first, I have a quick question.  Have any of you out there had any experience with those portable high chairs that attach to the side of a table top?  The whole family will be heading to Seattle for Christmas this year, and my stepmother has graciously proposed to find one of those new-fangled gadgets to use when we're all out celebrating pre-Christmas Eve dinner at the Space Needle.  And, of course, to take back home with us afterward.  My question is, is there a particular brand or style to look for?  Mademoiselle is getting big now, and will be one year old in a week (I know, I can hardly believe it either...), so it has to be something that will hold up to a toddler's squirming.

Thanks!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Noted, sleepily


My husband is in Madrid for the week for work, and I'm holding the fort with the kids.  I should be in bed, since I have to wake up to go to work in six hours which may feel like five minutes but will give Mademoiselle ample time to wake me up a few times, I'm sure.  It took me from when the kids were asleep until roughly twenty minutes ago to do dishes and laundry and organize things for tomorrow.  And as always when I've got this kind of temporary superwoman gig, I'm filled with awe for parents who do it solo all or much of the time.

Today, Wednesday, was my day "off." I put "off" in quotes the same way I put "working" in quotes to describe what my husband is doing in Madrid, because I spent all day running around and he's at a tech conference, after all (which, to be fair, isn't devoid of irritation and annoying colleagues, but hey, he gets to sleep through the night.)  It's crazy, and I'm exhausted, but a few things made me smile, and I have to write them down.

So far this week, I've noticed that,

1) You shouldn't turn your back, even for a few seconds, on a baby with a high chair tray spread with raspberries.  If I could take the bits that ended up on the floor and in the hair and on the face on all ALL all over the clothes and reassemble them, I'm pretty sure I'd have more than the five raspberries I presented her with, and I can't explain this.

2)  I can still utterly fail to understand when someone on the phone is asking me to spell my last name in French. Even when they repeat themselves twice.

3) The four-year-old, not the baby, puts the strangest and most disgusting things in his mouth when we're outside.

4) It is very hard to read "Fox in Socks" and prevent a daredevil baby from climbing onto a table at the same time.

5) If le Petit is hungry enough, he will eat raw broccoli dipped in store-bought gazpacho. Of his own initiative.  [Le Petit digging through the fridge while I was making dinner: "Mommy, can broccoli be eaten raw?" Me to myself, "Who are you and what have you done with my son?"]

6) I can keep my cool during a supermarket checkout line temper tantrum ("But Mommy! I only want to put MY things in MY bag!") by assuming that if people are staring, it's either in appreciation of my calm yet firm (if punctually slightly ineffective) parenting style or in wonder that my son is bilingual.

7) Few things feel quite as nice as le Petit's head leaning against my shoulder as I read him a bedtime story.

8) It may be way past Mademoiselle's bedtime, but she may still stop nursing, start babbling to herself, and clap joyfully in the dark. And I'll find this cute, though irritating when I think of the pile of dishes waiting for me.

9) Few things feel quite as nice as Mademoiselle (finally) drifting off to sleep in my arms.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Onward, upward, forward!

The world looks different when you're standing up.

For months now, I've been peering over the edge of cribs and playpens.  First I gripped the top bar as hard as I could and pressed my face to the side.  When I pulled myself up on my tiptoes, I could just point my nose over the side.  Just enough to look imploringly at the big folks, Mommy, Daddy... even le Petit, though he's too small to pick me up.  I suspect if he could he'd help me make a break for it.  I can stand and watch him play with his Legos through the mesh fabric of the playpen, or now that I'm tall enough, clear over the top, and almost forget I'm stuck turning in circles in four feet square.

Now there's Up.  And Down.  And I get to decide.

Soon after I learned to pull myself up, I learned to push myself forward.  Suddenly the world had three dimensions, and things that once looked abstract turned out to be real -- I know, because I've checked them out now personally.  There's the couch, for instance: it's solid, but also squishy and soft; it's kind of white and kind of gray but when I look at it closely I see different spots and colors that I can poke with my fingers.  (Mommy sees the same ones sometimes, but they don't seem to make her too happy for some reason.)  I can pull myself up against it and lean into it, and slap it with my hands, and it makes me laugh.  But I don't stay put.  I walk along the edge, and then I see that the couch isn't that far from the coffee table... and I start to think... hey, if I stabilize myself by leaning on the outside of the playpen I can make it from one to the other without even dropping to the floor!

The floor.  The floor!  It's covered with countless fabulously tiny things, and though Mommy keeps sweeping, I still find stray rice grains and crumbs and bits of fuzz that flee my fingers.  Grandpa worries that I'll eat the gravel that travels inside on everyone's shoes.  Maybe I already have.  I'll never tell.

To be honest, though, I've spent enough time on the floor crawling.  I'm starting to suspect, a little more each day in fact, that two limbs are more efficient than four when your biggest goal in life is moving forward.  So I've become a bit obsessed with figuring out this walking thing.  When I'm lucky, someone big will hold my hands -- at first I needed two, but now one will do -- and help me put one trembling foot in front of the other.

The house has been reduced in my head to an ensemble of points A and points B.  Coffee table to high chair leg; bookshelf to dining room chair. I choose my itinerary so as to stay as close to the action as possible.  I love to stand up next to the bathtub while le Petit is taking a bath.  Yesterday, when Mommy was busy helping le Petit with the soap, I intrepidly dropped one of her slippers into the water.

(I'm pretty clever.  They're figuring that out quickly these days.)

Not that I'm always moving, mind you.  Part of the deal with propelling yourself forward, I'm learning, is mastering standing still.  I plant my feet kinda wide apart, bend both knees, and slowly stand up.  Concentration is key.  I hold myself stable for one breath, two, and then I slowly, cautiously lower myself back down.  I keep practicing, often in the middle of the room by myself when there's nothing else exciting going on.  I stand up and look around, then sometimes Mommy applauds and I smile so wide.

On the 24th of September -- may the date be recorded for posterity -- I stood at the edge of the couch.  I spied the cabinet just a few feet away.  I gauged the distance.  And I let go.  Daddy glanced over in time to see the top of my head bob with each hesitant step.

Though I didn't know it at the time, it was practically the same launching pad le Petit chose three and half years ago.  Mommy missed the moment, and I wasn't ready to try again; I'm prudent, you see, and affronting gravity once was enough at first.  But N, who looks after me while Mommy it at work, likes to help me walk up and down the hallway.  She also takes me to the park where I can hold her hands and stride sure-footedly with a cute pair of pink shoes, but where she refuses unjustly to let me crawl on the ground... tisk-tisking that it's dirty or some such thing.  So I started taking steps here and there, but never when Mommy was around.

Until this weekend.

This weekend I took off.

Hold out your hands ready to catch.  Watch!

Grandma is terrified.  Mommy is apprehensive.  At the same time I'm learning to climb, you see.  Mommy thought her cell phone was safe pushed back up onto the seat of the couch, but no. If le Petit knew the designs I have on his Lego corner, he'd be worried, too. "Fini la tranquilité," Grandma says.  Mommy agrees, but doesn't hide that she's more than a little bit proud.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Out of breath

Today Mademoiselle discovered she could climb by herself onto the stain-covered old futon that serves as a couch in our living room.  She was reaching for my cell phone, which I'd slid just beyond her reach, and decided what the heck, she'd try and hoist herself up with her knee.  And sure enough, it worked.

She looked as surprised as I was.   She's not walking yet, although she's taken a couple of very tentative steps on several occasions; she's still nowhere close to sleeping through the night.  Nevertheless, I feel like everything has sped up suddenly, and I can't keep up.

Being back at work is exhilarating.  But every day is a race, or rather a whirling dance, from the morning train I chase to the clothes I choose before going to bed at night. Obviously I've been finding no time to blog.

Le Petit has been quickly and quietly growing up, too.  OK, not exactly quietly -- a neighbor actually scolded him for yelling in the hallway last week -- but discreetly, in his own way.  All of a sudden he can count (with some help) all the way to 100, and he even sets his place at the dinner table by himself, without prompting.  He's four years old, after all, as he proudly announces to everyone he meets.

"J'ai quatre ans,"  he announced to the lady who lives down the hall.  Four years old.

