Monday, February 28, 2011

Pâtisserie: the revenge

Two years ago, I confessed to a minor culinary disaster. For New Years 2009, I tried to bake a bûche de noël, and the results were, er, less than satisfactory.

I'm happy to say I've finally redeemed myself, thanks to some help and encouragement from my stepmom. We took a macaron-making class together on her recent visit to Paris, then employed our newly-learned professional pastry techniques to whip up a batch of almond macarons with lemon curd and chocolate-almond macarons with orange ganache filling. In my very own kitchen. I know, I'm still as shocked as you are.

Voilà the results of our efforts below.

(And they did taste as good as they look.)




Yes, I'd already taken a macaron-making class on my own, and no, I hadn't even begun to master the technique. My first attempt last spring produced mustard yellow, soft almond wafers that were entirely unlike macarons but which my husband cheerfully ate a few of to make me feel better ("They aren't macarons, but they're good anyway!" he helpfully offered). My mistake was to follow not the recipe given in class but a different one from one of my cookbooks (d'oh!), thus completely missing the proper technique to use with the egg whites.

As you may know, egg whites are crucial in macaron-making. Our teacher made us beat them by hand, which made it much easier to see their evolution, and also made the class somewhat of a workout, though nothing strenuous enough, alas, to compensate for the calories consumed afterward.

Now that the secret has been revealed, I can indulge my macaron lust without spending a fortune at Ladurée. This may or may not turn out to be a good thing. Luckily, the recipe is as complicated and time-consuming as my free time is scare, so I am still not likely to overindulge.

I left the macarons that we brought back from the class on the dining table overnight, where le Petit found them the next morning. He ran up to me, crumbs ringing his mouth, as I was brushing my teeth. "I like macarons a little," he informed me, "But not too much."

He then gave me the other crushed half of his half-eaten macaron. I didn't take it personally, since after all, this is the kid who still won't eat ice cream -- not even ice cream from Berthillon on Paris' Ile Saint Louis, which is as far as I'm concerned the best ice cream on the planet. A few days later, he had changed he tune, and deftly applied his preschool persuasion skills to wrest the final chocolate macaron from me.

He looked at me, looked at the macaron, said "No, mine!" and like any good mother, I gave in and gave it to him immediately. With a pleased, indulgent smile, of course.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh, three and a half

Le Petit is suddenly, irritatingly three and a half.

He's got a textbook case of the age, just as the weary moms who've gone before me have described. He's testing limits, pushing buttons, making loud noises. He's implementing a demonic strategy to undermine my housekeeping, grind the daily schedule to a halt, and drive both of his parents to distraction.

It's cleverly simple, involving just three principles:

1) If you can do it by yourself, refuse.

2) If you can't do it by yourself, insist.

3) If you know you're not supposed to do it, do it anyway.

Principle Number One leads me to ask him, five, six, seven times, to put on his shoes, eight, nine, ten times a day.

I say something like, "We're going to leave the house. Soon. Now. Don't you want to go to the store/park/Louvre/Versailles/Grandma's house? You do? Then shoes. [Le Petit], YOUR SHOES!"

Then, inevitably, I put his shoes on for him.

However, when someone is about to leave the house solo on some time-critical mission -- say, my husband is going to the basement for a bottle of wine to serve with dinner, or heading out to get bread before the bakery closes -- le Petit desperately wants to come along. On those occasions he rapidly crams his feet into his shoes himself, closes the velcro, and in ten seconds is ready to go.

Now, Principle Number Two has me biting my tongue, trying encourage self-sufficiency without losing my mind.

Sometimes, le Petit knows how to do something, but decides to improvise in fun ways. I try, for example, to limit collateral damage to my bathroom from I-can-do-it-all-by-myself hand washing. Le Petit knows how to turn on the water, soap up his hands, turn off the water, and dry off with a towel, but sometimes that script is too boring, and that's when he starts by locking himself in the bathroom, then proceeds to finger paint the mirror with wet hands. (I keep a screwdriver handy so I can quickly unlock the door from the outside.)

Sometimes, he doesn't yet have the knowledge, practice, coordination or physical strength to do something, and doing it himself becomes all the more urgent. Take pouring a glass of water from a nice, full plastic bottle.

Sigh.

Principle Number Three is the worst at the moment. That's how he'll finally succeed in undermining my sanity once and for all. The other day he disappeared into the kitchen with a crayon, then came looking for me afterward with an mischievous smile.

