Friday, January 28, 2011

Belle

"Elle est tellement mignonne," my father-in-law says of Mademoiselle, cooing over the tiny head that is visible in the baby carrier.

"Non," my mother-in-law corrects him, "Elle n'est pass mignonne. Elle est belle."

She's not cute, she insists. She's beautiful. I don't know whether to agree or not, for to me she's both, but I am warmed to see how passionately loved she is already.

My mother-in-law sees smiles that I still can't quite see. Mademoiselle's expression of well-being, when she's happy and comfy and steadily looking at another person in her world, comes close, but I'm not sure I really think it's a smile. She doesn't smile in her sleep, either, and I haven't seen the famous, vague "sourires aux anges," or "angel smiles" of newborns.

She's been here less than two months and I already have a hard time remembering life before. I think I'm not the only one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First cold

Is there anything more cute and at the same time more ominous than a baby sneeze?

Le Petit came home from school with another cold, and I saw it as my maternal duty to catch it before Mademoiselle did so that she could get the antibodies in my milk. Well, despite my best intentions (and probably because of my constant coughing), she's now got the antibodies AND the cold. I feel guilty because le Petit didn't get a single cold for the first nine months or so of his life.

Yesterday evening she started to sneeze, with that precious expression of startled confusion that I so love. Then her tiny nose started to run. By bedtime she was breathing loudly. In the middle of the night, I woke up to her labored breathing and tossing and turning; I nursed her, then lay awake anxiously listening for her to stop breathing altogether.

I know that a cold is annoying, not life-threatening, but at two in the morning the distinction wasn't too clear in my head. I also selfishly wondered how the rest of the night would go. Her breathing eventually evened out and she fell back asleep for a long time, and I did, too. She's still breathing through her nose, so things aren't so bad.

I put her baby swing in the bathroom this morning while I took a shower, giving her the benefit of steam to open up her nasal passages while I chatted with her about hairstyles and beauty secrets. (Should I admit that? Does anyone still believe I was ambivalent about having a girl?) Of course, she's already beautiful ("And don't let anyone tell you otherwise," I insist) and she's still bald, so I doubt either were of any use as of yet.

Here's hoping the ominously adorable baby sneezes pass fast.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cuisiner with maman

Le Petit loves to cook with me, even when "cooking" is simply dumping pre-measured cups of flour into bowls and pushing the buttons on the food processor under my strict supervision. I'm grateful for this simple activity together, because it keeps us both happily busy for an hour when we're stuck inside the apartment. Plus, a new batch of freshly-baked cookies adds to my relative feeling of accomplishment at the end of a weekday, even when the laundry remains unfolded, the birth announcements unmailed, and pine needles from the long-gone Christmas tree are creeping out of their hiding places to invade the living room floor.

Today we made pizza dough together. I thought that le Petit would adore kneading the dough and covering himself with flour, but once the measuring and counting was over, he tentatively patted the sticky, floury mound, then wiped his hands on his shirt and headed back to his Legos. Meanwhile, I felt like some sort of modern-day goddess of the hearth kneading dough and swaying back and forth with Mademoiselle curled up under my chin in the baby wrap.

Since I can't use the stove or the oven with a baby strapped to my chest, I plan our cooking projects for when Mademoiselle is reliably napping in her crib. However, 75% of her naps right now are in the wrap, and the rest of the time I never know how long the nap will last and I'll be hands-free. Today Mademoiselle woke up just as I was preparing to turn the dough onto the countertop. It'll be some time before le Petit and I attempt any delicate or time-sensitive recipes, like a soufflé.

Le Petit rarely eats anything we cook. As a young toddler, he ate everything, or almost: mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, risotto, quinoa. I don't know if I was smug, but I do know I took this luck for granted. Since then he's become progressively more picky, and he now typically only eats three vegetables (avocado, corn, and peas), one kind of cheese (parmesan), and carbohydrates in limited forms (crumpets, brioche, baguette with butter, and, naturally, pasta). He's better with fruits and animal protein, but nothing is a sure thing. He won't eat yogurt, or ice cream, or pretty much any form of potato, and yesterday he even turned his nose up at duck confit. Who wouldn't eat duck confit? I console myself that at least he doesn't eat junk food or munch mindlessly between meals. This must be the bad karma I deserve after many years of mocking parents of picky eaters before I became a mother myself.

Cooking with le Petit is part of my strategy to educate his unadventurous palate. I'm betting that the more he's involved in making the food we eat, the more curious he'll be to try it himself. So far I'm not seeing results at the dinner table, but I'm not without hope. Earlier this week le Petit grabbed a raw slice of sweet potato from the kitchen counter, popped it in his mouth, chewed, then spit it out in disgust. Today he took a huge bite out of a half of an onion that was waiting to be sliced. Both times he made a face, and both times I was floored by his sudden and bizarre curiosity.

My husband's strategy is to take him to the local market, point out everything under the sun, and let him choose what he'd like to try. He's having better luck so far.

