Monday, May 28, 2018

Brand New World

My almost ten-year old caught a feathery dandelion seed head and asked if it meant anything.  Perhaps it brings luck, I said.  She got quiet for a while then said she had made a wish.  “I hope it comes true but I bet it won’t,” she said with a hint of melancholy.  As she anchors herself into tweendom, I am getting used to these melancholy bents. 

But my mom-dar is still too strong for her.  “You wished you could have Nikes, didn’t you?” I asked.  Her sheepish smile confirmed my suspicions. 

These days it seems name-brand shoes are all this girl has on the brain.  For a while she couldn’t stop talking about Adidas, then Nikes (which the French pronounce to rhyme with “bike”) and the occasional All-Star reference, peppered with a bit of Puma and New Balance.

It’s not that I am totally anti-brands. I love my ballerina style Skechers my mom sent me a few years ago.  But I wanted them for the appearance and comfort.  The fact that they were Skechers just assured me of their quality.  With my daughter this brand envy has come out of nowhere and seems to be directly related to what she sees in the school yard.

“Will you get me Adidas for my birthday?” is a common refrain around here.  Followed by “I bet you won’t.” 
She cut out her own symbol

“Wow, how lucky that girl is, look at her Nikes!”  she’ll exclaim as we see a teen in the parking lot with pale pink on pink Nikes.  She can spot brand name shoes on people on tv, too. 
I have literally had to limit her to one shoe reference per day!  But before that I tried a few other strategies which proved to be pretty fruitless.  Let’s recap anyway:

Taking a page from my own mom’s book, I told her about kids who had no shoes or shoes in pitiful condition.  I even took to finding her videos on youtube by typing (what else!) “kids with no shoes”.  Just my luck, one of the videos I pulled up showed poor Mexican children, one of whom was wearing a Nike shirt, which my girl was quick to point out.  Anyway, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her.  Though now if she goes on about shoes and I ask her if she wants to watch a video, it tends to calm her down a bit.

Non-conformity talk
Of course I tried the old “why do you have to do what everyone else is doing?” talk.  Just because other kids wear something doesn’t mean it’s the best quality or even attractive, I tried to reason with her.  For this point I showed her the saggy jeans fashion that exposes men’s underwear.  She had a laugh at those pics and agreed that particular fashion was stupid, but the shoe talk continued!

Mom stories
I read recently that kids get a lot out of their parents’ personal stories.  Or maybe not.  I told her how I was into Esprit clothes when I was in middle school but how I generally only got a shirt from the bargain bin, because that’s all we could afford.  I can still remember a shirt full of bright geometric shapes that screamed 80s.  I mostly bought it for that little red rectangle proclaiming Esprit.  Frankly it was loud and ugly, when I look back.  I told her in the end I realized I was following the crowd and that having your own style is important. 

When your kid asks you over and over for Adidas in a five-minute period, using a tactic she got from a ten-year old on tv, you just try to think of something else and soldier on.  It messes with your mind, but this is good preparation for adolescence whining. When she says she’s so unlucky for not having Nikes, I tell her she will survive.

Hard work
I always told myself once my kid started asking for brands that I would give him or her a limited budget for school clothes shopping and tell them, that’s it, make it work.  But we’re not quite there yet.  In the meantime I try to remind her of the value of her money by getting her to buy trinkets she wants at the store from her own piggy bank money.  She recently got herself off-brand aqua All-star low tops at the discount store and has been taking super care of them. My husband and I tell her she could get a job later on as a teen or earn money for chores and use this to buy what she wants. 

You might be asking me why I just don’t buy her the shoes she wants.  One little pair, what’s the big deal? We just don’t want her turning into a pretentious, name-dropper already.  Or thinking that she gets whatever she asks for immediately.  She’s barely out of fourth grade!  We hope she will value what she has. 

So in the end, my strategy is a modified “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” one.  She may get what she wants but not right away- a little delayed gratification.  Don’t tell her this, but she will very likely get some shoes for her birthday… but we’ll buy large so they can last a while and she’ll hopefully take good care of them. 

Are your kids into brands?  What strategies do you use?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The question every stay at home mom dreads

Everyday at noon it’s the same innocent question from my 9 year-old.  “What did you do this morning?” 

I have just picked her up for lunch from school and it’s normal she would ask me.  I ask her the same thing, after all.  But since I have become a stay at home mom to her little brother, I get that deer caught in the headlights reaction.  What have I been doing since I dropped her off at 8:45? 