A few days later, he saw her again.

"J'ai toujours quatre ans," he assured her.  Still four years old.

I dunno about her, but I certainly found that reassuring.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Working Girl

Last Monday I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., got up, showered, dressed, hastily ate breakfast, and took a bus, a train, another train, and another bus. My badge still opened the front door. My computer password, however, had long disappeared from my memory. It turns out that changing it via the VPN in a postpartum haze a month after you've given birth is a good way to ensure you'll forget it. The african violet on my desk was still holding on, barely, a near victim of my colleagues' collective well-intentioned but overzealous watering. People seemed happy to see me.

For my part, I was happy to be back. I don't know yet if I'll ever love my job, and there are days I certainly don't like it very much, but last week I absolutely loved being back. I had more energy than I've had in years, and even tales of system bugs and incomplete functional requirements couldn't dampen my uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Irrational exuberance, perhaps? Still, I can't wait to dive back into the project head first. I'll find out soon enough if I'm standing at the shallow end of the pool. I'm just ready, I guess, to turn my thoughts to something other than my children, adorable as they are. To work on a project with other adults. To leave the apartment without pushing a stroller in front of me.

Everyone's been asking me if it is hard to be back. I don't know if this is a cultural thing, and I'm curious, do people in the US ask this as well? Or is it just blindly obvious that after the short maternity leave most US mothers have, going back is quite likely to be a challenge? Honestly, I don't know what to think. No, I tell them with a genuine smile, it isn't hard. Nine months at home was just right for me, personally, and I'm happy to be doing something else now. It helps that le Petit is happy to be at school and Mademoiselle seems content with the nanny. She cries a bit when my husband leaves in the morning, but she's far from the wailing wreck her brother was at first when I went back to work when he was the same age. When I pick her up in the afternoon, she's busily, happily playing. (This is usually when my questioner starts to tune out. Yes, I am one of those mothers, who goes on and on about their kids long after everyone's stopped listening.) In my self-analysis, I end up feeling a bit guilty for not feeling guilty, if you know what I mean. But I fundamentally feel that every mother has a different amount of time at home with a baby that feels right to her and it can be long or short. The baby is happiest, the entire family is happiest, when Mom gets to choose; I'm exceptionally lucky to have a country, a culture, a career, and a personal economic situation that allows me this choice.

I wonder, why does no one ask a dad -- a dad who, even in France, has to go back to work after only two weeks of leave -- if it is hard to go back to work after the birth of a child? How different is it for men, really? I'm not sure how much of the biological programming argument I'm ready to buy. If you're an involved parent, working and parenting at the same time is hard. It is most often a necessity, too, of course. For many of us, it is also somewhat liberating.

I prudishly left one detail of my transition back to work until the very end of the week: mentioning to my boss that I was pumping breast milk so he wouldn't be surprised when I disappeared briefly from my desk twice a day. I told him as matter-of-factly as I could, but I was embarrassed, even though I remembered vaguely that it wasn't so hard last time around. I must have been channeling my inner lactivist back then or something, for I clearly remember proudly explaining that I was pumping to any colleague who happened to ask about the mysterious soft-sided cooler I toted around with me. I also wrote a long blog post detailing how I'd worked out the logistics.

My boss' response: "Yeah, of course, I figured you would." And he went on to tell me that another woman in the office did the same for her baby, after first asking him how I'd organized things, so my inadvertent, indiscreet publicity had paid off. This may sound not like much, but I assure you that in France you have to be both exceptionally motivated and impervious to raised eyebrows to dare pump breast milk at work. At the same time attitudes will only change as more women just go ahead and dare, and anyway, as a foreigner, people expect me to be eccentric. I don't know whether it was my daring or my eccentricity or the mere fact that I figured out that the shower/dressing room near the exercise area could serve as a discreet pumping location, but my lactivism helped gain one to the cause.

My boss and I went on to talk about how in general it is easier for women in France to combine motherhood and career than it is in many other countries. I expressed for the umpteenth time that week how thankful I was for the time I got to take off, and how happy I was to be back.

"Attitudes have changed. Now long maternity leaves are accepted, are even the norm," my boss observed, "But... it isn't easy to have to make due without [Parisienne] for a year. Not easy at all."

French bosses are notoriously parsimonious with praise, so that statement totally made my Friday afternoon. Then I had to run. My family was waiting for me. I skipped off to the bus, took a train and then another train, then another bus, picked up Mademoiselle and took her home -- le Petit was later delivered by conspiratorial grandparents -- and met my husband, who poured me a celebratory glass of wine.

It's not bad being a working girl again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

And that, my friends, is why I'm going back to work

I picked up le Petit at four o'clock today.  By letting him skip After Care for the first time this week, I felt like I was breaking him out of jail. He goes willingly to the cafeteria at lunch each day, but he was clearly glad this morning that for once he wouldn't share the fate of the majority of his classmates and be led off to the centre de loisirs at the end of the afternoon with the dim promise of snack time.  Cantine, mais pas goûter, as he explained happily to his teacher at drop off.  I wonder if he understands that it's all over on Monday.  If he wants to skip out early from now on, he'll have to rely on his grandparents.  I'm having fun imagining Grandpa calling over the playground fence as he arrives for an early pick up, "Hey, don't worry, kid, I've got a plan to spring you outta this joint."

By contrast, Mademoiselle was in no hurry to leave when I arrived to pick her up.  Sharing a nanny with another family means a whole other home to explore, with all manner of interesting new things to put in her mouth.  She was applying herself to the task diligently, but didn't I realize this was twice her normal workload?

The three of us walked home with le Petit doing his best to maintain our slow, dignified pace by dragging his feet and practically hanging off the handles of Mademoiselle's stroller.  When I'm not in a hurry -- and luckily, tonight I wasn't -- I find it fascinating to walk with le Petit and watch him discover the city street at preschooler level: there are metal plates with cryptic letters, grates that cover mysterious holes, and curbs, ledges and lines that all cry out to be walked along.   Today he stopped and planted himself in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the window of a real estate agency.

"Look!"

I followed his gaze inside to a knee-high model of an apartment building that was presumably under construction.  There were tiny little windows, tiny little balconies, and tiny little plants hanging off the tiny little balconies.  I let him look as I tried to push the stroller off to the side a little, since we were blocking the sidewalk and irritated people in a hurry were huffing and pushing around us.  I acknowledged le Petit's enthusiasm.  He wanted to go inside and take a closer look.

"No, hon, because if we go in there, they're going to want to sell us a big, expensive apartment that we can't afford," I explained lamely.  There were about a million valid reasons I was not going to talk to a real estate agent tonight, but none would make much sense to le Petit.

Le Petit thought about my excuse as I tugged on his arm and he reluctantly followed me to leave.

"Mommy?"

"Yes?"

"You're going to have to see a lot of clients."

My husband, you see, works as a technical consultant in the sales department of a software firm, something utterly uninteresting and incomprehensible to a four-year-old.  So we've explained that Daddy "goes to see a client" when he leaves in the morning.  Especially when he leaves in the morning wearing a nice suit that no one may touch with hands stained with butter and jam.  For a while this spring le Petit liked to ride his toy car around the living room and pretend to visit clients, and I even made him an imaginary laptop computer out of piece of folded cardboard and a spare ribbon.  I program computers and beat up databases for a living, but that's even more abstract.

"I'll have to see a lot of clients... and why's that?" I inquired.

"Clients every day.  Every, every day... except... except the days when I am at school."

The notion of time is still fuzzy, so he puzzled over this a bit before eventually adding:

"Yes.  So that you can make lots of money."

"Lots of money, and then?"  (It was almost impossible for me not to finish his thought.)

"And then you'll make lots of money, and we can buy a nice big apartment in Versailles, and we can come back and see the inside of the little house!"

 And to think, I was worried my children might not appreciate it when I was once more off to work.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

J - 4

I'll be going back to work in four days.

In the meantime, I have two days of relatively freedom while le Petit is at school all day and Mademoiselle is with N, her new nanny. I'm running around getting frivolous things done for myself (pedicure! new shoes! haircut!) and less frivolous things done for the house and kids (fix broken shower head! buy new toilet seat! pick up Mademoiselle's passport!).