"Viens voir ce que j'ai fait, maman." Come see what I did! He proudly showed me where he'd scribbled all over one of the cabinets. I told him calmly that we didn't do that, that he knew that we didn't do that (as obviously he did), and then shrugged and handed him a sponge to clean up.

I feel like this behavior never stops. When I ask him to be quiet, he does everything to be louder; when I ask him to eat with a spoon, he shovels his food in his mouth with both hands. I know what he primarily wants is a reaction, so I try to make mine as firm and as boring as possible. I rely heavily on natural consequences when appropriate, taking things away that are misused, or involving him in clean up, if only symbolically. I also try to explain why something isn't possible. Against all expectations, that often works the best.

The other night, le Petit was making a break for the front door, which we'd forgotten to lock. I was trying to hold it shut, telling him that it wasn't time to go outside, that it was bedtime, that there was NO WAY I would let him out the door. He was having none of it, and was about to launch himself into a tantrum. Then I had an idea. I calmly mentioned the two kids that live down the hall, and told le Petit that they were probably sleeping and that we wouldn't want to wake them up. To my surprise, le Petit accepted that, and the story was over.

I don't know how well I'm dealing with all this. Before, le Petit often frustrated me, but it rarely felt intentional, so I was able perhaps a bit better to take it in stride. Now I know this is all age-appropriate limit testing -- not his fault, in the great scheme of things -- but man, it's wearing me down.

Any other stories of three-and-a-half? Commiseration, perhaps?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grandpa and Gramby

Le Petit and I were in the midst of a power struggle over hand-washing the other day when Grandpa walked in the door. Suddenly the squirmy, recalcitrant three-year-old was all sunny and eager-to-please. The metamorphosis was startling and immediate, and a moment later the hands were clean as well.

My father and stepmother were visiting from Seattle, and for five days le Petit got a daily dose of Grandpa and Gramby. It was like a boost of healthy vitamins for him, or better yet a special dessert, like the cake you only get once a year on your birthday. Le Petit was beside himself with excitement. There were new toys, and new books to read, and two new voices to read them out loud. Best of all, there were two new laps to sit in.

Of course in no time at all he expected them both to be at his beck and call and often they obliged. They take their job as grandparents very seriously. Le Petit got "surprise plates" at lunch with his favorite foods sliced into bite-sized cubes courtesy of Gramby. He sang songs with Grandpa -- often the same song, over and over again -- and was accompanied to the park, to the merry-go-round, to the square with his scooter.

"It's not square!" he informed us. "It's a circle!"

Because, sure enough, his English blossomed during the visit, enough to pick up new ambiguities in his "mother" tongue. He was right, I replied; the nearby square *is* round.

He quietly recited his new Dr. Seuss books to himself and I listened in, amused and encouraged. Then tonight, Grandpa and Gramby's last night in town, he ran around the house madly (preschoolers, like cats, have an early-evening 'witching hour') singing an approximation of 'America the Beautiful.' He's an American after all, thanks in large part to an American family who loves him and won't let him forget it.

Le Petit learned, too, that family from any corner of the globe will accept you as you are. Once their novelty wore off somewhat, he treated Grandpa and Gramby to plenty of his signature three-year-old stubbornness. He even threw his first-ever tantrum in English, screaming repeatedly "I want my hat!" -- his winter hat, scandalously left at home on a table -- on the sidewalk outside the apartment and refusing to go hatless one block to the nearby pharmacy. Grandpa took him inside to get the hat, then calmly escorted him back to meet me and Mademoiselle at the pharmacy. Grandparent patience often magically kicks in when parental patience is wearing dangerously thin.

Meanwhile, during the visit, Mademoiselle was serenely observing these two intriguing people. She seemed to know already, instinctively, that they love her immensely. For five days there were extra arms to hold her and two new faces to smile at, with voices attached that sounded a lot like Mommy's. She took this all in calmly as another reassuring truth in her new world.

I, in the middle of the whirlwind of life with two small kids, was grateful for an anchor, a steadying presence, and a reminder of where I come from. I was also grateful for ready help with the dishes and the ever-accumulating laundry. Perhaps best of all, I didn't feel like I had to act perfect, or be anything other than a mom winging it in the middle of everyday, comfortable chaos. To me, a recovering childhood perfectionist, this was a gift.