The pizza was delicious and I was almost happy I only had to share it with my husband. Le Petit and I paged through a cookbook together and I showed him all of the recipes with pictures, hoping to happen upon something that would interest him. He pointed at every one and said earnestly that yes, he wanted to make it. Right away. Tout de suite. But did he want to eat it? Non. That's for maman et papa, he insisted.

* * *

Here's an unrelated question for any readers of my blog who are or were breastfeeding moms: do you or did you use a breastfeeding pillow and, if so, what kind?

With le Petit, I used a hand-me-down pillow that was a sort of a C-shape and filled with little foam seeds. I liked it because it was small and light and could be shaped to support me differently depending on my position. Alas, the cover ripped apart and it kind of started losing its loft and is now almost useless. I decided to buy another one and, scandalized by the prices charged for something so simple and after much deliberation, got the cheapest one I could find. It is filled with hard stuffing and won't mould to my body, is way too long to wrap around me when I'm sitting, and has a bizarre bump in the middle of the C, exactly where you don't want it to be to correctly position the baby. I'm considering giving it to le Petit to play with and buying a new one that will actually be useful, but... what to get? One of those long sausage-shaped ones that I could potentially use to sleep comfortably during pregnany if we decide to have another kid? Another C-shaped one, but with a more "squishy" design? Any brands to look for? Any brands to avoid?

(It's amazing the new forms of prise de tête you can find when you become a parent, no?)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mother of two

From the bedroom, where I was busy changing Mademoiselle's diaper, I was listening to le Petit's monologue as he finished up lunch.

"I want water," he said out loud to himself. After a pause, he added, "...but I can't. I can't open!"

I pictured the 1.5 litre bottle of water which was sitting on the dining room table. It was heavy and in glass, with a difficult screw cap.

"Hon," I called out, trying to sound encouraging and not alarmed, "If you want water, why don't you go grab one of the bottles next to Mommy's bed?" My husband stocks several half-litre plastic bottles of water on my bedside table to keep me hydrated during Mademoiselle's late-night feedings. (He brings the bottles home from work free, but I love the gesture. When you're awake at 3 a.m., it's nice to know someone has thought of you earlier, even if they're currently obliviously snoring into a pillow next to you.)

I heard an avalanche of footsteps as le Petit tore down the hallway and clambered onto our bed.

Then I heard, "I can't open it!"

Uh-oh. Usually le Petit has no trouble with plastic bottles, but to my luck, he was defeated by the cap just when I was in the middle of baby poop containment procedures.

"Bring it here, then!" Half convincing myself that my hands were still sufficiently clean, I twisted off the cap, screwed it back on lightly and then gave it back to le Petit. He skipped back off to the dining table.

"I can't open it!" He brought the bottle back to the bedroom and we repeated the operation. I almost left the cap off entirely, but le Petit (clearly smarter than I am already) took one skeptical look at the full bottle, evaluated his ability to carry it, and said no. I screwed the top on extra lightly and le Petit rushed back off to the table.

"Oh!" I overheard a moment later, in le Petit's tone of delighted surprise, "Oh! There's water!"

"Did you spill?" I called out in concern. "Try not to make a big mess."

"Oh! My hand is wet!" le Petit continued cheerfully as if discovering some remarkable natural phenomenon by clever experimentation, then added for my benefit, "C'est pas grave. No big deal."

"A lot or a little of water?"

"C'est pas grave. C'est pas grave!"

This is just one example of how caring for two is both harder and easier than I expected. Harder because I cannot control everything, even less than I had convinced myself I could control it before. Easier because I care much, much less than I expected to care. How bad could a bit of spilled water be? Or milk, or applesauce? What's a few more crumbs on the floor?

I've discovered one surprising thing: when you're a parent to two children, looking after just one feels like a vacation. My mother-in-law has been coming over frequently to take either Mademoiselle or le Petit off my hands (to let me go out of the house by myself, for example, which I still don't dare do with both kids in tow). Every time I feel positively giddy with freedom.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lest it all sound too easy

After staying up too late writing a blog entry, I found myself gripped by irrational new-mom anxiety in the middle of the night last night at Mademoiselle's first wake-up. As someone who periodically suffers from anxiety, this was, alas, familiar enough -- a side effect of things going too well, perhaps, and my mind wanting to give me something impossible to obsess over.

Then, this morning, thirty minutes into Mademoiselle's nap, someone in the building started drilling a wall and... Mademoiselle woke up crying, and didn't get a decent nap in the rest of the day. She dozed in the wrap or in my lap or my mother-in-law's arms, but by the end of the day she had dark circles.

She spit up all morning. A lot. And I grudgingly realized I'd probably been nursing her a bit too often, and not burping her assiduously enough.

Le Petit was patient and sweet through it all. I took him out in the early evening, leaving Mademoiselle with my mother-in-law, and he was thrilled to finally get me all to himself. We ran together to the Métro, laughing, admiring the Christmas lights, looking for the moon. Then I let him run along the short wall that borders an empty fountain in a nearby square. I held his hand and was dismissing a vague worry that it wasn't such a good (or safe) idea, when *I* tripped and fell and pulled him down with me. He had a bloody nose and a split lip, we both had a scare, and I hated myself, my terrible judgment and my incompetence.

