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.

Friday, January 19, 2018

This multiple choice life

Think quickly! You have an extra 20 minutes all to yourself.  Do you:
a) do the grocery shopping online?
b) nap?
c) update your blog?

When baby is sleeping I am faced with this kind of choice.  Practical me will probably finish up the grocery shopping.  Though the nap would definitely take the edge off my day.  Sometimes I choose to blog a bit (after the groceries).  Because that is good for me, too!

I am now officially on what the French call parental leave (congé parental).  After the ten weeks post birth, I chose to extend my time at home with baby.  And I am trying to find something of a routine without feeling tied down to it either.

My days are structured around picking up Juliette for lunch, taking her back, and getting her at the end of the day.  Remi can help out in the morning for now at least which allows baby (and me) to rest a bit longer.  Then it is feeding baby (which doesn't exactly stick to a strict schedule), putting up dishes and generally starting some other household chore.

But I don't want my time as a Stay At Home Mom, for lack of a better term, to just be defined by cleaning and cooking. These next 8 months are supposed to be quality time with my new baby and some catching up with my big girl.  I get to help her more with her homework (which sometimes leads to me pulling my hair out) and take her to the library or make cookies on Wednesday afternoons.

And being a list-maker (got this from my mom!), I have things I want to get done in this period of time.  That includes some major organizing of my house.  I don't think all the plastic tubs in the world will make my place one of those pristine clutter-free homes, but it is still a goal of mine.  I also hope to do some more sewing, an activity that calms me, finish up that scarf I started, oh, two years ago, and do more writing (hence the blogging to get back into practice).

And catch up on some tv because my busy work and home life of the past few years has gotten me way behind.  Sometimes life imitates art, too, because when I watch Jane the Virgin I am reminded of my pregnancy and newborn concerns.  Or Modern Family to reassure me that my crazy day isn't so crazy after all.  Plus I have added as a goal (yes, a serious one) to watch all things Jason Bateman that exist on Netflix.  From Arrested Development (check!) to Ozark (check!) and all mediocre films in between (getting there).  How is that for a bucket list goal?
In between the school pick ups and drop offs, the dishes and the puttering, I will try to remember to enjoy this time.  A brief pause in my working life, a necessary time to put some things aside and focus on family.  With no regrets. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Life A.B. (After Baby)

Any given evening will find me on the couch these days.  I will probably be rubbing my newborn's tummy while expertly (or not) making sure his pacifier doesn't fall out at the same time.  This seems to be the best way to reduce his colic and cries.  My husband, hard worker that he is, may have fallen asleep in the Ikea pong chair after a long day of physical labor.  Juliette, my vivacious and bouncy nine-year old, may be in fact bouncing on the couch next to me and insisting I hear her story about something that is on tv or happened at school.  And there could even be a young cat in the mix, Miranda, who has brought her pet mouse next to me to play fetch. 

Yes, this is the New Normal in Life A.B.  After the aches and pains and me-centered world of pregnancy, here I am happily but sometimes reluctantly in the center of a household maelstrom.  It is an adjustment I knew was coming but that sometimes I still can't believe I am really living.  This little creature who resided in my tummy for nine months, whom I fondly referred to as my bowling ball, is here and demanding our, and especially my, attention.  World, meet Alexandre. 

For those of you who don't know, he came into the world not long after my last blog post, making his entrance with a little fanfare (emergency c-section, woo-hoo!).  And he is staking his place in our family, rubbing shoulders with his effervescent big sis and making his cries heard over our daily routine.  And if I had any doubt, there are those signs, some subtle, some blatant, that I am clearly in the post-birth world.  New moms (of today and yesterday) may recognize the signs...

1. Getting moisturizer on is an accomplishment.  If I leave the house with make-up, it's a real rarity.  Contact lenses is even rarer.  It's not just laziness (see blog name) but also the morning rush of nursing baby multiple times, squeezing in time for a shower and breakfast for me, and attending to those little cries. 

2. Leaving home is like preparing for an expedition.  Car seat, check.  Baby in car seat, check.  Car seat buckled in, check.  Passenger side airbag disabled, check.  Diaper bag, check.  Stroller, check.  I have to get used to building in all those extra minutes in my leaving routine.