I cried when they left. I held Mademoiselle on my shoulder as I hugged them both goodbye, and wondered if she or le Petit would notice the sadness in my voice or the tears on my cheeks. That's OK, I decided: they'd simply learn that sometimes the best visits end in (joyful) tears.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I guess he won't be a shopkeeper when he grows up

Since I've been on maternity leave and le Petit has been spending so much time at home with me in the afternoons, his spoken English has taken off. (Or perhaps it's since he's been spending so much time playing games on sesamestreet.org. I should share some of the credit with Abby and Elmo.) He's always understood my English perfectly, but all of a sudden the child who used to respond to me exclusively in French is instead stopping, thinking, and putting together full sentences in English. I can almost see the wheels turning as he picks words from what I just said and combines them with the vocabulary he already has. Sometimes he has trouble with the syntax -- he tries to use "not" as a grammatical replacement for "pas", which makes for some oddly structured sentences -- but it is finally falling into place.

Just in time for my father and stepmother to visit!

His imaginative play is also taking off. Yesterday le Petit wanted to play "market" with me. He set up a stand that reminded him of the local weekend open-air marché, arranging plastic cups full of musical instruments, disassembled Legos, wooden fruit, plastic eggs, and other miscellaneous toys. I gave him some small paper vegetable bags and came by with a shopping basket.

"Bonjour, I'd like three apples," I asked politely.

"No, I'm not ready!" le Petit answered curtly.

I looked over the Legos, asked him what they were, waited a bit, then tried again to buy something. He refused. I tried again. No luck.

"Well, in that case, I'll take my business elsewhere," I said, and went off to do the dishes.

Le Petit loved this. He made me repeat my sentence three or four times.

He wanted to play "market" again with me today, so I waited for him to set up the stand again and find me a basket. Then I tried in vain to buy something.

"Six eggs, please."

"No."

"OK. How about three eggs, then?"

"No. No. You take your business elsewhere!" insisted le Petit, with the most charming preschool French accent. He even showed me where 'elsewhere' was by taking my hand and leading me into another room. Is he, for fun, just modeling the worst (and now rarest) kind of Parisian customer service? If so, at least he's doing it in a language most tourists will understand.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Plays well with others

Le Petit just got his first report card.

It wasn't a real report card, of course -- after all, he's only three, and while the Education nationale takes its job quite seriously, they don't exaggerate. It was simply a list of social, intellectual and artistic skills that le Petit is expected to learn within the year, with a letter code indicating if each skill is acquired, in the process of acquisition, or (presumably) nowhere near the mark. Le Petit's teacher only used the first two letter codes, and left other skills blank; it appears that many are not slated until the second half of the school year.

I read it with great interest, looking for the proof every mother craves that the greater world appreciates my child as much as I do. Most skills were marked "acquired." That's my boy, I thought to myself. It turns out there are things he can do at school, like draw a circle, that I've never seen him do at home. It also appears that the outgoing, outspoken le Petit that I know and love is timid and reserved at school: his self-expression is "in process." I'd already heard this from the teacher, so it wasn't a complete surprise, but I was a little concerned to read that the skill "playing with others" is also "in process."

My worried mother mind jumped straight to the worst conclusions: does he have friends? Is he alone at recess? Do the other kids shun him? It doesn't help that I was a misfit from nursery school on, the kind of kid that naturally got bullied and excluded, and I don't want my children to experience the pain that I did.

So the other night at dinner, my husband and I gently questioned le Petit to learn more about the école maternelle social scene. It went about as well as any interrogation of a preschooler, and his responses were less than illuminating. We eventually went through the entire list of boys in his class (the school notebook with pictures and first names just came home and facilitated the task) and tried to figure out who he was friends with.

"Is E your friend?"

"No, E is not my copain any more."

"Why not?"

"He fights at recess."

"Is A your friend?"

"No, A is not my copain any more."

"Why not?"

"He hits other kids."

His response was the more or less the same for nearly every boy in his class. "Whoa, I guess it's a jungle out there," I said to my husband, under my breath.

Eventually he identified two boys as friends, although what that meant wasn't clear. Did they play ball together at recess? my husband asked hopefully, and got no intelligible answer. (Future Supreme Court nominees take note, for adopting a preschool response style may be the easiest way to make it through Senate confirmation.)

"Do you like school? Are you happy?" we ultimately asked.

"Oui," le Petit stated simply.

"What's the best thing about it?"

Le Petit thought for a moment.

"Painting."

