Monday, March 28, 2011

Nighttime in the City of Lights

Damn you, time change! Europe "sprung forward" yesterday morning, and my exhausted but no longer feverish child needed to go to bed as early as possible this evening, but refused to because it was still light outside.

"Je ne veux pas dormir! Je ne veux pas qu'il fait jour!" he repeated over and over, angrily and grammatically incorrectly. My husband and I were both too weary to correct his non-use of the subjunctive. First he refused to take a bath, then he compromised and insisted that Mommy do the bath. Then, once Daddy was kicked out of the bathroom, he started his tantrum over again in English.

"I don't want to sleep! I want to wait for night!"

I patiently pushed the bedtime routine along as best I could, thanking the heavens for our roll-down shutters.

(Reason number 37 I'm happy I live in France: light-blocking shutters are nearly universal.)

He was in his pajamas and we'd almost cleared the final hurdle when I made the mistake of suggesting a particular book for his bedtime story.

"Do you want to read the nighttime book tonight?" I asked, pointing to a detailed picture book of a neighborhood at night. The whining started back up immediately.

Damn. Foiled again.

I ignored it, he finally settled for Hop on Pop, we snuggled in and ten minutes later, he was sound asleep.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Still not the "spring fever" I had in mind

It looks like le Petit won't be able to participate in his nursery school's Carnival celebration tomorrow. I could probably dope him with ibuprofen and he'd be energetic enough to go, but then I'd be one of those parents who send their kids out to infect all the others. Even if this flu or flu-like virus most likely came home from school originally, I feel no need to send it back. I think I'm more disappointed than le Petit is. I was seriously looking forward to seeing him parade through the neighborhood with his classmates disguised in his school-made wolf costume.

For the last three days, he's been grounded by a moderate to high fever, exhausted enough to spontaneously turn off computer and abandon sesamestreet.org to curl up on the couch. For the first four hours after he's taken fever-reducing medication he's almost himself, and then he crashes as if at the end of a very bad trip, ornery and utterly worn out. I do my best to help him through the next two hours, rubbing his back and snuggling up and offering sips of water.

My father-and-law and I took him to the pediatrician today. I carried him the four blocks to the office because he wanted Mommy as his only mode of transportation, only Mommy, not Grandpa and not the stroller. ("I'm too big for the stroller!" he now asserts proudly.) The pediatrician told us essentially what our GP told us three days ago: flu-like, not worrisome as of yet, nothing to do but wait it out.

He's barely eaten in the last three days. I offer the most tempting treats I can think of, pudding, chocolate, cookies, at all hours of the day with no success. I'm not too worried. The pediatrician was even less worried. Then, when we got back home, le Petit started attentively paging through his book of rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables.

He looked at the picture of the spinach.

"I want risotto," he declared. Spinach and risotto are associated in his mind and he expects them together, even if at his healthiest he barely picks at the green stuff. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, but I'd been so busy taking care of the kids all day, even with plenty of help from my mother-in-law, that I hadn't had lunch. Le Petit shepherded me to the kitchen.

"Let's make risotto! But first," he told me in a serious tone, "We have to wash our hands."

"Do you want pretend risotto or real risotto?"

"Real risotto!"

And so he watched intently from his little step stool as I prepared a simple risotto. He then ate a decent portion of it along with a bowl of gazpacho (and spread another decent portion of rice on the floor). "Healthy and delicious!" he declared, and I was flattered, even if I knew he was merely quoting a piece of Sesame Street social engineering. I enjoyed the risotto, too. Proof that you can pull a small victory out of even the hardest days.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring days

Spring arrived in Paris this week, complete with daffodils and cloudless skies. Parisiennes are shedding their winter coats and knee-high boots, and babies in strollers are the only ones on the street still bundled up. I'd be outside soaking it all up, generating a little vitamin D for myself and Mademoiselle, but, alas, I've been inside with le Petit, who's come down with the flu.

I'm not used to my go-go-go three-year-old to suddenly be spending his entire day on the couch, refusing to eat, drifting in and out of naps, his fever and his mood fluctuating with each dose of medication. I'm hoping he'll be himself again in time for his school's Carnival celebration on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Mademoiselle is thankfully very much herself, having so far avoided whatever bug has laid low her elder brother. She's wearing summer outfits in our sweltering apartment and finding ways to wiggle her feet out of her socks. We found her in her bed with one sock in her mouth.

Mademoiselle also seems to have decided that rolling onto her side is good enough for now, and is no longer working on rolling all the way to her belly. Which, given her tepid enthusiasm for tummy time, seemed like an odd goal anyway. As a mother, I can only applaud such precaution, and I'm hoping it lasts when, oh, I don't know, she starts driving a car or meeting boys. Right now she's more interested in her musical whale crib toy and her brand-new activity mat, which gives me plenty of time to psychologically prepare for whatever comes next.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The perils of bilingual tantrums

The other day, as le Petit was crying and flailing about upset about something too boring to mention, a breakthrough occurred. He finally -- finally! -- told me how he was feeling. He used his words, and English words at that, instead of just screaming and crying.

Or so I thought.

"I'm very very 'ungry!" he told me.