3.  A meal in peace is gold.  I have to say I am lucky that my little one does nap a good bit.  But there are times, towards the end of breakfast and especially dinner, where I must resort to holding him in one arm and my fork in the other hand.  Or Remi holds him while I try to eat while not gulping too much air. When my mom was here, she was on rocking duty during meals.  Thank you, colicky evenings. 

4. The washing machine is doing over-time.  In addition to the rest of the household's laundry, baby generates a surprising amount of stuff to watch.  He may have small clothes but it just takes a leaky diaper to create literally five things to wash, the changing table towel, his onesie, his pj's, his sleeping sack, bedsheets!  Sometimes, if I'm lucky, this routine happens more than once a day!

5. Sibling rivalry (already).  Though overall Juliette has welcomed her brother with eager and open arms since she saw his little face, there are times her blue eyes turn a jealous shade of green.  She says I am kissing him more than her.  Or that I spend more time with him in general.  I am afraid at this point in time it is true, but I try to explain to her that is just the way babies are.  And that I did the same with her.  We haven't quite found our balancing point yet, but I try to make sure I tend to her as best I can when I can. 

Don't get me wrong.  I am happy to be a mother of two, with all the hectic-ness that entails.  I love hugging both my little ones and seeing them bonding.  I know Life A.B. will hold more adventures as well as some times I will feel like I need a Calgon bubble bath to "take me away:"  In the meantime, you can find me on the couch if you need me. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On belly buttons and second babies

My belly button will never be the same.

It was already officially an outie after my first pregnancy with Juliette.  A reluctant outie but definitely not an innie any more.

With baby number two, it poked out even sooner, perhaps at three or four months.  When Juliette caught a glimpse of it she would say things like, "ewww!" or "gross!"  I reminded her it was she who had poked it out in the first place.

At first I tried to hide it with two layers of maternity shirts or a sweater tied around my waist. But I gave up trying after a while.

At any rate, I know my body has changed.  I also know that's not the only major change that will take place.

Come delivery day, our family will never be the same.  We will be four instead of three.  There will be strollers and diaper bags to trolley around, for sure. But the dynamics will shift.  From the focus on one child to two, from reserving international flights back home for not three but four people!

I knew all this before.  I had thought it over before my husband and I agreed to try for a second.  Just like I knew that we would be in for sleepless nights, explosive diapers, dawn wakenings well into toddler-hood, terrible twos and all that.

It is the advantage of having been through it all before.  It also makes it less rose-colored glasses and more, get the sunglasses ready to hide the perpetual shadows under your eyes.

When I was still hemming and hawing about whether expanding our family was a good idea (and this phase took many years), I would do what all modern folks do and google it.  "Should I have a second child?" yielded some insightful articles.  Including one* by a man who said when you have a first child it is like being pushed out of a helicopter with no parachute and having to fend for yourself.  With a second you know you'll be pushed again, but somehow you are still game for it.

Another search I did to reassure my over 40 self was "celebrity moms over 40."  Yes, I will admit it. Somehow seeing that Julianne Moore and Gwen Stefani were biologically capable of giving birth at their ages made it seem less daunting of a challenge.  Even though I know full well they have staff to help if needed, if their bodies could produce healthy babies, it gave me hope I could, too.

In the end I knew no blog or article or bevy of Hollywood 40-somethings could really decide this for me.  It was what I (and my husband) wanted for our future family.  The words of friends echoed in my mind: the friendly "tick tock" of Caroline imitating my biological clock when I expressed doubt. Or sayings like, you regret more what you don't do than you what you do.  It may have well been a Facebook meme to that effect.  I felt I would regret not trying at least.  If it didn't work, it didn't work. But I would know I had tried.

Nobody knows the future.  I know that a newborn can bring stress and anxiety but also joy and fulfillment.  I cannot know how the family will evolve but I am sure there will be moments of sweetness between big sister and baby brother, fun games on papa's lap, more silly bath songs from me.  There will also be tensions and tantrums and hair-pulling moments.  But that goes with family life and growing pains.

Only one thing is certain.  I will definitely be sporting an outie for next swimsuit season.

* I unfortunately cannot find the link to this man's article but if I do I will update the post.