So I run off a litany of chores, if I got around to any. 

“Ermm, I unloaded the dishwasher.  I fed your brother twice.  I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin…”

Sometimes she’ll say, not unkindly, “that’s all?”

Yes, that’s about all I can get done with a baby I am still breastfeeding four to five  times a day in addition to his fruits and veggies.  Not to mention keeping him calm/occupied while I try to do something else between feedings.  And making sure he has some tummy time (but not right after a feeding!) to develop upper body strength and practice rolling over.  And maybe getting a load of laundry in.  And maybe making my bed.  And maybe ordering groceries online. 

I am not bitter.  I am not overwhelmed (ok, a little).  It’s just that the world that continues humming outside my house doesn’t always seem to get that taking care of a baby and running a household takes time.  And every morning when I wake up with a to-do list imprinted in my brain, I know full well I won’t get to half of it.  Or whether I complete it or not depends a lot on how my baby is or if he graces us with a nap (that would be just about never). 

Frankly, the transition from working mom to staying at home wasn’t as difficult as I thought.  And I have been thrilled to be home with my little one and to be able to spend more time with my big girl.  What bothers me is more the perception by others that I’m not doing much.  Or maybe that I feel I must prove to them and myself that I am really doing a lot. 

Sometimes I feel that same need to justify my hours at home to my husband when he comes home.  Yes, we are eating a frozen pizza, baby was fussy…  Or to my retired no-filter  neighbor who points out the clutter and dust in my home.  Yes, but you try helping a fourth-grader with her homework and calming a baby and finding time to dust!

But in the end it is myself I need to convince.  I must accept that I won’t get it all done.  I must accept that my house won’t be perfect.  I must accept that buying cookies is ok if I don’t have time to make a cake for friends who come by.  I must accept that less is more if it means that my baby is smiling and gaining weight.  I must accept that my to-do list can slide, morph into something more flexible. 

And I must answer without shame when my daughter asks me that question again, “I took care of your brother. “  Because that is my job for now, and I am doing the best I can.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Perfection killed the cat

It's nearly nine p.m. on a weeknight.  My daughter suddenly thinks of a dozen things she'd like to clean up and organize before bed.  It exasperates me.  But the other evening as I was brushing my teeth at the same time as her I started tidying up the towels on the radiator (toothbrush still in mouth) and taking the dustpan to sweep up an annoying pile of something or another.

I decided to own up to the situation.  "You see," I told her, "I get crazy about stuff before bed time, too."  She laughed and made a game out of it, telling me to stop cleaning the bathroom.

Ah, doesn't that make you feel good?!
Just another way she and I are painfully alike: we are perfectionists.  We don't feel right when that picture frame is off.  We feel icky when the coffee table is cluttered.  And though I often have to let these things slide due to lack of time, there comes a moment when I can't stand it and start tidying up in spurts.  Only to get sidetracked again and abandon it for weeks.

But I wonder if this nervous energy does us perfectionists any good?  In fact, could it be dangerous?  Flashback to me bending over with a toothbrush in my mouth, one of my husband's biggest pet peeves.  I could have hurt myself, all because I was too eager to straighten things up.

It could even be deadly.  Recently France remembered the death of a famous singer who died 40 years ago when he straightened a light bulb while in his bathtub full of water.  Maybe it's proof that perfectionists can let that drive to orderly and clean bliss take over their logical thinking.  Maybe leaving well enough alone is healthier all around.

But like me browsing the Ikea catalog and feeling somehow calmed by those Zenly interiors or Modern Family's Claire Dunphy checking out "organization porn" (closets, to be clear!), an orderly home or office can lead to a peaceful state of mind.  Why else would people be so into decluttering their drawers and homes these days?

But with a husband whose job literally brings in potting soil into my house, a daughter who leaves stickers and McDonald's Happy Meal toys everywhere, and now a six-month old, I can kiss my dreams of that Zen home goodbye for at least ten years.

Perhaps that's a good thing because too much decluttering is cold.  And perfectionists live ten years less than non-perfectionists.  I just made that up to shock you.  Nobody is perfect, after all.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Let them eat soup

Do you remember learning how Marie-Antoinette told the hungry masses to eat soup when there was no more bread?  Me, neither.  But she might as well have said that.
Onion-carrot with cream; 

It seems the French are a bit obsessed with soup.  How many times have I heard Remi encourage Juliette to finish her bowl of soup because "La soupe, ça fait grandir!" (Soup makes you grow!)  It's an actual expression, and though not totally true, soup is good for you and a way to sneak veggies in children's diets.