Mademoiselle is still waking up three or four times a night, and I'm wondering how I'll muddle through my days once I'm back at the office. But I'll be able to go for a run during my lunch hour, and take a yoga class once a week, and honestly it seems like so many people in the world, from those close to me to those I read about in the newspaper, have real big problems. I'm feeling a bit selfish, and useless, and helpless about that. Like I can't do much but the little I can do I'm not doing.

But this morning, after a crazy scamble to get ready and out the door due to a malfunctioning alarm clock and four-year-old reluctance to put on the damn shoes already, my husband dropped le Petit off at school. The teacher, who has 30 students, one helper, and approximately ten seconds to devote to small talk with parents in the morning, complimented le Petit on his English. Twice a week, now, they have an English teacher spend thirty minutes with the class, and on the first day they'd already discovered that le Petit has a perfect accent, an impressive vocabulary, and is eager to talk. I glowed at the news. My husband just wanted to say, "Well, duh." (He has a decent grasp of American slang, too, you see.) But part of me had been worried that he'd hide in the back and not say a word. So, I guess I can give myself some credit for something, right?

I'm delighted, too, that Mademoiselle is adjusting well to spending her days far from maman. N is experienced as a nanny and seems quite gentle and maternal with Mademoiselle, even in the struggle to get her to nap. When I pick Mademoiselle up in the afternoon she's often still at the park, perched on N's hip and surrounded by N's local nanny friends and a giggling group of children of all ages. She seems so surrounded by warmth and happy activity, I'm sure her days go by quickly. N also takes care of two school-aged children from another family in the afternoon, so Mademoiselle has some big kid playmates.

So here we are, in the starting blocks for another year. I'm ready to take off at a sprint, but as a seasoned distance runner I know I need to pace myself from the beginning (especially on so little sleep). I also suspect that I need to remember to slow down, stop, look around, and be grateful from time to time, too.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

La rentrée

It's a good thing le Petit is now a big kid in the moyenne section of his nursery school. It's also a good thing that it's my second year with a kid at la maternelle and I know the ropes. Otherwise, I might have been just a tiny bit terrified when I dropped le Petit off at his new classroom for the first time on Monday morning. The teacher, barely looking up long enough to match a name with a face, checked le Petit's name off a list. She noted that he'd stay for lunch but go home before snack time, and handed us our notebook for official school correspondence.

"Will there be nap time after lunch?" my husband asked politely, almost timidly. We're both disproportionately intimidated by nursery school teachers.

"No, of course not!" the teacher answered sharply. This is moyenne section, after all, she seemed to say. Ca ne rigole plus. We're no longer joking around here, people. Not that we were hoping for nap time, mind you -- le Petit hasn't taken a nap regularly for at least a year and a half.

A line of parents and children was forming out the door, and the teacher was clearly overwhelmed. The classroom aide hadn't arrived. She had thirty students. I decided not to worry too much about how things would go. Instead, we cheerfully and briefly said goodbye to le Petit and left, and he readily popped inside, more than happy to leave us. It was his first full day at school, first day at the cafeteria, first day with a new teacher. What could possibly go wrong?

(I didn't try to answer my own question there, hoping the change of clothes I'd sent him with would cover any eventualities.)

When I picked up le Petit at four o'clock he was ecstatic, and, I noted with relief, wearing the same clothes. I heard more details of his day on the way home than I'd heard all the year before, and they all came out in a fascinating jumble. Four-year-old stream of consciousness is so damn cute. I learned that they'd had recess on the playground on the roof (ah, urban elementary schools) where men with tool belts were building new toys. There were two new helicopters, both blue. They'd read a story about a bear in the woods. There were lots of new kids, and they sat together on a big bench -- big, but not as big as the Viaduc de Millau that we saw on our vacation this summer. They played some sort of game with chestnuts, separating the marron inside from the spiky part on the outside.

The most involved story involved recess. First, he was playing with a small red bicycle -- small like this, he said, holding his hands close together -- which was claimed by another kid while he went off to use the potty. Luckily, however, someone then gave him big yellow bicycle -- big like this, he said, holding his arms as far apart at he could -- and they all turned it upside down and pretended to make chocolate milk.

Hearing this I was tugged back into the imaginary world I created at recess thirty years ago, where we turned toys into machines, kitchens, and hot lava fields, and turned blades of grass into magic potions and improbable recipes.

So, you know, turning a bicycle upside down to make chocolate milk made total sense to me.

It made sense to my dad, too, when le Petit narrated his first day of school later on Skype.

"You know what? When I was a kid, I turned my bicycle upside down and pretended to make ice cream," he shared with le Petit.

Le Petit thought about that for a moment. Our vacation was somewhat of an ice cream tour de France. Thanks to indulgent parents and grandparents, le Petit sampled ice cream everywhere we visited, always the same two flavors, pistachio and raspberry. And on an outing to Versailles with my in-laws last week le Petit visited le hameau de la Reine, the mock country village created for Marie Antoinette on the grounds of the chateau, and saw the "dairy." "That," my father-in-law had explained, "Is where Marie-Antoinette made her ice cream."

Le Petit misses nothing, saves up all that he observes and overhears to make brilliant statements of four-year-old logic when we least expect them. Like on the night of his first day of school, as my husband was putting him to bed.

"Papa?"

"Yes?"

"When I'm big like you, Papa, you know, there will be lots of toys on the roof of my school. And Grandpa G will have a bicycle and turn it upside down to make ice cream, just like Marie-Antoinette."

A parent sends their kid off to school for the first day and nervously tries to imagine all the possibilities.

But there's absolutely no way I could ever have come up with that.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Nine month sleep regression 1, Parisienne 0

The nine month sleep regression is beating me.

Down.

And kicking me, too, while I'm there.

I don't remember that le Petit went through sleep regressions as an infant, at least not the classic ones at four and nine months. His sleep was miserable as a newborn and gradually improved throughout the first year. By the time he was two or three months old he was only waking up to nurse once or twice a night, and that remained pretty constant until he was a toddler. He occasionally would wake up for several hours in a row and throw a party for the entire family between two and five o'clock in the morning, which was its own kind of bleary-eyed hell. He was also very difficult to help fall asleep at night, and a terrible napper. But frequent wake-ups were not his thing past two months old. I'm sure a skim through the archives would provide more details, but frankly I'm too tired.

When I was pregnant the second time around, I worried about sleep. What would it be like when Mademoiselle arrived? I figured that chances are it would be better, but if it were as bad or worse, at least I'd be prepared. What I didn't count on was that it would be neither... just different. A new brand of exhaustion.

If my memory weren't compromised by lack of sleep, I could count on one hand the number of nights she's woken up less than twice. When sleep is good, she averages three wake ups; when sleep is bad, that slides to four or five. What has saved my sanity from the beginning is that she'll usually nurse briefly and fall right back asleep, so with her crib still next to our bed (no third bedroom in our apartment, and we don't want Mademoiselle to wake up le Petit), I barely have to open my own eyes. I suspect that my own sleep cycles are even more or less patterned on hers now, so I am less tired than you'd expect.

Enter the nine month sleep regression. Mademoiselle learns to crawl*, and then to pull up and cruise furniture, and suddenly sleep is so last month, already. Four wakes ups, minimum. More often than not I lose count. I find her awake two or three hours after I put her down for the night, upright in her crib, gripping the bars and screaming. She's obsessed with mobility and she's staging an uprising, demanding her rights or something -- what, exactly? Oh, yeah. Two syllables:

LO! LO!

That's our cute word for lait, or mommy's milk. She can't say it yet, but she sure as hell knows what it means, and when she wakes at night she will accept no substitutes. We know because we've tried, most recently last week. On that fateful night, she woke up for the second time a half an hour after waking up for the first time, upon which I said something rude and handed her over to my husband. He tried to calm her down unsuccessfully while I pretended to sleep on the couch. By the time I intervened again, Mademoiselle was so wired that she wouldn't nurse down but instead wanted to sit up in our bed and clap her hands. She refused to go back into her crib without throwing a fit. I swear she would've started singing protest songs if she'd only had a guitar. After losing two hours in the middle of the night, we ultimately calmed her to sleep in our bed in between us, and in another hour, she was awake again.