"You're angry! That's right!" I said enthusiastically and I hoped empathetically, thrilled to be getting somewhere with all of my intuitive parenting techniques.

"No! No! I'm very very 'ungry!" he repeated.

"Yes. You're angry because Mommy told you [...], and you can't do [...] because [...]," I said calmly.

"No, not 'ungry! 'UNGRY! I'm very very 'ungry!"

Le Petit kept crying and at the same time seemed to almost sigh and shake his head at his mother's inability to understand something so simple.

Then it clicked.

"Oh... you're hungry!" I said, almost slapping my forehead, "You're very very hungry!" It was after all dinner time, but I still wondered where this had suddenly come from. One minute he was throwing a tantrum about [...] and the next he was demanding to eat, and his slight French accent with the dropped 'H' threw me off.

I mentioned it to my husband yesterday.

"[Le Petit] was telling me that he was angry..." I started to explain.

"...and he wanted to eat," my husband finished, laughing. He shrugged. "Moi, j'ai compris tout de suite." He understood right away.

It reminded me of an incident years ago when my husband and I stood in the kitchen, having what I thought was a deep conversation about our feelings.

"I'm very 'ungry," he confessed.

"You're angry? But why?" I asked, deeply concerned.

I eventually figured it out that time, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing up

Mademoiselle has started singing.

The other morning, when she woke up at 6 a.m. and we grudgingly decided that we had to, too, my husband changed her diaper, set her back down in her crib, and she started crooning. It wasn't crying. It wasn't the sometimes plaintive "areughs" that we'd heard from her until now. It was a song, kind of like a cowboy ballad, an almost-melodious lament: The Ballad of the Lonely Baby.

I think she could land a recording contract, if she could only learn to play guitar.

Also new in her repertoire is improved grasping. She concentrates on hanging objects and, with studious effort, directs her hands to them, grabs, and pulls them toward her face. She can spend hours -- OK, minutes -- at a time working on this. The mobile above her car seat has her transfixed for most of a short car trip: the car turns, the mobile sways, and she bats at it with singular purpose.

I hesitate to call her toys "toys," since so much hard work clearly goes into manipulating them.

She's also trying hard to figure out flipping over to her belly. She arches her back, twists to her side, and tries to hoist herself over by pressing down on one foot. The pajama foot slips on the sheet and she slides back to prone position. She shows none of the frustration I'm sure I'd feel if I were her. I'm considering buying her little baby cleats so she can cheat a bit.

Of course, being a baby is all about frustration, and I must say, she's handling it with aplomb. I'm sure it gets a bit better every day as she slowly masters her movements, learns to communicate with us, and familiarizes herself with her new world. Sometimes, when she's crying and I can't do much to help, I hold her and tell her I understand.

"Yes, I know," I say gently, "It's hard being a baby. It's really hard."

But she's doing a very good job.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gratitude, gratitude

I'm feeling more grateful lately. Which given my propensity to whine and complain, may not be obvious to all observers. It has nothing to do with my new year's resolution, I'm afraid, for I'd forgotten about it until this morning. It has everything to do with my family: the kids who keep things just challenging enough for me to remember what's important, my husband who's always steadying me, my in-laws who back me up in the daily tasks that risk overwhelming me.

And yet. Can I complain just a little bit about the nights?

Mademoiselle came home from the hospital sleeping very well for a newborn. She's still sleeping very well -- for a newborn. But she's three months old now and selfish me, I was hoping for a little improvement. She wakes up once about four hours after she goes down for the night, then again two hours later, and then again an hour or two later (and again an hour later, if we're all still in bed). This makes three wake-ups in a night and no long period of sleep for me, unless I go to bed right when she does, something I'm grudgingly admitting I must do. The wake-ups are fairly short, but I often fall asleep with my back propped up against the pillows in my bed and Mademoiselle in my arms. I'll wake up an hour later and try to put Mademoiselle down in her crib which is next to our bed; she'll sometimes wake up, so it's lather-rinse-repeat until she settles down again. Then I throw the nursing pillow to the foot of bed, slide down into my pillows and, with a sigh, fall back asleep for some undetermined but brief period of time.

On the infrequent bad nights, which are usually a sign that Mademoiselle is coming down with a cold, she wakes up every hour and sometimes won't nurse back down at all. That happened earlier this week and although Mademoiselle is thankfully feeling better, my grumpiness is due to the resulting sleep deficit.

I was complaining about all this to my husband. He has plenty of sympathy, but he was reminding me that:

1) Le Petit didn't sleep this well until he was five or six months old. Not that we remember precisely.

2) Mademoiselle isn't awake for two to three hours at a stretch in the middle of the night like le Petit was during his infamous java du petit matin dance parties. (Just re-reading that post makes me feel better now.)

3) This time around he's never watched the sun come up, both despondent and relieved because at least the sleepless night was over, finally.

To which I'll add:

4) Mademoiselle can be transfered to her bed with ease, most of the time. Even when I fumble and her head hits the mattress with a gentle flop, or when she's fallen asleep on my lap on the couch and I have to get up and carry her from the living room to the bedroom.

