Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm getting the hang of this vacation thing. Sleeping late (when baby allows me to), little home projects (though I never get as much done as I plan), starting breakfast off with chocolate or a cookie ('cause they're around!). Yes, it will be tough to go back to work, but I need to earn a living anyway.

Last night I tried something quite dangerous- inviting people over to eat while a five-month old tried to go to sleep. I had done this before a while back and it worked fine, but at that time baby went to sleep like clockwork at 8. Now she has a rolling bedtime but it's usually before nine. Perhaps it was because one of my guests brought her own two little ones and our girl was a bit riled up/disturbed by these new faces in her territory. Luckily my husband played host while I fed or soothed baby. My meal, a chicken casserole recipe using Campbell's soup (yes, I found some at Monoprix) and the equivalent of Ritz crackers and sour cream that one can find in France, turned out ok. But with all my tending to baby, the meal got kind of cold for the guests, even though I told them to start without me. But being the kind guests that they are, they didn't complain. So lesson learned, I won't be doing big entertaining for a while.

Meanwhile my husband and I have found another way to waste time on the Internet: looking up music videos and old TV shows on YouTube. Yes, we're the last people to make use of it, as usual. He's been catching up on ALF, one of his old favorites, and I find it funnier than I remember. Does anybody know who did Alf's voice? So familiar. Anyway, I like to use YouTube to play music, like this clip that was stuck in my head a few weeks ago. Is it played in the US?

And I've been browsing this lovely book on nature journaling, with great drawings that are really simple and cleansing. Makes me want to go out and start sketching right away. But when to find the time? Perhaps I'll make it one of my resolutions for 2009?! Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

‘Tis the Season

Home may be where the heart is, but Christmas is still where you grew up. At least it feels that way to me. Perhaps because it’s just a time of year that’s full of rich, sensorial experiences that mark us. The anticipation of catching a glimpse of Santa that keeps little kids waking up every hour on Christmas morning. All those good smells and tastes of Christmas goodies. The tree filled with ornaments you made in third grade and the metallic balls that somehow survived all these years.

But this year will be another one away from home, my third if memory serves. The first Christmas here I cried quite a lot and frankly just wanted the holiday season to finish quickly. The second time my husband’s grandmother had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so the season understandably wasn’t the same. Now for Christmas 2008 we’ve got our new addition to the family and we need to create our own little memories. Baby’s a bit too little to drag on a plane anyway (though I know other moms have done it), and I suppose we do need a quiet Christmas this year. (See our eclectic Christmas tree with huge Ikea balls.)

Even if I’m not going back this year, my mind retraces the memories of my past trips back to the US for Christmas since I’ve been in France. Arriving at that first US airport, usually Detroit or Philadelphia and the euphoria of hearing English all around me. Browsing the celebrity mags and realizing I don’t recognize half of the starlets. Indulging in a Taco Bell soft shell taco as we wait four hours for our connecting flight. Finally seeing the family as we arrive in my hometown late at night. The house lit up with those delicate white lights. Trips to the CVS drug store and Wal-Mart for stocking stuffers, listening to all my shows in English and realizing the French voices are way off! Driving around the winter landscapes of Alabama listening to cool tunes in my sister’s car…

I’ll just have to keep those memories nice and warm for the next time. And wherever you all are for Christmas, I hope you have a lovely one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Angst and accountants and sandwiches

A week of angst here. Mostly self-induced (nearly always is). Silly misunderstandings with work situations that I will not bore you with (lucky you). I just wish that I had a radar system that alerted me when I was about to miss important details. It could save me such a lot of time and more importantly- worry. I see again that I’m not cut out for a job like doctor or pharmacist, having someone’s life in my hands. If I make mistakes and doubt myself this much in my little profession of teaching English, I’d be a nervous wreck as a surgeon. Not too mention that tiny problem of fainting at the sight of blood.

Which brings me to my second subject: accountants. I have some as students, and frankly I admire their cool, calm, analytical lives. I know I’m oversimplifying things, but I envy their neat and organized ways, their notebooks, their good penmanship. I imagine that they are this orderly in their personal lives, though it probably isn’t so. I suppose I’m just craving some order in my own life, and I’m projecting onto theirs. Maybe we always think that the other folks have it together. Maybe we need to think that someone out there has figured it all out.

Update on the obsessively clean landlady: they’ve charged us for 16 hours of cleaning and repairs. So we only got about a third of our deposit back with that and the cost of repairing what evil Chat did to the linoleum plus the humidity problem from the bathroom which crept into the bedroom. Live and learn and buy lots of cleaning products.

So I’ll end on a lighter note. The other day I’d prepared my Tupperware container of spiral pasta and a slice of ham for lunch. But come lunch time I couldn’t find it at work and so decided to go to my favorite American sandwich place which has happily franchised in the north of France. And as I’m such a good customer, the manager recognized me and gave me a discount. Plus he said he might be interested in taking English lessons with us. Wouldn’t it be funny if my sweet tooth for cookies brought in a new client? Well, I’ve got to find something to be positive about…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

In a year's time

I've been up since 6:15 on this wintry Saturday. Baby still doesn't understand the concept of sleeping in. She fed and I put her gently back to sleep in her crib in her own little room. After making some happy sounds for a while, her little cries started intensifying and the magical pacifier didn't help. So around 7 I gave up and brought her in the living room while I ate my breakfast. I'm generously letting my husband snooze. Now it's 8:15 and I've organized my birth announcements for Europe, packaged up a file to send to my employer and spot cleaned the stroller where Chat-chat left us a small smear of something with a plant leaf in it. Great, gonna have to throw that cover in the wash now. Baby's got her hands on the keyboard or my hands as I type this.

And to think a year ago I had just found out I was pregnant. I called baby petit pois, little pea, since the books said she was about that size. She already had a strong pulsing heartbeat we could see on the ultrasound, but of course we didn't know she was a she yet. I still had a hard time believing I was expecting, considering there were no outward signs. I was mostly giddy and amazed at my new condition.