Then there's the ad campaign for a famous soup company that uses a play on words, saying, "On ne dîne pas, on soupe!" Translation: We don't dine, we soup (as in to eat supper, but the French word for this is souper).

Ok, maybe it's not all French but specifically my husband who is obsessed.  This is a typical conversation in my house at 7:32 pm:

Him: Is there soup?
Me: No.
Him: But it's winter...

Or this variation:

Him: Is there soup?
Me: Yes, tomato soup from a packet.
Him: (frowning) What?  But it's winter and fresh soup is better.

You get the picture.  Before you ask me why he isn't cooking himself, I will remind you he often gets home after 7:30 and if I waited on him to cook my stomach would cave in on itself.

Nonetheless, in his ideal world there would be homemade soup every day from September to March and any day the thermometer drops below 70°F.

In my ideal world we'd order Chinese and Domino's pizza more often.  And Jamie from The Outlander would deliver it.  Or Rafael from Jane the Virgin.

But like they say, when you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Occasionally.  So as it has been pretty cold this week in France, I am sharing one of my soup recipes with you.  Because you see, I actually do know how to make soup, and rather tasty ones, too.  I'd just rather be watching Netflix.

Milam's onion-carrot soup
  • In a large stainless steel pot or enamel-lined pot (like my fake Le Creuset), heat your favorite vegetable oil.  Add 3-4 diced yellow onions. Once they have gone from opaque to transparent, add about a liter (one quart) of water and lower heat.  Add a bouillon cube.  Alternatively use chicken stock instead of water and omit the bouillon cube.
  • Add 3-4 potatoes, thinly sliced, and add these to the soup.  Grate and chop 3-4 carrots and add these to the broth and onions/  Turn heat back up to medium and let cook covered for 20 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are tender.

  • Remove from heat and either use submersible mixer to mix until smooth or pour the contents into a heat-resistant blender and blend.  Serve with a dollop of cream or grated cheese.
Or scrap all that and just open a good old can of Campbell's. If it was good enough for Andy Warhol, it's good enough for me.

Discussion questions: What's your favorite soup?  Do you make it yourself or buy it? What's your favorite take-out?  Which celeb would you like to deliver it?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The name's bond, baby bond

When I saw my friend Rebecca last summer, the afternoon before we took off to return to France, I asked her what it was like with two kids.  She's a mother to an exuberant nine-year old like me, and a precious boy of five.  She loves those kids fiercely, as I do my Juju.  She knew what it meant to worry about the bond with a new child.  Would there be enough room after the all-consuming fusional relationship with the first child?

She answered with her wide brown eyes and her round accent that still lets the southern shine through.  "The bond was instant," she said reassuringly.

I still had to see for myself, doubting Milam that I am.  But armed with her advice, I wasn't worrying too much.

Then a month and a half later my baby came and was laid next to my groggy head after a c-section that wasn't planned.  I don't remember much after the incision and the tugging feeling that made me ask them if the epidural was working.  But I do remember stroking my baby and smiling goofily (got the pictures that Remi took to prove it).  And feeling just fine, truly happy.

It could have a lot to do with hormones or the fact that it is a second child, but I have to say Rebecca got it right.   The bonding happened quite easily, naturally.  Despite the painful recovery after Cesarean, the late night and early morning feedings, I really did love my little Alex right away.  It could also be that I know he is my last little one and I am appreciating these baby moments that I know will go so quickly.  Doesn't hurt that he is a good sleeper!

And if you are a mom or mom-to-be reading this and shaking your head saying the bond didn't or won't happen right away, don't worry.  With my first, though I felt that same euphoria as I came off the anesthesia high, those first three weeks of nursing difficulties and sleep deprivation took their toll.  Though I adored my little one, I was more anxious as a first-time mom.  There is no timetable or "right" way to bond.  If dealing with your little one still feels like a struggle, that is perfectly normal.  There are good days and bad days.  And I hope there are more good ones for you (and for me).