We noticed that a book entitled "Je ne suis plus ton copain" (I am no longer your friend) is on the reading list for this semester. I wonder if it isn't the latest catch phrase in le Petit's class.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I play so well with others, either. I'm timid and nervous with new acquaintances, and I have never managed to surround myself with a tribe of friends. I guess at age 34 it's still a skill "in progress" for me, too.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Smile, baby, smile

With Mademoiselle, I feel a serenity I didn't feel when le Petit was tiny.

Le Petit and I were and are still all Lewis and Clark. We're setting out in unexplored territory together, searching for mountain passes, paddling rivers upstream, carrying our boat around unexpected rapids. We have no map but the one we're hastily sketching. At our worst, we're bickering over the direction to take; at our best, the adventure and newness of it all bonds us.

With Mademoiselle, I feel that instead of heading out into the wilderness, I'm starting out on a stroll down a well-trodden path in a park, and we're walking together in step in the same direction.

According to a colleague of mine, the late famous pediatrician and author Françoise Dolto, who transformed French childrearing (kind of the French Brazelton; the first to say, "Gee, children are individuals, too"), your firstborn is your brouillon, your "scratch" child. You will inevitably make mistakes that you'll iron out for subsequent children. I don't find this reassuring, perhaps because I'm an only child myself. Does the eldest always get such a raw deal?

I know that I wouldn't be as good a mother to Mademoiselle if le Petit hadn't taught me everything I know about babies. I also know he has suffered from my initial ignorance about everything from infant sleep to potty training to discipline. And yet, we're getting good at learning as we go along, or maybe just at faking it, and doubling back to correct things when we get too far off course. And at some point in the future, my experience with le Petit will lead to mistaken assumptions about Mademoiselle, for she's not the same child, and won't need exactly the same parenting. I'll face plant -- I'm getting used to it -- and pick myself up and try again. I'm learning the process as much as I'm finding any actual answers. And as my best friend says to me, in this parenting gig, we're not aiming for perfection, just a solid "B."

In the meantime, I'm loving the serenity, as long as it lasts. I know how to listen to babies now, even if Mademoiselle isn't the same baby le Petit was. I'm hoping that I'll keep listening adequately to le Petit as he grows, because that's the only way we'll keep finding our way.

(If I'm brave, I'll ask them both in 20 years how well they thought I did.)

* * *

Yesterday, Mademoiselle smiled at me for the first time. My mother-in-law's seen smiles for weeks, but while I'd seen beatific expressions of well-being, I'd seen nothing I could unquestionably qualify as a smile. I tried talking, and cooing, and singing, and stroking her arms and patting her belly on the changing table, but no smiles would come, and I was beginning to feel just a bit pathetic and unentertaining as a mother. Then yesterday Mademoiselle was sitting in her baby swing -- not even swinging, just chilling out -- and I was doing something at a nearby table, and I looked over and she was grinning ear to ear.

Her lips were together, the corners of her mouth turned up wide, and her eyes were sparkling. The smile flickered and disappeared, then came back a second time even stronger. I wish I thought I'd done something to incite it, but I'm afraid it was some sort of inside baby joke.

Or maybe she was looking at me and saying to herself, "Yeah, that's my mommy!"

I haven't seen it again since, and I must admit, I'm waiting for it impatiently. And still cooing, of course.

Monday, February 07, 2011

At sea

Note: this story sounds, and certainly felt, dramatic. But everyone is fine. Mademoiselle is home from the hospital, and nothing turned out to be seriously wrong: just a cold plus a minor bacterial infection. I, however, am still recovering from the experience of having my littlest one hospitalized, and writing this will help me, I hope.

I felt the sensation of losing footing, of treading water with my head barely at the surface. I was in a hospital room like an aquarium, a row of windows into the nurses station, another large window to the gray, wintry outside. Mademoiselle was sleeping inclined in a smaller aquarium, a crib with clear plastic sides. I sat in a chair, shaking with fever, dull worry throbbing in my aching head.

It was Saturday afternoon, or Saturday morning, I was no longer sure. The only time that mattered was the time it would take for someone to come and give us news of the tests that had brought us there and to tell us something rational and reassuring, magic words to break the spell. Periods of intense activity -- like the blood tests that seemed to take hours -- punctuated long periods of nothing. Occasionally a nurse or assistant would knock softly at the door and come in to take Mademoiselle's temperature or check the beeping monitoring screen. We asked few questions and got fewer answers.