Last night she woke up two and a half hours after I put her down, and then woke up roughly every hour after that. I was a mess this morning, barely rested after having cycled through strange dreams. Our apartment was stifling thanks to a late summer heat wave. Poor Mademoiselle had five new mosquito bites, a possible partial explanation for the miserable night we'd all had.

I was irritable all day today, snapping at my husband and le Petit for little or no reason, complaining, yelling. I'm coping -- barely -- by swearing loudly at things like household appliances and eating too much chocolate.

I don't know if I can or should try to "fix" anything. Mademoiselle will grow out of this. I'll head back to work in two weeks, and Mademoiselle will be starting partial days with the nanny on Tuesday. It will be hard enough for her soon without trying to nudge her into better sleep, even in the gentlest of ways. I guess all I can do is hang in there, knowing This Too Shall Pass, be thankful all day long my kids are healthy and happy, and post incoherent rants here and on Facebook.

And go off to sleep. Now. For an hour or two, at least.

* I realized that I didn't properly describe Mademoiselle's adorable method of crawling in a previous post. She advances her arms and then, with her left leg bent out to the side, propels herself forward by pushing with her left foot. She lets her right knee drag along the floor. She's gotten quite good at this, and stealthily heads off on her own to explore the apartment, so I've got to be fast these days. Which would be easier if I weren't so damn tired, but I digress.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Amour et charité

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4–8a
(English Standard Version)


Ten years ago yesterday the warm light of a flawless late summer New England afternoon streamed into a little white church in Warren, Vermont. I, like all self-respecting brides on the day before the wedding, was an anxious wreck. I wasn't yet Bridezilla, though I'd come close that afternoon when one of my bridesmaids called insouciantly to let me know she'd be late for the rehearsal. She'd since made it in time, and now the wedding party and a few odd friends and family were gathered, listening to instructions from Father R. We'd gotten to the readings, and A's aunt began reading 1 Corinthians 13 in French. "L'amour est patient," she recited solemnly from a piece of paper she'd brought with her from France.

Father R jumped in and stopped her. It wouldn't do. It wouldn't do at all. Although our wedding ceremony would be in English -- co-officiated by the local pastor in Warren and Father R, priest from my church back in Seattle and a dear family friend -- we had planned to do one of the readings in French. Now Father R was objecting, politely but firmly, to the word "amour." To him apparently amour was primarily about physical love; it was also, I supposed, about cabarets and Edith Piaf and a mountain of American stereotypes about the French. To him, the proper translation of 1 Corinthians 13 used the more chaste "charité."

A flurry of simultaneous translation followed, between Father R, who only spoke English, A's aunt, who only spoke French, and my husband, who barely understood at first what the problem could possibly be. Once the objection was duly translated and explained, A's aunt looked confused and a bit embarrassed. The very idea that this kind, serious, respectable woman in her seventies could be introducing anything improper to our wedding ceremony was absurd. And I was a bit taken aback that Father R, from our laid-back, accepting, diverse church in Seattle, held such a prudish view on a linguistic detail.

By now the issue was making its way around the room, and the previously bored French bystanders were whispering amongst themselves and laughing discreetly. Meanwhile I was growing more and more upset. I disliked the word "charité." It sounded rational, just, kind, measured, but devoid of passion. To my still less-than-fluent ear it sounded nothing like what I felt for A. We'd looked specifically for a translation that didn't use it. I had no idea how I'd stand up to Father R's well-meaning pastoral authority, however, or how if necessary I'd find another translation in time for the ceremony the next day.

A close friend from high school stepped up and started calmly explaining the French etymology, as he understood it, and the subtleties of the multiple Greek translations of the word "love". He'd studied French, he was raised in the Greek Orthodox church, and his parents were librarians; this was the kind of argument he could have had at the dinner table. Meanwhile, one of A's groomsmen smirked indulgently at the textbook case of American puritanism. I can't remember exactly how, but we eventually reassured Father R that the reading even with amour did address all the facets of love.

Father R poked fun at the incident in the homily the next day. With his customary warm eloquence, he wished us plenty of both amour and charité, as I recall.

I haven't thought much about 1 Corinthians since, and I'll admit that except for the misunderstanding during the rehearsal, I hadn't thought much about it back then. It was simply the reading everyone chose for a wedding. Yes to patience and kindness. No to arrogance and envy. It sounded a bit obvious taken out of context, as if it could be a biblical version of 'Marriage for Dummies.' But sweet, still, and the lesson clear enough, with a neat little "Love never ends" to tie it all up reassuringly. A and I squeezed each other's hand as we sat and listened attentively next to the altar.

We've been married now for ten years, and in the last week I have been less than patient and certainly less than kind on more than one occasion. I have also, I'm afraid, insisted heavily on having my way more than once. I am sometimes (ahem) a bit irritable and resentful when I wake up for Mademoiselle's third night feeding, or when my husband heads out the door for a run as I sweep the breakfast crumbs from under the table. But here's the strange thing. We now have two kids. Days are short, nights are even shorter (!), our apartment is smaller, and the logistics of life are more challenging than I ever would have guessed at age 24, back when we got married. Lord knows I gripe -- c.f. my previous post -- and my husband, of course, has his own grievances I'm sure, but that is not what defines our love. The irritation, the arrogance, the frustration, just as much as the sleepless nights with crying infants, the long discussions about job and hearth, shopping lists, tantrums, meal planning, scattered Legos, the picking up mummified avocado off the living room floor... are like waves. That's it, I guess. Waves against stone, smoothing the rough, fragile bits and wearing the strong part smooth.

It feels easier to be in love now than at age 24. I've slowly shed much of what was then so defensive in my nature. I no longer need it. My husband and I know each other well enough now to sometimes finish each other's sentences, while at the same time we're both better at stopping and actually listening to what the other one is saying. Nothing motivates me more to finish something, like the dishes, than knowing that A would do it for me unasked. We still wind up taking collateral damage when we stumble unexpectedly into the minefield of each other's childhood crap. Everyone's got baggage and in every marriage you occasionally drop it on the other's toes. But when that happens, we both see it, admit it (after screaming and stomping a bit, perhaps), problem solve as polite adults, and manage to poke fun at ourselves.

I suspect that's the charité that Father R was getting at. But it's also, I maintain firmly, most of what you need to know about amour.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A weekend of her own

Anyone else have weekend angst? C'mon, give me a show of hands. Do you leave work on Friday, heart light, head full of plans for two full days of freedom, only to see it all crumbling to dust by noon on Saturday? Or is it just me? At the moment I'm not working, but you'd better believe I'm waiting impatiently for my husband to walk through the door on Friday evening and share full-time parenting duty for two whole days. Then, by Saturday afternoon I'm griping at him, frustrated that the house isn't really cleaned as I'd like it, the floor is vacuumed but not mopped, or half the laundry is unfolded. Or maybe I haven't gone for a run, and it's almost five o'clock and I'm still in my pajamas. Mademoiselle doesn't want to nap, and the floor under the dining table is still covered with giant, scary crumbs from lunch.

Yeah. If only I could take a deep breath and smile at that point instead of moping and yelling.

Remember how Friday night felt in college? Even the nerdiest among us took the night off. My school was hardly a magnet for parties, which suited me since I was a teetotaler and just a wee bit "lame" back then. I'm not sure what I did, exactly, except try to escape to wherever my loser boyfriend at the time happened to live, or failing that, hang out with friends and maybe scrape together enough money among us to go out to dinner or coffee. I studiously avoided schoolwork without any of the guilt that needled me when I avoided schoolwork on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. I could stay up as late as I wanted. I could sleep in the next day. I hadn't a care in the world.

Now, well, I've got kids, and the song is a little different. Friday night starts at nine or, now that it's summer and the schedule has gone a bit sideways, nine-thirty, when the kids are finally asleep. I don't manage to get any of my projects out (sorting through vacation photos, writing a new blog entry), and instead I waste time on the computer and procrastinate on doing the dishes. By the time 11 o'clock rolls around, I've done nothing, and Mademoiselle has likely woken up for the first of three or four times that night.