We both felt better later this evening. He ate a healthy dinner, with plenty of green vegetables -- my formerly adventurous eater has become so picky these days, this is worthy of note. Then we got the fussy and exhausted Mademoiselle off to bed early. She nursed for a long time, but didn't seem to want to drift off to sleep in my arms. So I put her down and waited anxiously as she fussed and shuffled in her crib, and slowly -- miraculously! -- wound down and soothed herself to sleep.

So perhaps my anxiety isn't wearing off on my children. Thankfully.

I put some calming Gregorian chants on the stereo, hugged my husband, and told myself that this would all get better and easier, and soon.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Just me, Mademoiselle, and le Petit

I think I can do this after all.

My husband took two wonderful, busy weeks of paternity leave over the holidays, giving me a chance to catch my breath. Thank you, French government, for such progressive family policies! At the end of the two weeks, I was rested, less hormone-bound, and finally over the terrible cold that I'd had since before I gave birth, but I still wasn't sure how I'd handle things on my own all day with both kids.

Well, I'm happy to report that the first week was a success. My confidence grew, and I even managed to get some things done; some of them important, like taking both kids to the pediatrician, and some of them trivial, like (gasp!) vacuuming. The best part, however, was that contrary to all my pessimistic expectations, I actually had fun.

I spent at least one afternoon doing nothing more elaborate than playing with Legos. We didn't have any exciting adventures. We stayed close to home, we read books, and we played quietly in the living room. The highlight of our week was baking a galette des rois with le Petit for Epiphany: he adores cooking with me, and takes his tasks of measuring cups of flour or, under my strict supervision, pressing the buttons on the food processor very seriously. I spent my mornings sleepily nursing Mademoiselle, or organizing the apartment as best I could with her in the wrap. By the middle of the week, I realized that we three were a winning team. I didn't want to do anything more than just be focused on the two of them for eight hours, and they seemed to be blooming under my constant attention.

Le Petit is particularly patient and attentive to his little sister. He runs to her crib when she cries and winds up her musical mobile. He asks me if she wants "lolo" (milk), and if she does want to nurse, graciously suggests that I sit on a pillow on the ground and play Legos with him at the same time. He's even starting to understand how to be quiet -- or at least quieter than usual -- while she's napping in the next room.

So I didn't lose my cool or even (so far) resort to Elmo videos. My mother-in-law came over to help with the most delicate part of the day, from le Petit's pick-up at school through our lunch. Since I can hardly use the stove and comfort a crying baby at the same time, I was grateful, to say the least. She also looked after one child while I shuttled to the other to the doctor's office, and took Mademoiselle for an hour one afternoon while I ran errands with le Petit. I don't have to be completely self-sufficient, thankfully.

I'm looking forward to this week, and now I think -- no, I'm certain -- the next eight months are going to fly by fast.

* * *

We ate lunch at my in-laws today. In the French tradition, we spent several hours at the table, so it was already dark outside by the time we walked home.

Le Petit joyfully ran home. He still only has two speeds: "mach 10" and "dawdle," but the latter is the one he employs most often with me (especially on the way home from school), so I was surprised to find him in such a hurry.

He suddenly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared up at the sky, a huge smile on his face.

"Monsieur Lune! C'est Monsieur Lune!" he exclaimed.

I looked up, and sure enough, a crescent moon was hanging in the narrow strip of night sky above the street. I would never have noticed it on my own. But le Petit did. He kept stopping and looking up every few feet all the way home, just to see whether Mr. Moon was still peeking at us from between the outlines of the office and apartment buildings.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

One month

I'm experimenting with a new pseudonym for la Petite, Mademoiselle. I don't know whether you all have been finding it as difficult to follow as I have found it difficult to type, but "le Petit" and "la Petite" seems challenging to me. Let me know what you think in the comments.

One month ago right now I was an hour away from going into labor. It feels like an eternity ago now, the final days of my pregnancy, and yet the last month has gone by so fast I'm afraid I missed half of it in the rush.

Mademoiselle has already lost the look of a newborn. She's more alert now, with none of the perpetual sleepiness of the first two weeks. She's no longer tiny, and her legs and arms don't look fragile and alien like they did at birth. She's already controlling and partially supporting her head, eager to look around and take everything in. Her movements are still jerky, however. She still shakes her head in random directions when she wants to nurse, and half the time she turns away from the breast instead of toward it, twisting the corner of her mouth wide open in search of the target.

I felt guilty that I was sitting on the couch writing a blog entry while Mademoiselle sat quietly alone in her baby seat. I can trust her to call me to order, however: she started to fuss, and now she's snuggling into my shoulder while I awkwardly try to type.

I'm barely getting enough sleep, or spending enough time with her, or paying sufficient attention to le Petit, or to my husband. But this month has been simply beautiful, and I know that's the only thing I'll remember (I hope).