I just simply wanted to sit back and admire how flexible and roomy our hearts are.  How when we think our hearts are full, there is room for more.  It's what I tried to tell Juliette before her brother was born, to reassure her that I would love them both.  And thankfully, it's true.  Her heart is stretching, too, making a connection to her little bro'.  May wonders never cease...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why pencils have erasers

I hate making mistakes.

It doesn't matter that I know that pencils have erasers on the ends because, to err is human.  It doesn't matter that I sing along with Shakira's Try Everything song from Zootopia, and remind myself that "I'll keep on making those new mistakes."  It doesn't matter that I tell my daughter these same things when she goes on a perfectionist rage (wonder where she gets that from?!).

It doesn't matter because I still get that pit in my stomach (even if it disappears quite quickly) when I realize, damn, I goofed.

Take last Tuesday morning: I put the numbing lidocaine patches on baby's thighs as instructed by the doctor, one hour before the supposed appointment for the vaccines.  And I arrived at the free appointment room only to notice that the doctor comes every other week.  As in not this week.  So I put the patches on for nothing and got baby bundled up for nothing.

I could feel the hint of a tear come to my eyes at the mistake, or more at appearing silly in front of the nurses and employees there.  But they weren't judging me or chastising me at all.  It was just me being hard on me.  Fumblingly I stripped baby down to his onesie for the weighing and visit with the nurse.  That I could still do and ask a few questions about baby's health.

I chatted with another mom whose baby boy was six weeks old.  Alexandre was about that age when I first brought him here for his first weighing with this free service.  I listened to the lady who had come to talk about children's books and asked her about books for babies Alex's age.

While talking with her she noticed my accent and asked where I was from.  There I was thinking I didn't have much of an accent anymore, but I guess I always will!  And she asked me if I knew any English lullabies.  As she goes around different communities and does singing and other activities, she wanted me to sing her one.  And so a few minutes later I was singing Twinkle Twinkle, Little Start and she recorded it on her smart phone.

Then I saw the nurse and got Alex weighed.  He is over 12 pounds now (5.6 kg) and alert as always.  I asked her about cradle cap (don't worry, she said, no need to scrape it off) and when to start solids (six months is what they say now).  And then I dressed baby back to face the cold and said goodbye to the lady who had recorded my voice singing.  I told her I could participate in an activity if she wanted in the future.

So out of my "mistake" grew a chance meeting.  A few conversations and smiles.  Not bad for your ordinary Tuesday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tug of war

Yesterday morning my 9-year old flounced past me with a side pony tail she had done herself.  It looked cute with her blue floral shirt and jean style leggings that she had chosen herself.  But there were strands of hair coming out and it was a bit messy.  My left arm was tied up cradling Alex as I nursed him and I couldn't have properly fixed her pony tail with one hand.  Remi is no expert at girls' hair styles and it was time for him to take her to school anyway.  So I had to let it go.

This is my life version 9.0.  As in a nine-year old and a zero-year old.  Totally different needs and ends of the spectrum.  On the one hand I am arguing with the big (no, she says, not big yet!), er, medium girl about how she needs to memorize the times tables, on the other I am trying to get a not yet four-month old to not cry when I leave the room.  With Juliette I can make silly jokes about things we've seen on TV or on the street, with Alex we are just trying to make him laugh, period.

One evening as he was crying and I was straining to hear what Juliette had said ("You never listen to me," is her new mantra), and the fatigue was showing on my face and audible in my voice, she said, "Yes, that's what it's like having two kids."  Out of the mouths of babes.  She was only repeating something I must have said at another time to explain to her that I had to share my time between them.

As Coldplay sang, "Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard."  Oh, Chris Martin, you said it.  My heart is full with two kids but it is also tugged in two directions.  Constantly.  Which is why the moments when they both seem to be enjoying each other's company are golden.  Like when I put him on her chest right before bed and he lifts his head up and makes her smile.  Or I pretend he is talking and telling her "baby jokes."  She is eager to have a bro she can interact with more and until he gets there, I "animate" him for her.

But the gap will always be there, with new challenges at each age.  I am afraid to think of her 13th year and his 4th one.  God help me.  Thankfully I'll be able to drink alcohol again by then, because I can see a glass of white becoming essential when the petulant years and pre-school tantrums coincide.

And since I can't drink now, I'll just blog.  As I spend these next months at home I will try and blog once a week.  To record those baby and big, oops, medium girl milestones.  And to keep myself sane.