Even now I'm still pretty amazed that I've got a four and a half month baby who gurgles and screeches happily. Needless to say my life has changed. Besides being excited if I sleep till 7, I often refer to myself in the third person: Mommy's gonna be right back, Mommy's just a little tired, don't mind me. I've become an expert in singing silly improvised songs for bath time. I've done so much laundry that I'm probably responsible for any water shortages in the next decade. I've learned a great technique for removing cradle's cap (Vaseline then rinse then use business card to scrape off gently).

And since baby's been here, I've been seeing a lot of my old friends, Guilt and Worry. The latter because there are simply so many things to worry and fret over when you're responsible for someone's little life. Is she eating enough? Is she spitting up too much? Did she have that spot on her head yesterday? And worry even beyond today's issues. An episode of Medium where someone's little boy strays in a store and meets a tragic end haunts me for days. And then there's the guilt. Because sometimes I need a break from whimpering like anybody else. I can be a bit nostalgic for the days when I could nap when I wanted or work till 8 p.m. and not worry that baby wouldn't see me for her bedtime.

But despite any "complaints" or the anxiety, baby is still one of the best things to happen to me. All in all it's a change for the better.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baby talks

In this exclusive interview, Baby Girl, or JT, to her fans, gives an account of one of her fun-filled days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of those days

There are days when the sun is shining, you’re maneuvering the roundabouts like a pro and parallel parking like it’s second nature. It seems the DJ has a list of all your favorite songs and you sing along in key (or at least there’s no one in the car to contradict you). You did a half-decent job at work and feel like you have a purpose in life.

And then there are the other days. Where the gray sky and fine drizzle are anything but romantic and the seventeenth century houses you pass on the way to the neighborhood grocery don’t inspire you at all. You wonder if you’ll ever have a job that’s stable and well-paid and related to anything you studied in school. And it takes ten minutes to park your tiny French car in a space that should accommodate an SUV.

I’ll join the bandwagon of other expats who are mood-swinging at the moment. I’m writing this on a good day, but the other day was a lousy one. A ten-minute conversation with a civil servant showed me that I might not get that tiny amount of government aid for this month where I’ve been working just mornings. Because my job has such a weird part-time status it might not be considered for this parental leave program. And I don’t know if I’ll get many hours in December as I’ve got this strange employment situation and I’m between two companies and just generally ARGHHH.

And I wonder if I really am fundamentally lazy. Should I go for training? To become what? And to be paid what? I just want someone to tell me what to do. That this is the right answer. But I know that we generally only see the decisions we’ve made as right or wrong way down the road. Part of me will always be jealous of my schoolmates who are doing what seem to be “fabulous” things. I think I just want to know that my next paycheck will be the same as the last one (or better). Can I really see myself doing this job, which can sometimes be rewarding, into my 60s? Will I be the boring fuddy-duddy English teacher recounting her glory days stories of America in the late 90s?

If someone out there has got a crystal ball, I’d like to borrow it for a year or two.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mrs. Clean

I’ve just lived what has to be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life in France. Basically being told that I’m a terrible housekeeper. A dirty person. And that I smell. No, not the last one, but they might as well have added that, as ashamed as I feel.

We met with the owners of our old apartment this afternoon to go over the rental contract and note any damage to the place. We already knew there were some repairs to be made, some pretty major, like the peeling paint and plaster in the bathroom caused by humidity in the shower. But when we arrived at the apartment I saw to my dismay that the wife was cleaning the windows, which I’d already cleaned. But apparently it wasn’t to their standards. She informed me that she’d spent two hours cleaning the windows and plastic frames around them leading to the balcony. I’ll admit it sparkles now. I’d simply used Windex and paper towels. That left traces. She did what all French women are apparently born knowing: initial cleaning with dish detergent, rinse with water and white vinegar then sort of squeegee to wipe it all. Ok, so now I know.

And now I know that to get the hard water off the shower head and cord you need to use warm white vinegar, not cold as I’d tried to do. Of course, she told me all this for my own good, you know, so that I won’t make the same mistakes in the future. The husband insinuated at one point that it just took elbow grease, and that apparently we hadn’t used enough.

Well, ok, there are worse things in life than learning you’re not the best housekeeper on the planet. Or that you won’t get nearly as much of your deposit back as you thought since those hours of cleaning they spent will be deducted. What really hurts is my pride. I think it’s worse because I’ve already felt down deep that I’m not up to par to these French housekeepers. The ones who spend hours ironing to perfection every week. Who have all these tricks up their sleeves for getting out carpet stains. Who seem to spend every waking moment chasing dust out of corners. I’d like to have a cleaner house, but I’d also like to check my email every day and relax a bit in front of the telly. Am I just fundamentally lazy?

At least my husband thinks they went a bit overboard, too. Good luck to the new tenant who will have to deal with the list of cleaning tasks the wife’s going to put inside the closet door. You can’t make this stuff up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watch that hand coordination! Mind you the video's about 3 weeks old now. The little star is from Grandma the Great.

The mother of all Ikea projects

So we’re now officially in the new place (and Internet back!), lots of boxes still unpacked. Frankly some of them probably have stuff I wouldn’t even miss. But can I really bring myself to throw that away? The new place is one and a half times bigger than the old and we’re enjoying that. But with all the boxes it’s still cluttered at the moment. A first it was even worse because the kitchen was woefully lacking in cabinets. There was only the cabinet for the sink, in fact. Seems to be a French thing that in apartments you equip your kitchen yourself. As in fridge, stove, you name it. How I would love to have one of the kitchen set-ups of any of my grad school apartments- stove, fridge, microwave, ample cabinet space- all built-in!