It started on Thursday, when Mademoiselle's cold had kept her awake and unhappy through most of the night. She only slept fitfully and in our arms, and had trouble nursing. She was running a slight fever. We called the hospital and our concerns were summarily dismissed. We eventually split the worst of the night in two: my husband held a sleeping Mademoiselle for the first part of the night while I slept in bed, then I held her in the wrap, alternately pacing around the room, staring at the computer or dozing upright on the couch until morning came. I had a driving session in the morning, and I'm still not sure how I managed to safely drive in circles around Paris with my mind numb from the night I'd spent.

Meanwhile, my husband and mother-in-law took Mademoiselle to see our family doctor. His verdict: a cold. The same one le Petit and I were suffering from, unsurprisingly. As long as Mademoiselle continued to nurse, her fever didn't climb too high, and no other symptoms appeared, we needn't worry. Sure enough, the day went well. Mademoiselle napped for much of it. We went to the pharmacy and bought what we needed to clean her nose.

I dreaded the night to come, however, because I was exhausted and sick myself, and worried that I could neither calm Mademoiselle nor think rationally if I had to. I asked my mother-in-law if she could stay with us to second my husband if things got rough. It was a good thing I did, for aches and a bout of nausea kept me in bed while Mademoiselle fussed and my husband and mother-in-law comforted her, paced, and fretted. I was suffering from pain and guilt (what a useless mother! Sleeping -- or trying to -- when her little one needs her!), but the pain won out. Mademoiselle's fever started to climb again. We called the hospital again and were temporarily reassured. But by early Saturday morning, long before dawn, we decided to go to the emergency room.

The emergency room was thankfully deserted and we were seen quickly, then transferred to the pediatric unit at the hospital a few blocks away, the same where I'd given birth just weeks ago. We declined an ambulance and my husband carried Mademoiselle in his arms. We were greeted and assigned to a room. More tests were carried out, and we explained our story to more people than I remember. Then we were left alone with the feeling of being lost at sea. I coughed into a surgical mask and sat and shivered in my winter coat.

At first, I was simply grateful that Mademoiselle was being taken care of, and that it was no longer just us and our uncertainty alone in the middle of the night. For some reason, I didn't doubt that she would be OK, not at first. Before long, however, the chief pediatrician came in, and in the speech he must give thousands of times about the difference between viral and bacterial infections and the particular risks associated with the latter in young infants, he mentioned meningitis. He used words that I never think about, much less know how to translate into English, to explain that they would be taking a sample for testing from Mademoiselle's spine. Tears welled up as panic hit me full on, and my husband's panic mirrored my own. I no longer ached, or shivered, or was even aware of myself or how I felt. Shortly we were sent downstairs. We couldn't stay for the procedure. We sat in a hallway near the delivery room and made frantic phone calls, then held each other and cried, and waited.

When we went back upstairs, the first thing we both heard and recognized was Mademoiselle's cry. When the nurses brought her back, she had a large, square bandage on her head covering a catheter for later IV treatment. She calmed down quickly enough and slept. We sat, and waited and watched, and made hushed phone calls to family and friends, and felt useless. At some point in the early evening, the news we'd been waiting for most desperately arrived: the meningitis test was negative. Whatever Mademoiselle was suffering from could presumably be treated, and the terror started to recede, at least for me. Night began to fall.

I remembered the Breton coast in the summer, standing on the top of rocky cliffs on a clear day and looking down at the waves crashing below, able to vaguely imagine what it must be like to be in the same place, in a boat, far down below and during a storm. We were safe, but what could be have been perilous was now all too real to me. So many parents face so much more terrifying realities, and they start in hospital rooms like the one where we'd anxiously waited that afternoon.

We took turns going home to eat and shower. The night staff arrived on their shift, and the new pediatrician explained that they would start an IV of antibiotics that night. There were no beds for parents, but we'd brought some old blankets and pillows and made a bed on the floor. From time to time, I started sobbing, feeling sick once again and useless and guilty. The children's nurse took me aside and told me that it wasn't my fault, that germs were everywhere, that this happened all the time and my little one was in good hands, and that I needed to rest and take care of myself if I wanted to be able to take care of her. I noticed that she and I both had the first name, which reassured me for some reason. She was serving as the my rational side when my own ability to reason had fled.