5) Mademoiselle naps in her bed during the day. Not according to any reliable schedule as yet, but I often get at least one 45 minute nap and one two-hour nap.

6) I fall back asleep easily at night. Heck, I fall back asleep sitting up. My mother-in-law, whose second child slept like Mademoiselle through all of his first year, can't fall back asleep easily at all and still remembers the exhaustion thirty-some years later.

7) I have backup during the day. My mother-in-law was a stay-at-home mom with no local family and a husband who traveled for work. She used to try unsuccessfully to nap while her cheerfully-awake son jumped on the bed next to her or on top of her.

I feel the worst when I give in to common perceptions of how my baby should be sleeping. Half of the people on the street think that at three months a baby "should" be sleeping through the night or you're doing something wrong. (The other half of the people on the street have horror stories to share about how badly their children actually slept, but never mind.)

So, to finish this post, here are a few things I'm grateful for right now:

1) A husband who does the dishes and straightens the house while I'm nursing my baby to sleep. There's no sweeter sound than that of Legos being picked up off the living room floor.

2) A mother-in-law who comes over to look after the kids so I can run errands or nap, and who folds laundry and straightens the house to boot

3) Mademoiselle's healthy appetite, and the ease with which breastfeeding was established

4) Long-term parental leave. This should probably be first on my list.

5) Le Petit's remarkable acceptance of his baby sister (even though, yes, his "hugs" would sometimes look a bit like WWF wrestling if I didn't intervene)

6) Legos and the hours of relative calm that they provide

7) My kids, their hugs, their smiles

So there.

That felt good.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lost in translation again

Le Petit now speaks with me almost exclusively in English. He will do simultaneous translations when necessary -- for his grandparents, most of whom are only comfortable in one language, or even for my husband, who speaks English fluently.

Yesterday when le Petit and I were home together in the afternoon, we tried to go on sesamestreet.org. The site wasn't responding, and I saw a keyboard-smashing tantrum brewing (I can hardly blame him, since I'm guilty of such tantrums myself) so I tried to calmly explain the situation to him.

"Sesame Street is down, hon," I said sympathetically. "I wish I could fix it, but I can't." Then I blabbered some largely nonsensical explanation about how the computer that lives on Sesame Street was broken. None of this helped much, but what did help is when I thought fast and quickly Googled "Lego" to find new games to play on lego.com.

Last night at dinner, le Petit announced to my husband, "Aujourd'hui, Sesame Street était tout en bas!"

My husband looked at him oddly, and it took me a moment to parse the sentence and realize that he was translating "down" literally, saying "Today Sesame Street was all the way down below."

Logical. Cute. But in the interest of cross-cultural communication, I'll have to remember to never declare "It's raining cats and dogs" in front of him...

Good days

As is often the case, when something feels especially difficult, it turns out to be the ideal opportunity to learn just what I needed to learn, just when I needed to learn it.

Yes, three and a half is hard. But Friday was a very good day. And so was Monday. And so was today. (Yesterday, Mademoiselle was sick with a cold and I was recovering from a night awake with her every hour, on the hour. The day went well all things considering, but it still doesn't count.)

I picked le Petit up from school late Friday morning and we walked back home at our usual snail's pace. I started off in a bad mood because le Petit had lost yet another one of his winter hats; a cashmere one, a gift from Grandma. In the middle of grumping at him, I realized that I was probably overdoing it. He was only, after all, three and a half.

My mother-in-law stayed to help me prepare lunch, then left the three of us alone for the remainder of the afternoon. Selfishly, I wasn't particularly looking forward to hours alone in the apartment with two kids. I like the peace and quiet I get when someone else is looking after le Petit and all I have to do is nurse Mademoiselle while sitting on the couch with a book or the computer. Yet I suspected that an afternoon together was just what le Petit and I needed.

First, I let le Petit spend an hour on sesamestreet.org. He's learned to use the mouse by himself, and I've learned to stop obsessing over too much screen time. I set the kitchen timer for an acceptable amount of computer time, then kept an eye and ear on le Petit while I did dishes and started to prepare lamb stew for dinner. Then, when the buzzer went off, I calmed down a very disappointed le Petit (and avoided a tantrum) by offering to make dessert with him. We made a raspberry tart. OK, I made most of a raspberry tart, while le Petit "reorganized" a kitchen cabinet full of jars and cans. We both had fun, and I was downright joyful at the end of the day.

On Monday afternoon, we spent some time on lego.com, then transitioned to playing with real, not virtual, Legos on the living room floor. We don't didn't do much, and I can't even remember most of the details, but it felt good to be together. Oh, and both winter hats were miraculously recovered at school that morning.

Today the living room floor is instead covered by a network of wooden trains. A tall Lego crane is standing ready to build a "tower" -- an upside-down wicker wastebasket. Le Petit and I spent the morning together today, before I took Mademoiselle off to a doctor's appointment in the early afternoon and left le Petit in the able care of Grandma. He's still at her place now. I'm enjoying the peace and quiet, especially since Mademoiselle is napping in the baby carrier, but...

I miss him.

(But no worries. He'll come bounding through the door any minute now. And we've got until September to learn from one another like this, daily.)