So once we got a tiny bit settled, my husband headed for Ikea to check out their furniture. I was imagining buying a China cabinet and us creating some kind of make-shift counter. He came back disenchanted with what they had and suggested we go back together the afternoon. But everybody and their brother had the same idea. Cars backed up waiting to get in the lot on this public holiday, November 11.
Once inside I pointed out some basic bookshelf type things that would at least help us store our pasta, etc. But husband had his own ideas (as usual) and showed me the real kitchen elements. Typical of us, we squabbled, I rolled my eyes, yada yada. Why does it always seem all the other couples are in perfect harmony when you and your mate are in near war mode? My pessimistic and melancholic side (my husband would say this is my only side) couldn’t help but imagine how sad it would be for someone to come back to Ikea after a break-up, remembering all the furniture they had bought together as a couple.

Sometimes it’s better just to let one person decide instead of creating a scene in a Swedish furniture store. So I decided to choose my battles and abandon my idea of cheap kitchen/storage solutions. So husband came home two days later with what seemed like 36 flat packages which we had to haul up in the elevator or stairs (for those which were too tall for the elevator, thank goodness we’re on the second floor and not the fourth). And together we assembled part of one cabinet once baby had gone to sleep. I have to say the common goal of kitchen storage helped us make up after the bickering. A few days later he industriously put together the rest of it, never mind the occasional outburst in French about where’s the putain (bad word!) screw? Et merde!

Now I’m happy to have storage and a little counter space again. And wondering how the heck we’re gonna get this out whenever we move.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I survived

First week back at work, even if it is just mornings. The hardest part is probably getting up early (ironically she’s sleeping so much better now). Then driving too work while it’s still dark. But that way I finish by 12 and can usually be back home with baby by 1. That does make it much easier. I can feel that I’m different from the casual worker I was before baby arrived. In the past I could shoot the breeze with colleagues without looking at my watch so much. Now I know I’ve got to pick up baby (a positive thing, don’t get me wrong). I don’t go on and on about her at work, because I don’t want to be one of those moms who bores everyone with stories. But I do steal sneaks at her pictures now and then.

Baby seems to be adjusting quite well to Tata Marie’s place. My husband and I notice she smiles quite easily for the sitter, and we wonder if we need to learn some tricks to get the same reaction at home. She’s getting to know the little world of folks that frequent the sitter’s home. Her husband, Laurent (that’s Tonton (uncle) Laurent for baby), her sons, their wives, her granddaughters. Nearly everytime I pick her up for lunch there’s a crowd of folks eating roast beef or neatly rolled slices of hams and tomatoes. I ask the sitter how she finds the time to do all this and watch three children (or four or five including her grandkids). Oh, a question of organization, she says. I mostly just open cans of tuna for dinner lately. Why can’t I be organized like that? Plus her house is spotless and her laundry always smells fabulously fresh. I think she must be a fairy godmother.

I can’t say I’m totally adjusted. I still think wistfully of those days when I had nothing on my agenda except baby’s bath, feedings, a little jaunt to the pharmacy and Monoprix for bread. Even though some of those days I was very sleep-deprived and lonely for company. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone .

Saturday, October 18, 2008


This past week baby spent two mornings with the sitter to get her (and me) used to it. I had tried to prepare myself for it (mostly by crying a lot beforehand) and I’d been telling baby that she was going to visit Tatie Marie. The first morning arrived and I reminded baby again about the day’s plan. My voice got funny though and I tried not to let tears drip on her. She stopped her feeding and I swear looked at me as if I had two heads. Then my husband and I took her to the sitter.

I was able to speak coherently for a few minutes to give some information to the sitter and then it got to me again. So with an awkward kiss on baby’s head, I left before I started disturbing baby more. She wasn’t crying at all, which prompted my husband to joke (not for the first time) that maybe I should stay at the sitter’s and baby should go to work.

Back at home I tried to keep busy, by writing emails (yeah, I’m good at that), doing the dishes, etc. I didn’t linger too much on things like smelling baby’s clothes as I knew that would lead to more tears. I did print out a picture of baby to have in my wallet so once I’m back in the working world I can take a look at her easily (and show her off to others).

The sitter had told me to call some time in the morning to see how baby was doing (she must know how much the moms want to call!). So around 10 I checked on her and she’d taken her bottle and was being fairly calm. Then I headed out to get my hair cut, something which is tough to do with a baby in tow. As I waited to get my hair washed I caught up on celebrity news in a magazine. And when I saw an ad with a little girl I wondered instinctively if baby would look like her one day. That brought a tear or two so I tried to think of other things.

So one cut and “brushing” later, I emerged with neater though very straight hair. I walked back home and debated when I should go pick baby up without seeming too eager. But oh heck, I went a bit early anyway to talk to the sitter and see how baby had done. She was resting calmly in Tatie Marie’s arms and apparently hadn’t cried too much and had even napped.

So we both survived. I suppose I did enjoy being able to get things done while she was with the sitter, but I felt a tiny bit guilty that someone else was taking care of her. And I think next week when I really have to leave her there every morning and go to work the reality will set in. Part of me wishes I could start all over again, from that moment in the hospital when they showed her to me. And I swear I wouldn’t stress as much and I would enjoy every minute. Well, instead I’ll just have to vow to enjoy every minute from now on.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I packed a whopping two boxes so I’ve earned the right to write on my blog. I’m still in denial that I’m moving to a new apartment (albeit gradually, not all in one weekend) some time by the end of this month. I’m mildly excited about the second room, though it will be strange not having baby just beside our bed as she is now. Plus the building is completely new. But that could be a bad thing considering our demon cat will no doubt put his scratches on the pristine linoleum and we can’t pretend they have always been there.

I’m also the type of person who gets used to her environment and is afraid to change it. Maybe I did make a BIG environmental change in coming to France, but I still feel strange changing even within the same country, or city, as in this case. I can walk to the new place in perhaps 15 minutes, to show you how close it is. But my daily life and surroundings will nonetheless shift.

My pharmacy is gonna be a bit too far to trek to by foot, as I mentioned before so I’ll choose a different one. And my nearly daily trips to my favorite upscale grocery store (Monoprix) when I’ve just run out of butter will become rarer. I will replace it with CocciMarket, which seems to have a smaller range of products from what I could tell by glancing in the windows. I did spot a lovely bakery/patisserie which could become very dangerous to my waistline.