I wanted to stay awake and take care of Mademoiselle for the first part of the night and let my husband sleep, since he hadn't slept at all the night before, but when I picked up Mademoiselle my back hurt terribly. I fell asleep in the chair beside her bed and when I woke up my ribcage hurt with each breath. The night nurse overheard me complaining about the pain, and took my temperature and blood pressure. They could help me if I needed it, they insisted, and I started to realize that it would be critical for me to take care of myself, too. They gave me something for the pain, and I went to sleep on our makeshift bed, where my husband joined me as soon as Mademoiselle fell asleep. I was dimly aware of the night nurses coming in and out of the room, checking Mademoiselle's temperature, watching over us sleeping like businesslike guardian angels.

Another day passed in a daze, and the second night arrived, and I didn't dare go home for more than a shower lest Mademoiselle need me or my milk. It was Sunday, and I couldn't see a doctor anyway. Le Petit came down with a fever and woke up on Saturday night terrified that we weren't there, even though my in-laws were staying with him, so my husband and I decided that he should spend the night at home on Sunday. I worried. Would Mademoiselle sleep? I wasn't feeling much better, and I knew I had to rest. Mademoiselle's fever, however, had dropped and we were much less worried. There were still no explanations from the test results, but either the antibiotics were working or a viral infection was clearing on its own. Either way, we might be home in as soon as 24 hours.

On Monday, I saw my doctor, who ordered tests for me. I was afraid that whatever I had I could give to poor Mademoiselle if she didn't have it already. I trekked downstairs to the hospital lab and waited for over an hour for tests which should have been immediate, while my mother-in-law sat with Mademoiselle. I wanted to shout, "My child is hospitalized! She needs me!" but instead dully leafed through old magazines and tried not to cough. The results, when I got them hours later, indicated that I had a cold, not the flu, but accompanied by some sort of bacterial infection. It was probably a sinus infection, my doctor explained over the phone, but I should start antibiotics immediately and go in as soon as possible for a chest x-ray.

In the evening, we were transferred out of our fishbowl room and into a shared room. A family with an 18-month-old daughter politely greeted us and went about their business, speaking in hushed voices. The mother was seven months pregnant, and I was glad I was still assiduously wearing surgical masks and constantly washing my hands, since the last thing she needed was to get sick. I knew logically that we were transferred because Mademoiselle was doing better, but I irrationally feared being moved from the room where I'd started to feel safe. My husband brought me food and my antibiotics and helped me make a new bed on the floor. I nursed Mademoiselle to sleep and tried to sleep myself.

I was too hot, I was too cold, and the dreams I had that night were vivid and frightening. I dreamed at first that the new night nurse had told me something important but I couldn't remember it, and it seemed so real that I confusedly asked her about it when she came in to check on Mademoiselle in the wee hours. I then had a violent dream cut from Lord of the Flies, and when I woke up around five o'clock with aches and nausea it was almost a relief. The dream faded. The nausea continued. By seven, it was clear that I had to go home, and I called my husband to tell him as much. I called my doctor again, who speculated that I might be allergic to the antibiotics. When I stopped by his office an hour later to pick up a new prescription, it was clear instead that I had the stomach flu. He gave me another prescription to treat the nausea and other symptoms, and I went home to curl up in bed and sleep as best I could.

When I started to emerge from the fog late that afternoon -- it was a mercifully short-lived stomach flu -- I first disinfected everything I could in the entire house. Then, I pumped milk. Ever since I'd precipitously left the hospital that morning, Mademoiselle was for the first time in her life drinking formula, and by all reports was not liking it. I wanted her to have my antibodies, and was also afraid I'd lose my milk, so we rented an electric breast pump and I did my best to give her at least a little bit that could be taken over to the hospital. Le Petit spent the day with my in-laws, but was overjoyed to have me home that night. We were alone in the house on Tuesday night -- my husband stayed with Mademoiselle at the hospital -- and I felt oddly like we were alone in the world. We both slept long and well.

On Wednesday morning, we waited anxiously for news of whether we could take Mademoiselle home. I also went in for a chest x-ray and discovered that I had a lung infection, une infection du poumon. My doctor instructed me to continue the antibiotics and see him again in a week. Finally, Mademoiselle was released, and her mystery diagnosis revealed: a cold, with a bacterial sinus infection. The antibiotics she'd received at the hospital were enough for her to be declared fully healed. Le Petit and I would continue ours, since poor le Petit, not to be left out, got his first ear infection. I would continue wearing a surgical mask, just in case.

Now, almost a week later, I feel I'm finally recovered, physically and mentally. For the first few days, I cried without reason. We'd never lost sight of the shore, and yet it felt like we'd been so close to being lost at sea.