Now I'm lucky, because my husband will as often as not do all or half of the dishes if I procrastinate long enough -- we really do split things 50/50 -- and I know that if Mademoiselle wakes up at 7 the next morning, my husband will look after her and let me sleep in until 8 or 9. Still, my Friday nights are more exhausted apathy than giddy anticipation.

So, by Sunday night I'm worn out, fed up, mad as hell at no one in particular and everyone in general that the weekend didn't live up to my ill-defined expectations. I wanted to DO SOMETHING, I whine. I wanted some FREAKIN' TIME TO MYSELF, ALREADY.

"If you wanted to do something, all you had to do was ask," my husband protests. This makes me angrier still because it's at the same time incredibly kind, completely true, and irritating. If he agrees that the weekend was less than stellar, I accuse him of blaming me. If he points out the silver lining of all the things we managed to accomplish, I whine that it wasn't enough, it wasn't what I wanted, so who the hell cares? And so on. He's long-suffering, yes -- some of this bellyaching of mine was worse, believe it or not, before we had kids -- but he also stands up for himself (and rightly so).

So, I've come to conclude that although the difficulties of organizing a weekend with small children are large and structural, they aren't insurmountable. I can have fun if I put my mind to it. Heck, I wasn't so cool back in college, so there's no reason I can't have as much fun now as I did back then... at least, as soon as I manage to get my French driver's license. So this is my weekend manifesto:

1. Routine. We clearly need one, so I will define one. It will involve kicking the kids and my husband out of the house for two hours on Saturday morning so I can get the house clean once and for all, so the housework isn't hanging over my head like a Damocles sword all weekend. (My husband already does the shopping, which I hate, so don't think he gets off the hook.) It will also involve getting the kids in bed by nine, for the love of God.

2. Goals. I will make doable goals for each weekend, including something just for me.

3. No more Friday Night lethargy. If I started the weekend by spending a little time on a pet project, perhaps I'd feel more optimistic come Saturday.

I'll work on this for a few weeks and see where it gets me, hopefully halfway to a much-needed new attitude.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

...and we're back

Yesterday I came back from what was my longest stint away from home since college. Almost a month! We started doing laundry immediately upon unpacking the car, and the last load is still in the dryer as I type. The house is almost put back together, or at least what passes for put together these days. As I mentioned to my husband today, our life is like a giant game of Tetris, with new stuff constantly dropping in as I frantically look for a place to fit it all. Every once in awhile, some of it magically disappears -- usually to the basement storage unit, where I've learned to not poke around too much for fear of provoking a cardboard box landslide and taking out my husband's wine collection (which is probably the one thing in the entire basement we'd miss).

Mademoiselle left in mid-July with two teeth and a fierce determination to finally crawl, and she came back with four teeth and the ability not just to shuffle efficiently around the living room, but also to pull herself up to standing position. We took a nap together today, I in my bed next to a heap of unfolded clean laundry, she in her crib which is still between my side of the bed and the wall. I woke up to her standing and peering over the edge at me with a huge smile. Her primitive crawling style is adorable, and I must film it before she perfects it any: she first moves one arm, then the other arm, then slides one knee forward and finally pushes the other leg forward with her foot, keeping the second knee folded off to the side. It's quite asymmetrical and charming.

Le Petit has grown, too. Gone is the "reserved," reluctantly verbal child described to me in my end-of-year meeting with his teacher. Everywhere we went he chirped 'Bonjour' to people in the street and repeated it until he got a response, and when someone engaged him in conversation, he explained that he was four years old (and with great concentration, showed the requisite number of fingers) and that his baby sister was eight months old. He readily found other kids to play with at the beach, and even had his first summer crush, a little girl named Anna who coaxed him into the water at the beach in Collioure and held his hand when he was a little scared.

It was also le Petit's first gastronomic Tour de France. He visited the Roquefort caves and came back with a kilo of his favorite cheese. In Collioure he threw a tantrum when we wouldn't let him finish in one sitting an entire package of anchovies. In La Rochelle he made friends with the vendors at the central market, using his charm to beg slices of salami. In Brittany, he took his crab stuffed animal to visit the crabs in the tank at the fishmonger, and was unfazed when we took one of the crab 'friends' home to cook.

Most impressively, le Petit can accurately describe what he's seen, what we've done and where we've been in a way that shows he now participates in our travels more than he ever has in the past. Perhaps this will be the first family vacation that he remembers when he grows up.

There were moments when I felt guiltily like the vacation wasn't much of a break for me, since I was on-duty mothering 24/7. Mademoiselle still woke up two or three times a night, and Le Petit had a memorable tantrum at the end of a visit to the La Rochelle Aquarium. Getting everyone fed, dressed, bathed, packed, and out the door in the morning was an undertaking. A trip to the beach involved logistics that rivaled a Napoleonic campaign. Le Petit started "singing" loudly to Mademoiselle in the car during her naps, cheerfully explaining that he was trying to wake her up (and when that didn't work, he sometimes surreptitiously took a swipe at her car seat with his foot). I lost my patience more than I'd like, and I even threatened once to take everyone back to Paris on the next train. But on the whole, the Great Vacation of 2011 will go down as a success.

I had no time to write. I dragged the laptop across France and didn't so much as fire up Word. I brought back plenty to write *about*, though, and I hope I'll have time to do it shortly.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

When Mademoiselle abruptly took the stage

The streets were quiet and what passes for deserted in our suburb of Paris. My husband, panicked, parked the car haphazardly next to the hospital entrance, then sprung out leaving the door open and ran around to help me. My father-in-law jumped as quickly out of the back seat. I had my back arched and was otherwise unable to move; we'd driven the five minutes from home with me in that position. My husband, in a brief moment of calm between the screams I belted out during contractions, had noted with tense humor that for once I wasn't worried about buckling my seat belt. I was almost in enough pain to not feel guilty, and the truth was, I couldn't have bent myself into a true sitting position if I'd wanted to. I'd gratefully noticed that my husband had somehow preserved enough presence of mind to drive carefully if quickly to the hospital, stopping at traffic lights, keeping his eyes as much on the road as on me writhing in the passenger seat. He'd even spent a minute studying the map before we left in order to memorize the route through the maze of one-way streets to the hospital, which we'd mostly been to before on foot.

We could have rehearsed this before, I guess, just as we could have had the waiting suitcases fully packed, as opposed to 80% packed. But when le Petit was born, I'd spent over 12 hours in labor at the hospital, epiduralized and on Pitocin and feeling kind of like I was waiting for a train during an SNCF strike. I expected Mademoiselle's arrival to be quicker, but nothing like this. I figured I'd have time to throw together the last items before leaving. I figured... I figured it no longer mattered what I had planned. Childbirth does that.

An hour and a half before our arrival at the hospital I sat -- or the closest I could comfortably come to sitting, which was more like lying down, actually -- on the couch, tired, pregnant, and for the first time very tired of being pregnant. My mother likens being pregnant to being stuck on a runaway train. While I had relatively easy pregnancies and I never felt quite that negative about it, I did feel like I was at times gripped by runaway, irrational anxiety. The train wasn't out of control but it was headed to parts unknown, both times. And while I'll never know just what (undoubtedly tiny) influence the psychological had on the physical, both times I was pregnant I held on mentally as long as I could, wishing and willing my pregnancies to last into the final weeks.

Ever heard "It's so much easier when they're on the inside"? I subscribed to this wholeheartedly.

But on the couch that night, I had finally gotten to the point where I was ready for the baby to arrive. More precisely, I was ready to not be pregnant any more. I was two days from the 41-week mark: the due date, as calculated in France, and also the date at which most French hospitals schedule an induction. I was also four centimeters dilated, as the midwife had cheerfully announced on my last visit, two days previously.

She was the third person at the hospital to suggest a scheduled induction in as many weeks, but I kept declining. I had hopes and half-formed plans of natural birth, and my typically rational brain was awash in uninformed astrological theories. I blame the hormones. I also wanted labor to be as short and, well, sweet as possible, and I figured that ruled out induction. "But at four centimeters, half the work is done already!" the midwife added with insouciant optimism. Yeah. Except from my previous experience, I was pretty sure that the part about pushing out the head was weighted a bit more than the dilation part. I'd been walking around for weeks with painless contractions, and that was just fine with me. So I shook my head and she shrugged, and gave me a piece of paper instructing me to show up again on the morning of my due date.