And I think I’m going to miss some of my current neighbors. We’ve actually got some friendly folks in our building now, the majority of them being retirees. There’s the former pharmacist lady who still has that very professional and smiley way of saying “Au revoir” or “Have a good evening” that is typical of shopkeepers. The white-haired lady who’s 86 and walks literally at a snail’s pace with her little sack on wheels. And the extremely cooky one who all but pledged her allegiance to an infamous German dictator in our presence. She does have his book in her living room. Whatever I can say about her political leanings, she has kindly watched our demon cat twice when we went on vacation. Plus, she doesn’t mind when he jumps over to “visit” her balcony.

I guess I’ll just have to accept the fact that I’ll be in transition for a while. And slowly but surely I’ll create my new world on the other side of the city.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ma pharmacie

The other week I noticed baby’s nose was running. In typical new mom worry mode, I decided a dash to the pharmacy was in order. So out we went at 6:30 p.m. to pay yet another visit to my friendly pharmacy. I was almost ashamed to show my face there again since sometimes it seems I’m there three times a week. What with prescriptions for myself or baby or just general questions like that one. On that occasion the kind pharmacy lady who has two young kids herself recommended the “mouche bébé”- a high tech system of blowing baby’s nose for her by aspirating it (cotton filter prevents you from ingesting it!).

In the two years that I’ve lived in this city, this little pharmacy has become a cozy and helpful place for me. Since I only fill my prescriptions there, they know my drug history and I can talk to them easily. They saw me pre-baby, pregnant and now post-baby. When I took baby there after getting out of the hospital, it was sort of like showing her to “family”.

But when I first arrived in France I was rather surprised or even disappointed with the system here (and there are still things I gripe about). Back in the good old US of A you can buy aspirin at a quick mart. Here it is only available in pharmacies and more often than not it’s behind the counter so you have to ASK for it. Don’t even think about the Wal-Mart generic bottle of 500 pills. And heaven help you if you need to buy something like Immodium. You’re gonna have to ask for it and thus openly admit that you (or someone in your household) needs it. As if it’s not bad enough to just have to take these types of things to the cash register. Add to this limited French skills and not knowing the brands here and having to explain symptoms…

But the French government thinks that if they sold aspirin in supermarkets that people would misuse it. That we need a real pharmacist to sell it to us to avoid intoxication. Never mind that nine times out of ten when you buy it at a pharmacy you don’t even ask about the side effects or say why you need it.

But I suppose the longer I live here the more I get used to these little idiosyncrasies that are La France! And it’s mostly the warm staff at my pharmacy that make it so pleasant to go there. I even told them with regret that I’ll be moving to a different side of town so would have to change pharmacies. They tried to tell me a diagonal way to get there, but it would be a longer trek. No, I’ll just have to break in a new little pharmacy. They’ll be seeing a lot of me!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What the future holds

The days that seemed so far off before baby was born are now approaching too fast. Like the return to work, which in itself isn’t so terrible since I like my colleauges. It’s more the fact that I won’t be spending all my time with baby. Last week I had to face reality since I took her to meet the sitter. She’s part of an organization in our city where the sitters are certified and once a week or so they go to the center for play groups. And last Thursday it was the monthly visit from the pediatrician, so we had to establish baby’s file there.

So Tatie Marie (auntie Marie) was happy to meet her new charge. She said baby was pretty (I guess I’m prejudiced so I never know if it’s really true or not) and kissed her on the cheek. After the weighing and measuring of the kids, all the sitters took a coffee and chatted. Tatie Marie wanted to hold baby for a while, and she was very calm with the sitter. Just sort of looking around at the other kids. So strange for me to see her little face in someone else’s arms. From time to time it started getting to me so I tried to chat about anything and everything to not let too many tears escape.

I also met my baby’s new playmates, Thibaut (pronounced Tee-bo), a boy of six months with bright blue eyes, and Camille, a two year-old girl with brown curls. So my own little girl will be the youngest in the “family”. Who knows, maybe as she gets older, Thibaut could be her first little boyfriend.

As I sat there drinking my water, other kids came up to me and offered me plastic balls or put a plump hand on my knee as they passed by. I love that little warmth from toddlers. Everyone’s their friend or “mountain” to climb on. A sweet little Arabic boy with creamy brown skin walked by in his big boy onesie and said matter of factly, kaka. I could smell it in his diaper, too. Hard to believe my baby will be walking and talking in a time not so far off.

But for now we’ll just have to get through this transition. She’ll still be mine in the evenings and on weekends, of course. No, she’ll still be mine all the time!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Crying, coohing, coughing

You can see baby's many moods here, as the title indicates. Only regret about this video is that she's all dressed in blue, but you know she's a girl anyway! She's also learning to turn on one side, just the left side for now. I'm not sure if she knows how to turn back though so she might get panicky.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Indian Summer

Strolled out with baby to the physical therapist this afternoon. Another generous gift from the French health system, 10 sessions for abdominal exercises to regain that muscle tone. On this early autumn day we’ve got brilliant blue skies and very little wind. Everyone seems to know it could be our last few days of lovely weather and we’re not gonna take it for granted. From inside the therapist’s office I have a view of the cobbled square and the arcades of the facades on the other side. I dutifully do ten minutes on the stationary bike occasionally glancing at baby in her rocky car seat beside me. She’s doing her angel act. Pretending that she always sleeps like this in the afternoon.

I decide to take the long route home as baby’s sleeping so peacefully and the weather’s so nice. I walk against the stream of middle and high school kids who are getting out for the weekend. Always the people-watcher, I study the types of kids who walk past me. The little middle school boy who still resembles the elementary student. The slightly roly-poly girl who’s doing her bit by the current fashion trend here, dressing mildly like a rocker. Black Converse style shoes and shirts that go a bit past the waist. A thin girl with a little overbite wearing a trendy skirt. I wonder where my girl will fit in one day. I’m so not ready for her to be in middle school. Adolescent outbursts and just worrying about the drama that goes on in preteen life. My husband would already like to lock her up from boys till she’s 30. More on that later.