On the couch that night, I started to whine, about what I can't remember. I was just trying to get my husband's attention, I think, and I felt too discouraged and top-heavy to search a less childish way to do it. He sat down next to me, asked what was wrong, and I vehemently aired some inconsequential grievances, finishing with, "And I feel giant, and pregnant, and I'm tired of being pregnant!" Then I cried. And then I shared some fears that were lurking in the corners of my rattled brain. Then my husband held me and reassured me, and I felt miraculously better. And then, in the space of a pause to catch my breath, the first painful contraction arrived.

"I think this is it."

I was now calm, my husband was suddenly nervous.

"Really?"

"That one was different. That one..." I paused to catch my breath and plan my rehearsed Zen pain-management response, "...hurt."

And I waited, and there was another painful contraction, and as I tried to remember the breathing and self-hypnosis and all that, I went off to take the prescribed shower. During the shower, I fumbled with the bottle of soap and noticed that the contractions were getting much more painful, and quickly. I lathered some, bent over in pain, tried to breathe, tried to use my visualizations, lather, rinse, repeat, and then decided (and said out loud to myself), "Oh, hell, I think I'll get the epidural."

Getting out of the shower was a challenge. Getting dried off and dressed was worse. My husband, meanwhile, was trying to get a hold of his parents on their cell phones. They live five minutes away from our apartment by foot, so they were the obvious first-line babysitters. Naively, we didn't have backup sitters. They were, however, at a wine tasting, in a basement shop where we later discovered cell phone signals don't pass so well. We assumed correctly that my brother-in-law was with them, and luckily his cell phone managed to ring.

Although my in-laws left immediately, and at any rate couldn't go any faster than the Métro would take them, they didn't at first feel like they were in any great hurry. It was twelve hours last time, after all; they figured this time I would be in labor for at least five or six.

"Are they on their way?" I asked from the hallway more or less at the top of my lungs. My husband called back to urge them to hurry, which they couldn't possibly do any more than they were already, but it made us both feel better. My husband then informed me that I'd have to get dressed.

"I can't," I whimpered.

"But you have to." He stated the obvious delicately. Then he went to find clothes, and somehow got me dressed with very little useful intervention on my part, and then my water broke and he had to start all over again. I sobbed and yelled throughout, and le Petit miraculously slept somehow in his room just next door.

My in-laws called to say they had arrived at the Métro station and were running to get to our place. My husband and I decided that he would take me down to the entrance hallway of our building where I'd wait for his parents while he went down to the parking garage to bring the car around to the front. He helped me to the mirrored marble alcove that serves as a bench, then ran back to the elevator. I sat, waited a minute; a contraction arrived and I confusedly decided I'd be better off kneeling on the floor, leaning on the bench with my forearms. I kneeling, moaning to myself when a neighbor walked in and took one started and terrified look at me.

"Ca va, madame?"

"Ca va.
Just the beginning of labor," I assured her, trying to sound unworried and cheerful. She hurried off past the front door. My in-laws arrived a second later; my mother-in-law ran upstairs to stay with the (still sleeping) le Petit, and my father-in-law helped me to my feet. My husband arrived with the car, and the two of them picked me up and carried me to the front seat. Once we arrived at the hospital, they picked me up and carried me again.

The hospital where I'd given birth to le Petit and would shortly give birth to Mademoiselle is small, a neighborhood hospital, really, and quite sleepy at 9:30 at night. There was no wheelchair at the door, and the man seated at the reception desk looked unimpressed by a screaming pregnant lady being carried in and at any rate unmoved to get up and help. A bystander -- a father whose poor wife had been in labor for over 24 hours, we later learned -- sprung up from his seat and offered to help, both supporting my weight and directing my husband and father-in-law to the door of the labor ward. Beyond the double doors, two nurses and a midwife attended to me immediately, and in seconds I found myself on a waiting gurney.

"Her water broke," my husband explained, feeling, I'm sure, like he needed to explain something.

"That's no reason to cry, madame!" one of the nurses insisted kindly, though I barely heard her.

"She's pushing!" noticed the midwife, alarmed, "Madame, don't push yet!" Pushing, I realized dazedly, so that's what I'd been doing since before we left the house. She confirmed what I already guiltily realized: that pushing had probably not been such a good idea. But my body was commanding by then, and my brain was just along for the ride. In less than a minute they had me wheeled into a delivery room, transfered to a bed, dressed in a gown and hooked up to an IV. They also determined how far things had progressed.

"...and an epidural?" I asked weakly.

"I think, madame, it's too late," all answered in chorus (and slightly amused, perhaps).

"Now you can push," the midwife instructed. She'd repositioned Mademoiselle, who apparently hadn't been lined up properly, and much of the excruciating pain was alleviated. The on-duty OB arrived immediately, too, and it just happened to be the OB who had been following my pregnancy, the same OB who had delivered le Petit. This was coincidence, perhaps just resulting from the happy fact that both of my children were born on Thursdays, but in the moment it felt like a miracle.

"C'est Dr. M! C'est mon ange guardian!" My guardian angel, I repeated dumbly, "He was here when my son was born!" I was vaguely aware how cheesy this sounded, but communicating my gratitude and relief felt as primordial as screaming, in English, with each contraction. This confused the midwife and the nurse, who tried to talk to me in their approximate English while the OB explained that I understood French perfectly well. He explained that I would have to push effectively in the next seconds, that this would be very important for the baby. And I did the best I could, several times. In the end, the ventouse (yeah, I don't know what it's called in English) was used to help her out more quickly, since, he later explained, the amniotic fluid was tinted and they didn't have enough monitoring information to know how she was doing. My husband calculated that Mademoiselle was born twelve minutes after we'd pushed open the hospital door.

Mademoiselle rested on my tummy quietly, not crying until after they cut the cord. Wanting to welcome her as I did le Petit, I told her how happy I was that she was here. The nurse dimmed the lights, and calm swept in as quickly as the chaos. Mademoiselle was weighed, diapered, and given back to me to nurse. I started to shiver, and a nurse wrapped us both in a big, garish comforter.

Two hours later she was dressed, bundled up in onesie, thick pajamas, a sleeping bag, and a hat, and we were wheeled upstairs together. Later I nibbled on my tray of food, looking with wonder and more than a little anxiety at the tiny bundle in the Plexiglas tub crib next to me. I remembered feeling lost when I was left with tiny le Petit, so alone and so puzzled and exhausted by his needs even as I was overwhelmed with love. This time I knew what to do -- theoretically at least -- so I didn't admit to the knot in my stomach when I bid my husband good night and he left us in the wee hours of the morning.

Mademoiselle slept. I couldn't. I was too joyful. Too scared. Too vigilant. Too much adrenaline still running in my veins. I didn't close the shutters, because the muted light from the street lights reassured me. She eventually woke up and started to cry, and I picked her up and put her to my breast like the old pro I felt I should be. She drifted off in my arms, and instead of worrying how and if I'd lift her back into her own bed without waking her, I held her tightly next to me and just watched her sleep. "I'm so glad you're here," I willed her to know, and at some point I slept, without moving my body or my arms an inch, I'm pretty sure. "Need me as much as you need to, little one," I thought, "I understand this time."

The next day, of course, I thought I'd been a bit silly, and I was terrified that Mademoiselle would fall out of my high hospital bed. I also knew, from le Petit, that as a parent you're always fundamentally making it up as you go along. I wondered, though, if holding Mademoiselle for those hours that first night had reassured her as much as it had me.

"I'm so glad you're here."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

...the Euro-zone can't fall apart this July, or this August

...because we're all out on decadently long vacations!

This year, since I'm not actually working again just yet, I'll be gone with the kids for a month. My husband will be back in Paris for a brief week that I'll spend in La Rochelle with my in-laws. Before that week we'll visit the Aveyron and the Mediterranean, and after that week we'll be back in Brittany. I'll bring the computer to write, although I'll be largely off the communications grid. OK, just the non-mobile-device Internet. My plan is to have lots of great things to post here when I get back.