So now she’s still dozing in her crib. Must be that runny nose that’s tired her out. Chat-chat aggressively nuzzled my hand as I tried to type this and now he’s sunning himself on the balcony. Poor thing is so neglected by us now. But he doesn’t do himself any favors by annoying us with cries for food at any hour and nearly tripping us as we go into the kitchen. I am threatening him with cat liposuction without anesthesia.

Ciao for now…

Monday, September 22, 2008

Le jour et la nuit (day and night)

Miracle of miracles. She is actually sleeping. In the morning. Has been for 30 minutes. And she fell asleep by herself in the playpen. Hmm. Has an alien replaced my baby without me knowing it?

However, I cannot cry victory yet. My nights still generally have some interlude that goes like this. I creep back into bed after having put her in her crib. She has fed and I am literally crossing my fingers that she'll stay asleep. Moonlight slits through the blinds and the street outside is dead quiet. Normal for 4 a.m. I snuggle into my husband's sleeping arms and wait for baby to make strange chirping noises that mean she's still hungry. After a while her breathing becomes regular. Or I can't hear anything at all, so I delicately put a hand on her chest to make sure there is that rise and fall. Phew, she's sleeping. Now I can. Until she wakes again...

But she's developping something of a pattern at night. Generally drifts to sleep after a feeding around 10. Stays asleep 4 to 6 hours. Feeds, sleeps some more. It's so much better than before. Amazing how a bit more sleep can make you feel so much more energized. I no longer dread the nights. I should be sleeping now in fact, but must keep an eye on kitty who is curled up in his basket. He has been known to try and jump in baby's play pen while she's in it.

The day is still rather random. Feeds frequently, or at least I offer this as a solution when the crying persists. Sometimes naps in the afternoon if I take her for a stroll. Sometimes continues napping when I put her back in the crib after said stroll. She was actually a little angel last week and stayed mostly asleep when I went to see my colleagues Friday (thanks for the Subway cookie break, Crystal and Caro!).

If I know my little one, she'll probably develop a fine pattern just as I have to go back to work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You’ve been here how long?!

This week marks an anniversary. Six years since I came to France. Six years that I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport to meet up with a boy who was sort of my boyfriend and is now my husband. And of course now there is a chat and a bébé in the picture.

Six years ago I knew just enough French to get me by (barely) and the three-year old in the host family knew way more than me. Now I can pretty much understand an inane French slapstick comedy (and there are too many of them), but I still get stumped on words like “curtain rod”. Six years ago everything about this country was exciting and novel. Now a lot of that initial euphoria has worn off and I grumble about France’s flaws and am sometimes tempted to go on strike like those train workers.

But more than all that retrospection, this anniversary shows me how fast time goes by. I’m really starting to sound like an adult when I say, wow, it’s already been six years. Where did the time go? It’s like when you see other people’s kids and say, my, you’ve grown. It’s not so much that the kid has reached our height that bugs us, but that time is going so quickly. And we didn’t even notice, and worse, haven’t perhaps been using our time wisely.

So I don’t know what the next six years will bring. Of course, this little one I’m propping up in my lap to write this post will be high on stories from her first grade class. I just hope I won’t be regretting missed opportunities, but I know I’m the only one who can fix that…

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Meow's Side of the Story

Chat-chat here. Let me say that the arrival of this thing has been difficult to say the least. I thought I could put up with a lot, but even I am becoming sleep-deprived because of all this crying. And my sleep is of vital importance as I’m a supreme being (Editor’s note: cat). The thing takes up all the attention of my servants (Editor’s note: cat owners). Female servant used to spend all her free time with me, but now she seems to hiss at me (my job, not hers) if I dare to jump on the table (normal activity).

Take today for example. Apparently the thing had what’s called a diaper emergency. Female servant rushed leaking thing out of the room. She left her piece of quiche on the table (invitation). It’s only normal I should investigate. Being so very smart I knocked over the plate (without breaking it). And proceeded to sample the quiche on the floor. When she returned she slapped me on the cheek which is just not nice.

Then there’s all this new equipment in the apartment which I need to check out. The stroller and playpen, they’re called. They belong to me as far as I can see it. They are perfect sleeping places. But the servants had the gall to put a balloon in the playpen (to dissuade me from entering, which is my right) and when I jumped in it popped. I was so horrified I had to compose myself by resting in the litter box for a while.

So if they would just listen to me for a second, I could tell them that I am infinitely easier to take care of than the thing. I know how to use a litter box (or the bathtub). I admit I’m demanding about food but I don’t ask for it as often as the thing (Editor’s note: yes, he does). I don’t like making ultimatums but if they had to choose between me and the thing, I think the choice is pretty obvious.

Chat-chat (and I’d like a real name, please)

My side of the story

Mom won’t let me have my own blog so I’ve got to use hers. Next thing she’ll be telling me no cell phone before 5 years old. First of all, has anyone seen my other shoe? I think I lost it on that stroll in the park last Sunday. It’s not my fault they put shoes on me. It’s not like I can walk yet. It’s purely decorative. Just like pockets on my dresses. But I was hoping to get a bit more wear out of those shoes before my feet grow too much.

Secondly, for someone who was a baby herself, mom doesn’t know much about them. I mean, it’s pretty simple. There’s the hunger cry, the sleep cry, the I-don’t-want-to-sleep-now cry. The my-diaper’s-dirty cry, the I-preferred-my-diaper-dirty cry. Well, I guess I need to make her a list.

Then there’s this obsession of hers about sleep. I’ll sleep when I want. See the part about the crying. For nine months she didn’t bug me about this, now it’s every minute! I think it’s getting to her ‘cause she’s been sneaking off for pieces of dark chocolate when she thinks I’m not looking. That’s not good for her figure, I know that much, even if I am just a baby.

Oops, she’s coming. I guess I’ll have to end this for now.


Monday, September 8, 2008

When does she sleep?

Was reading in a little booklet about babies from age one to two months. They say they sleep 16-20 hours a day, from feeding to feeding. They haven't met my baby. This has got me worried. Is she getting enough milk? She certainly takes her time at feedings. I certainly offer her a lot. But it's quite rare that she falls asleep and more importantly stays asleep after a feeding.

What do you get when an Anxiety Prone Mom and Perfectionist-but-he-won't-admit-it Papa have a child? Super Alert Baby. Take a look at her sort of smiling. I guess only a mom would qualify it as sort of smiling.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In between

I don't have full out baby blues, but motherhood isn't always rose, either. Last night I started feeling rather down, and I think sleep deprivation has a lot to do with it. Wondering if it will ever get better. If I'll ever have days when I can really accomplish what I set out to do. Believe me, my list isn't as long as it was pre-baby, but it just seems to take forever to do the littlest things. I have let housework go, and perhaps I spend a bit too much of my precious free time online. But I need an outlet. I need to stay connected to the old me who is still me, after all.

Those pregnancy hormones were powerful, I can see that now. I remember driving to work and practically humming, seeing things so very positively. I imagined life with baby as always good because she would be there, of course. After being so superstitious during pregnancy, I told myself as long as she was here, I would be happy. And of course I am happy she's here, and healthy and precious and all those things. But I know (as I knew in the back of mind anyway) that having a child doesn't magically fix all your woes. You still have the unstable, low-paying job. You still have to deal with domestic overload and taxes and disputes about what's for dinner. (Though my husband has been cooking most of the time now, which helps out a lot.) And that pesky cat who is ALWAYS underfoot. But don't get me wrong, I am very conscious of how lucky I am to have a little one. It's just human nature to complain.

And French administration gives me ample reasons to complain! Though it was quite easy to apply for my visa, retrieving it has been infernal. The first time I lugged baby there in her sling with a chance of rain, thus my bulky umbrella in tow. Only to find out that Wednesdays in August the office for purchasing the fiscal "stamp" was closed. Due to reduced personnel in that month of eternal vacations. Then another day only to find that the other office I needed was closed in the afternoons for renovation. Third time's a charm: today, finally got the durn thing. Saw my favorite smiley fonctionnaire (civil servant) who even jokes about being one (I'm serious about him being my favorite). Said, you see, we fonctionnaires do work. Until 1 p.m., I joked back, since they're closed in the afternoon. Met an Algerian couple with their two little ones. The mom said her little Sabrina started sleeping through the night at 1 and a half months. So jealous.

Please take a nap on my behalf.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tales from the baby front

So the only way for me to write this is with baby cradled (safely) on my lap. Since I last wrote, the nursing has become easier though not without little difficulties. I have to say I'm glad I stuck it out after such a rocky start though. At the beginning I was pumping in the hospital and she was given the milk in a little cup or bottle (and you can see my favorite midwife feeding her way back when). Now we can do it without all those unnecessary steps!

As for the night battles, well, sometimes she wakes me for a brief (hour) feeding, or like last night, 2 and 1/2 hours of wakefullness. Hmm. I'm praying for the day she sleeps through the night. In the meantime I'm sleepy in the day. When she finally settles for some napping herself I must prioritize and do the following: eat, sleep, bathe, email, whatever I haven't been able to do while she was awake. Housework is still low on the priority list. Or I put her in her crib even if she's fussy and do microtasks. Clean the sink, load the washer. The apartment is still far from clean. But as my auntie said, a happy baby is more important than a clean house.

Here in France the kids are starting to go back to school. It always makes me feel nostalgic for my own school days and that fall feeling in the air. This year there's no school or work right away, though my own return to work will be in about six weeks. I'm already feeling rather torn between finding my old independent self and being a full-time mom. Financially I must go back, and I know baby will have a good, state-approved sitter. But I've already found myself getting teary about it. Separation anxiety on my side.

Chat-chat continues to be his pesty self. Sometimes a bit too curious about the stroller as you can see here. No babies were harmed in the taking of this picture. He doesn't know how close he's come to being abandoned when he decides to jump on the door handle at 4:30 a.m. and I've just gotten bb to sleep! Or his continual obsession with peeing in the tub. Sometimes I swear he looks at me when baby's crying and says, are you sure you wanted that thing? My husband tries to spend some time cuddling him so he won't feel left out.

Well, who knows when I'll be able to post again. I'll let baby sign off for me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The new insomnia

Have got a video of baby I added but it took forever to load being an AVI format. Does anybody know how to reduce the size of videos? And with what software? Listen carefully for the sound of chimes, Chat-chat's bell and the ambulance siren.

Still basically no time for anything here in my new role as mommy. I sacrifice my sleep during her nap times to run errands that I can't avoid. She has that annoying (but of course we love you, baby) habit of waking up when we put her in her crib, despite seeming passed out to the world seconds before. The baby sling is coming in handy to lull her to sleep while I go about some of my normal household activities. No heavy duty things though. I can actually put my contacts in while she's in the sling. Get some stuff out of the fridge.

The other night she kept me (and my husband for part of the time) awake for nearly 3 hours. During the wonderful hours between 2 to 5. It'd be different if she'd just feed and sleep. But it's continual feeding or stop and start or I don't know what. I still don't speak Baby so I haven't finetuned her needs. Last night she was polite enough to wait till about 5 to do this. Husband has the bright idea now to go sleep on the couch when she has that wee hour waking. What a guy. He has given a bottle or two, to his credit, plus help with chores, etc. Yes, you see, since the lactation nurse saw the baby wasn't gaining and might have lost at one point, she instructed us to give her some formula. Later my pediatrician said he didn't like this idea as that wasn't going to increase my milk supply if ever that was the problem. Now she's back on mother's milk, some of which I pump to give her a boost at strategic times like midnight (so she'll maybe sleep till 3 or 4). Nursing is proving to be complicated for something that's supposed to be super natural and easy.