In honor of Mademoiselle's eight-month birthday, I have (finally) written about her birth in a post that will auto-publish on August 2. So check that out if you're not on vacation yourself. I'll be back in mid-August, and I'll look forward to reading your comments (on my BlackBerry! From the beach!) in the meantime.

Oh, and happy Bastille Day!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Four years

Four years and a day ago, I was on the threshold of what may be the biggest Before and After of my life. The different realities on either side of this transition are too disparate, too personal to even begin to explain what I mean. But still, le Petit's birthday feels almost (this sounds selfish) like my own.

So I was giddy yesterday, even before the feast that was planned for the evening approached. (Only in France are four-year-olds' birthdays celebrated with foie gras and Champagne.)

Le Petit is a bit of a Paris monument geek, obsessed in the cute way preschoolers approach their favorite subjects. He can spot the Tour Saint Jacques above the Hôtel de Ville, and tell the Invalides from the Panthéon at a glance, which is more than some Parisians can do. My mother-in-law and I took him on a Paris river cruise on one of the ubiquitous Seine tour boats that leaves from the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The program was a special one adapted for children, however, and the foreign tourists were replaced by pint-sized Parisians and their beaming parents and grandparents. I hoped this would be the first birthday experience le Petit would remember his entire life, but I'm not sure. He liked it, and was wide-eyed the whole time, but didn't talk much about it afterward. I think the new bicycle he got from Grandpa and Grandma may take center stage this year. When we left the boat, he said goodbye to the guide and added proudly, "I made the Eiffel Tower out of Legos."

Yes, my kid, the one his preschool teacher described all year long as "reserved," had plenty to say to anyone and everyone yesterday.

"Today is my birthday! I'm four years old," he announced to each shopkeeper he met when he was out buying provisions for his birthday feast with Grandma. Then he counted on his hand: un, deux, trois, quatre. It was his birthday, and he wanted his cake, his foie gras -- his face fell when the store clerk jokingly told him they were out of it -- and back home, wanted his candles and his presents.

The scene yesterday evening was chaotic, as I tried to bake a chicken, cook up risotto and mushrooms, iron a tablecloth and wrap presents more or less simultaneously. My in-laws provided babysitting, foie gras and the cake, and my husband dealt with the details I frantically threw at him. I was stressed, and if I weren't breastfeeding, a bit more wine might have done me some good. We're leaving for vacation tomorrow, and a day of packing and organizing today loomed, the kids wouldn't be in bed until bedtime in some American timezone. At one point, when I discovered I had to pop the undercooked chicken back in the oven, I lost it and started to yell. I even threw an oven mitt across the kitchen. Le Petit thankfully didn't notice. A Champagne glass got knocked off the table and I stepped on a shard, and Mademoiselle started to cry.

But then, through little intervention of my own, the pieces were picked up and the dishes mostly cleared and before I knew it le Petit was in his bath, busy fishing for plastic fish with Grandpa using the new magnetic fishing poles he'd just gotten as a present. The laughter didn't even wake up Mademoiselle in the next room. After the bath, I dressed le Petit in his pajamas and hung around hoping I'd be chosen to read the bedtime story, and to spend the last few minutes of his fourth birthday with him, telling him a little about the first few minutes of the night he was born. (Also just a little bit selfishly, to avoid cleaning the kitchen.)

We chose to read his favorite book about Paris.

"We'll look at the monuments," I suggested, "and you tell me which ones we saw today from the boat. What's that?"

"Hôtel de Cluny," he answered quickly, with a sly smile.

"Did we see that today?"

"Noooooooo!" He giggled.

"And this, what bridge is it?"

"Le pont... le pont de l'Alma!"

"Did we see that?"

"Yes!"

"Did we go under that?"

"YES!"

After we closed the book I sat on the edge of his bed as he snuggled into his pillows and animals and made a little mound out of his comforter, to sleep on top. I started to tell him about the night he was born and how very special it was, because it was when I got to meet him. I went on to list his major accomplishments in chronological order.

"First you could only cry and drink 'lolo'. But then you learned to smile. Then, hold things. Then crawl... and then walk... and then talk."

He listened attentively, his head against my thigh.

"You stared to talk, and your first words were 'dada' and 'coco'."

"Coco, yeah, coco because... because... because there was the crocodile song!"

"It was that, or maybe the chickens on the farm where we spent our vacation, and the roosters who went 'cocorico'."

"What did I learn next?"

He listened as I went on to list things like Legos and potty and Paris monuments. I don't know if he heard what I was trying to say: You're special. You've changed my life. You've learned so much already, and you will learn so much more, and just being here to watch you learn is enough for me.

I got up to leave, said goodnight, and bent down to kiss his hair. I think that when I closed the door to his room he was already asleep.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not from around here

My mother-in-law was chatting a few days ago with the woman across the hall and le Petit was listening in on the conversation. The woman mentioned something about how le Petit's mom is an American.

"Oui," le Petit chimed in, "And I am, too. And so is my sister, because we took her to the embassy."

He's fascinated by geography these days, and pores over the children's atlases we've purchased for him even though they're meant for children twice his age.

"Is Saint-Ouen in Europe, Mommy?" he asked me, randomly, about a suburb on the northeastern edge of Paris that we pass on our way to Troyes. Yes, I assured him, it is. I've tried to explain cities and countries and continents to him by showing progressively bigger distances between my hands. Saint-Ouen is in Europe because it is in France, and France is in Europe.

He'll often talk to me about Italy, which he explains is in Europe, and Spain, also in Europe. As we listened to the BBC streaming on the computer yesterday, I explained that it was radio from London, in the UK.

"Is the UK in Europe, Mommy?"

I assured him that it was. Later, as I was in the kitchen, the BBC switched back to Seattle's local NPR station -- I listen to the streaming of KUOW which early in the morning Seattle time is still the BBC World Service -- and le Petit told me that the radio was now 'United States radio.'

"How did you know that?" I asked amazed, wondering if he'd interpreted the change in accent (unlikely), or just overheard the station identification as Seattle and known that Seattle was in the US. He stared at me, confused, unsure how to answer. Then we were back to 'London Radio,' and as le Petit remembered from watching the royal wedding on TV, London is home to Buckingham Palace.

"Mommy," he told me excitedly, "[Mademoiselle] is in Buckingham Palace!"

I glanced at Mademoiselle, sitting in her high chair.

"And why do you say that?"

"Because, Mommy, because she's got a balcony!"

Sure enough: the high chair tray.

"And Mommy," le Petit continued, and I expected him to say something about her being a princess, "Mommy, her head is... a flag!" He giggled at the idea.

A little later, as we were eating lunch, he stopped to say with great seriousness, "Mommy, you are a-mé-ri-caine. And Daddy, Daddy is... pa-ri-si-enne [sic]!"

I texted my husband with the news, and toulousain that he is, I think he was a little bit disappointed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

At the table

Yesterday for dinner le Petit asked for magret, or duck breast. Magret cuit au four, specifically, or broiled duck breast, in le Petit-speak. And potatoes. With rice.

I ignored the rice request because I'd already made Italian black rice for lunch. It was deliciously fragrant and went quite well with the smoked salmon and steamed zucchini I'd served along with it, but I'd spent the rest of the afternoon picking errant grains up off the kitchen and living room floors, noticing that they looked disturbingly like tiny insects. Potatoes, however, I could do, and the sautéed potatoes from Richard Grausman's "At Home with the French Classics" that I serve systematically with magret are pretty much the only potatoes that le Petit will accept to eat. My husband was out of town for the night, and I felt a bit silly going out of my way to make a meal much more complicated than pasta for just me and the kids. But le Petit had asked, after all, and after a couple of recent evenings with kid duty solo, I was on sort of a supermom trip. So I fired up the broiler.

Recently, le Petit has been uncharacteristically open to new foods. He'll sometimes take a few bites of broccoli or carrot, or grab a raw piece of zucchini off of a cutting board if he's especially hungry. He'll state with seriousness, "Autrefois, je n'aimais pas ça, mais maintenant je l'aime:" I disliked that before, but now I like it. Conversely, he'll suddenly spurn some things he used to adore, saying "Autrefois, j'aimais ça, mais maintenant je ne l'aime plus." You win some, you lose some.

I estimate he's still getting only 0.9% of his daily serving of vegetables, but still, there's new variety.

He's not nearly as open to new foods as his sister is, of course. Now that Mademoiselle's six months old, we've launched into the solid food adventure, and she precipitates into her mouth anything that I place on her high chair tray. Yesterday at lunch she eagerly made disappear the same steamed zucchini her brother haughtily pushed off his plate. I found half on the floor and on the seat cushion, of course, but the rest was greedily devoured.

By the time the duck breast and the potatoes were ready last night and I'd managed to herd le Petit to the table, Mademoiselle was too fussy to stay in her play pen, so I popped her into her high chair beside us. I thought she might be happy just observing dinner, but she took one look at le Petit's plate and then looked at me, indignant.

I pulled apart a chunk of potato and dropped in on the tray in front of her. Her gaze dropped, her arms flew out in front of her, and with careful concentration, she started zeroing in on the target. She closed the potato chunk in her fist, brought it to her mouth and looked happily startled. Mmmm. As I dropped more chunks, I noted with satisfaction that I had two happy kids eating a home-cooked meal, both with such enthusiasm that neither one was using a fork. I must be a pretty good cook. Then I remembered that Mademoiselle will actually try to eat anything these days, including paper (!), plastic wrap (!!), and cloth napkins, provided it falls within her grasp. As a good friend remarked recently, she'd try to eat nuts and bolts if I put them on her plate.

I got up to get le Petit's dessert from the refrigerator, a bowl full of freshly cut strawberries with a dusting of sugar, his favorite. As I disappeared back into kitchen I heard him say to himself, his mouth full of strawberries, "This is a wonderful meal!"

What's that? My son, complementing my food? I went back to the table and asked him to repeat himself. Then, sure that I'd really understood, I planted a kiss on the top of his head and told him how happy I was to hear that the dinner I'd prepared was appreciated by the people I love.

"And, Mommy, what's your meal?" he asked oddly. Uhh... I'd been eating the duck and the potatoes with him. Was I even sure he knew what the word 'meal' meant?

Maybe he knows he has me figured out, because today, encouraged in part by the rave review I'd gotten the night before, I made le Petit's favorite risotto for lunch. (OK, Mock Risotto -- but I honestly can hardly tell the difference.) I steamed up some broccoli for myself and Mademoiselle, and le Petit even nibbled at it a bit after declaring "Autrefois, je n'aimais pas ça." Mademoiselle munched away as I handed her stalk after stalk, throwing all caution to the wind about what it might do to her poor unsuspecting digestive system. After all, this may be the last time she begs for broccoli, so I'd best take advantage of it.

I encouraged le Petit to use his plastic knife to push the risotto onto his plastic spoon, and I pretended not to notice when at the end he shoveled fistfuls into his mouth. "I like the wine in the risotto," he commented. Yes, my little food critic with the primitive table manners can tell when I have some white wine on hand to add to the chicken broth.

When lunch was over, the floor was littered with sticky rice kernels, tiny broccoli buds were spread all the way from the back of the high chair to the threshold of the kitchen, the sink and counter were covered with dirty pots and pans, and both kids were in desperate need of a good wipe down with a wet wash cloth. I wearily trekked off to start cleaning and came back to find le Petit trying to push one last broccoli stalk, salvaged from his own plate, into the mouth of one very surprised Mademoiselle.

"But Mommy, I'm trying to help her eat her broccoli!"

I intervened quickly and explained why we don't force feed vegetables.

And to think that in five hours, it'd be dinner time again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Prendre le large

My husband turned 40 this year, and I surprised him with a long solo weekend away at les Glénans sailing school in Brittany. A few years ago he started wishing he knew how to sail, and in his typical fashion spent hours selecting just the right books to buy on the subject. Then he didn't act on it. Instead he sighed, and said what-if-one-day to himself repeatedly on each family trip to the ocean. I believe that the very best gifts are the ones that someone longs for but doesn't dare get for themselves. So tonight, after work, my husband hopped the TGV high-speed train for Vannes, and tomorrow he'll take a ferry to the Ile d'Ars in the Gulf of Morbihan and spend three days learning to sail a dinghy.

I hope he enjoys it. I hope he doesn't get too cold. He applied his minimalist packing strategy (as opposed to my just-in-case packing strategy) and I'm not sure he has enough layers. I've told him not to worry about me and the kids, so I guess I'll stop worrying about him. I just hope he comes back dreaming, because to me that's what 40 birthdays are supposed to be about: dreaming about the next half(+) of your life.

Of course, as luck would have it, Mademoiselle has been dragging along a minor cold all week, and today le Petit came down with an unexplained low-grade fever. Both were in bed in good order tonight. I got them both fed, bathed, and asleep by 8:40, which I believe may be my personal best in the solo-parenting category. And we will as usual be largely aided by my in-laws, who are taking us all to Troyes tomorrow. Picture me riding in the back of the car tomorrow morning between two car seats, a nursing pillow on my lap and my knees somewhere folded in improbable angles.

Speaking of which, can someone please explain to me why it takes multiple reasonably intelligent adults a seemingly staggering amount of time to install a car seat in the back of a vehicle? Or is it just me? Or just my car seat? We have an Isofix system (that's LATCH to you all in the US) and I just bought the latest fancy-dancy Swedish extended rear facing model for Mademoiselle, which can be installed with or without the base, and with either the Isofix anchors or a normal shoulder belt. It took my father-in-law and me thirty minutes of puzzling over it and the Swedish manual to get it installed without the base in his car with no Isofix. I almost gave up, and then dropped the base on my foot when I went to get the base out of our car. That thing is heavy, as befits the Volvo of car seats. Nothing like feeling clumsy and stupid. It's worse than those child-proof caps that no one over 12 can manipulate properly.

Mademoiselle is still waking up several times a night. Most nights I don't feel I should complain, since she usually nurses for less than 10 minutes before falling peacefully back asleep. I just pop her back in her crib and slide back down onto the pillows in my bed without hardly opening my eyes. Then, at seven o'clock, she's up for the day, which is highly reasonable for an infant, really, as I was reminded this morning when she uncharacteristically was up at 5:30. But I've gotten reckless with my own bedtime, writing blog entries or even -- the audacity -- watching the occasional movie before going to bed, so I don't get more than three hours before the first wake up. Unless she wakes up for the first time at 11, as she often does, justifying my "waiting" for her. Ugh. And on bad nights, she'll wake up as many five times, if my weary brain is counting correctly at that point. She rarely wakes up less than three times.

Mademoiselle is otherwise the picture of a mature young lady for her 6 months.
She'd still like to crawl, I think, but sitting in one place is The New Big Thing. She spends her days sitting up, alert, fussing with indignation when she unexpectedly flops over to one side. She suffers the playpen with reasonable patience, if I can keep cycling in new toys quickly enough. She is fascinated by tags and tiny details, by the texture and pattern of the rug in the hallway or the smooth surface of the hardwood floor, which she runs her tiny fingers across in rapt observation. I can no longer read while nursing her unless she's mostly asleep because she'll simply turn around and try to grab the book from my hands.

She loves sitting with us at the table in her high chair. She's started eating solid foods, and has decided that while the spoon is far more interesting than the pureed baby food it contains, she's more than happy to serve herself baked sweet potato "fries" or steamed zucchini. Because, after all, if she can pick it up herself, it must be good. I remember worrying about what and when to feed le Petit at that age, and whether he was getting enough. Now I realize that at six months, the main purpose of solid food is to keep the baby occupied so you can eat in peace. With Mademoiselle expanding her palate and le Petit still conscientiously eating most things without a fork, I may soon have to call in a street sweeper after family meals, however.

The photos from my photo shoot with Mademoiselle are now available. Although I don't want to post the pictures here to preserve the relative anonymity of my blog, if anyone would like to see them, just e-mail me and I'll send you the link. I think I look radiant and maternal, and Mademoiselle looks her usual beautiful self, even in the picture taken when she was about to have a meltdown. I think they may have photoshopped away my dark circles, but that's quite all right by me.