I complain, but I'm sure all new moms do. There are times when she's really cute and alert like in this video. And of course we're so happy to have her. We're just adjusting. And that's never been one of my strong points. I knew babies were a lot of work, especially at the beginning. I just figured there would be more times where I could really do other things. There are some times, but with her not sleeping well in the crib, I must carry her around and can't very well sleep in those times. Don't even get me started on housework. The scumminess of my floors is really starting to get to me. And I was never the cleanest person, but I do like a minimum. I can't very well do the dishes and risk getting hot water on the baby in her sling.

Oh, yes, so that paragraph was supposed to be positive. Hmm, she really is a cutie, and we like to play with her, as much as you can play with a four-week old. Still not sure who she looks like. Or what color her hair will really be. All that will come later. Something to look forward to.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

She's here!

Baby is sleeping after her last feeding. Husband too since he kindly stayed wakeful to coax baby girl into feeding well (kind of sort of worked) and also to watch the impressive thunderstorm. It's still rumbling lightly but I chanced it to tend to my abandoned blog.

So as most of you know baby arrived July 22. About 6 pounds and 6 ounces. She's still a tiny thing and in fact hasn't regained her birth weight (they often lose 10% those first days). It being a C-section for me and her being a light weight made nursing difficult at the beginning. Plus it's all new to me. Little darling is perhaps a bit lazy (like her mom) in really getting down to business. There were some times when they gave her my milk or formula in a bottle at the hospital so she might be craving the easy life of the artificial nipple. I try not to project too much frustration on her, but when she "plays" 30 minutes to an hour before really feeding, I can get a bit frazzled. When she really feeds and then sleeps hard afterwards, I feel ok. We're still getting there.

Chat-chat seems to be adjusting fairly well to not being baby # 1 anymore. There were some moments when he sniffed frantically on the couch. He's mostly playing the indifference card. He's still mellower since his balcony jump. Perhaps it did him some good...

Mom and sis and hubby have been ever so helpful around the house and at mealtimes. I've hardly had to lift a finger, which is good since I can't really lift anything with this dang C-section recovery. Not even the cat. I wasn't disappointed when my OB/GYN told me she was going to "get the baby" for me, maybe the lazy part of me was a little happy I wasn't going to be pushing away. But I didn't realize how painful the day after would be and that there would be so many precautions to take for weeks to come. Again, that's why my family has been a real godsend.

Well, when baby gives me time to blog again, I will relate more exciting details to you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How do you say "sharp pain" in French?

Douleur aiguë (roughly pronounced "doo-lurr ay-goo"). Of course when I called the midwife station Saturday after experiencing just that on my left side, my French abilities kind of went out the window and I said douleur aiguille ("ay-gwee"), which would translate as needle pain. Hey, same difference. It did feel like a needle. The doc or midwife on call seemed to understand anyway. His advice: take a bath and your anti-spasm medicine and wait two hours to see if it's better. And it did seem to get a bit better.

So, I'm still hanging out in the apartment, occasionally trying to find just the right position to avoid this sharp pain which comes and goes. According to the baby books, could be that baby is moving down (does seem that way) and pressing on a nerve (thanks, baby). I told her she needs to make up her mind and get things moving or just calm down. Give poor mom a rest!

Because of said sharp pain, my husband and I didn't go to the restaurant yesterday as had been planned for a few weeks with his parents and grandad. Not twenty minutes after I called him at the greenhouse to ask him to come home early the other day, his mom called back to see if were still on for the "resto". "Er, not really sure how things are gonna go," I said, "but please don't cancel on my behalf. You can go ahead without me." They don't have/take many occasions in the year to go out to eat, and I don't want them holding a "missed" opportunity over my head. The prospect of sitting in a fairly rigid chair for three to four hours (French meal standard), leisurely waiting for each course and discussing our dismal summer weather wasn't very appealing with this pain looming over me.

So the husband and I stayed in the apartment and watched the least annoying stuff we could find on TV, dozing off from time to time when it got too boring. And he sweetly prepared all the meals since sometimes standing in the kitchen was too much for me. He has been a very supportive guy lately, saying in a fairly convincing way that I look nice in my maternity clothes and with these chipmunk cheeks on my face. Maybe my family has paid him to say that! Plus he's gonna do the food shopping today since I don't feel like driving about. No doubt he'll go wild in the paté/cheese section, but at least I won't have to deal with loading and unloading the cart and the crowds. To be continued...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ups and downs

Yesterday I thought I might be losing a little fluid (as in amniotic), so I went to the midwife station at the hospital to be checked out. Apparently I wasn’t the only jittery pregnant woman as there were several other ladies who’d come in without appointments. So I waited patiently and read the book I’d luckily brought along (The Devil Wears Prada, deliciously detailed). The waiting room is right in front of the obstetrical ward and as I sat there I saw them wheel a clean bed through the swinging doors. A few minutes later a fairly tired-looking lady was wheeled out on the same bed. No doubt she’d just given birth. I didn’t want to stare but I couldn’t help wondering what she’d just gone through. Shortly after a nurse brought in one of those rolling plastic baby beds and then emerged with the same bed filled with a blue bundle. I could see his little fists agitating about and he gave out a few cries. A really brand new baby, probably the one who’d tired out that poor lady. A little girl who was waiting with her pregnant mom couldn’t keep her eyes off that new baby either, probably imagining her own future sibling.

I finally saw the midwife who did all the routine tests and decided it was nothing to worry about this time. At the end of the exam she put the small Doppler device on to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Nice and strong. I have to admit I am not as awed now to hear it as the first time. I remember reading about this in the baby book I bought my husband. The first ultrasound is amazing, the latter ones we’re almost jaded and more impatient to see the real thing. It’s not that I’ve forgotten how lucky I am to be in this situation, but there are always moments when we almost take things for granted. I’m sure that in a few years time (or earlier), baby girl will be whining or pulling a tantrum because I don’t want to buy her Kinder chocolate and I’ll wish I could put her back where she came from.

In fact it’s just like everything in life, love included. At the beginning you’re ecstatic to hold your boyfriend’s hand, this boy you secretly pined away for. His eyes are endless pools of blue and could only hold tenderness for you. Fast-forward to a couple of years (or just months!) of living together and you’re wondering why he can’t bend over to pick up his dirty socks that you, in your feminist move of the day, will NOT touch because they’ve been there for days, and, well, you get the picture. We always end up taking things for granted at one point or another.

And then there’s the cat. This time last week I thought Chat-chat was on his death bed. I was praying for him to just get up the strength to eat by himself again. Now I’m threatening to kill him. And I might have good reason. About a month ago my husband and I thought we were so clever to have devised a night-time plan for kitty. To prevent him from jumping on our door handle at four a.m. we lock him in the living room with his litter box at night. Husband even reversed the door handle direction so the cat couldn’t make that awful clanking noise. But the cat is maniacal. He scratches at the door and the linoleum. This morning I heard him scratching and thought I’d let him practice self-soothing (as they say is good for babies). Ten minutes later I check on him anyway and find that he’s torn up about a 3 inch patch of linoleum right next to the door! Evil cat doesn’t sum it up. We are renting, people! This is gonna cost us. So at 5 a.m. I’m on the floor trying to put the puzzle pieces of linoleum back together, slapping packaging tape over that to keep it in place. Followed by aluminum foil and more packing tape on the edges to hopefully deter the cat from further damage. Yeah, right.

My husband, of course, didn’t take the news well and started muttering in fast inarticulate French and proceeded to cut the cat’s claws really short. There is no tenderness in those blue eyes today. Ah, it will all calm down at one time or another, let’s hope.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bastille Day and French-Anglo communication

Baby kindly cooperated and stayed put so that I could go to the barbeque organized by one of my colleagues. It was a joyous mix of French and Anglo cultures and foods. Everyone seemed to enjoy my Tollhouse cookies (imported chocolate chips, brown sugar and baking soda) whether they were discovering the taste for the first time or having a nostalgic moment. Good salsa dips (hey, Crystal!), taboulé salads, rose wine (not for me), chocolate pies. My husband made more of an effort to speak English with my coworkers and I think down deep he enjoys practicing. He’s starting to see that the British-American way of teasing is not mean and sarcastic though this can remain a big point of debate between us! The French do tease, too, but I suppose they don’t see it the same way as we do.

Still not sure in fact if I mortally offended the mid-wife doing the preparation courses at the hospital last week. I asked her about that famous maternity list of what to bring in your suitcase and when she didn’t know what the “gigoteuse” was (the sleeper thingie), I said (jokingly!), well, if you don’t know either that reassures me. Then she said something like don’t make fun of me, but I couldn’t tell if she was joking back or not! So I covered by saying, well, you see, I’m not French, and this baby stuff is an entirely new language, which she agreed with. If she’s on duty when I go in for the big day I may just have to make sure we’re on good terms or she might take revenge on me…

Anyway, yesterday went to the in-laws for lunch. This was real Bastille Day and we were blessed with something resembling summer weather. Bluer skies than we’ve had in a while and some nearly hot parts of the day. Father-in-law was whacking down an unruly bush that bothered him. Don’t know if my parents-in-law really know how to relax. Their work is always two steps away from their front door and when there’s a fairly quiet period they still keep busy with home repairs and cleaning and gardening. I feel colossally lazy next to them. How to ever explain to them that I spend a good deal of my team reading and writing emails and perusing web sites, watching TV, reading books and, oh, yeah, a bit of cleaning in there, too. It would just amount to nothing for them. But it’s my life.

We watched a bit of the Tour de France on TV as we ate. The parents-in-law don’t really watch any sports except this one, and mostly just to see the lush landscapes the cyclists are whizzing by. It’s kind of lulling, with the quiet commentary and the lush green images. Great for helping you get in napping mode. And after coming home late from the BBQ I needed a little nap. As the husband and I were so tired we came on home and rested then had crêpes for dinner. Not exactly Bastille Day food, but it hit the spot. We basically just used anything in the fridge as filling, turkey slices, hot dog sausages, spinach, mashed potatoes. And a few dessert crêpes, but I tried to be “good” and just used a bit of jam and pineapple slices on mine. Still watching out for my sugar since it was a bit high last month.

Now I’m just hanging out here doing some random cleaning and organizing (again). Chat-chat’s more back to his normal self, including those charming habits of scratching at the door and tearing up bits of linoleum (really not good). He’s slowly eating again and jumps in our laps again for a cuddle. To think I was crying my eyes out a few days ago for him.

More later…

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Three vet visits in one week

During the last vet visit yesterday I very maturely cried my eyes out in front of the no-nonsense vet lady. I was so hoping to keep it in and calmly describe Chat's symptoms but in the waiting room I just felt those tears welling up. CC was in his carrier case trying to ignore the dogs who were barking up a storm. He had enough energy (or maybe it's his innate cat nature) to hiss and growl at them through the plastic slats of his case. Then the vet called us in.

Blubbery me, I apologized for being a total mess and proceeded to tell her that CC still wasn't eating or drinking on his own. That all we could do was squirt the cat milk in his mouth with a syringe and he just moved slowly from one part of the living room to the other. She palpated him and said he seemed less sensitive than Wednesday and there were no hematomas visible on his tummy. For her he's doing better but it'll just take time. Another check to the vet (grand total for this week: 76 euros) and I departed with CC and a new tin of special pet milk that's fortified with vitamins and other good stuff. Just to make a liar out of me, last night he actually drank some water on his own and licked his face a little (the first washing since Tuesday!).

Yes, I love my kitty and I've always been highly emotional about my pets when they're ill. And my husband, despite saying he's not a cat person and often calling CC sale bête (dirty creature), has been participating in the cat-feeding sessions and saying, "Oh, oui, Chat-chat, oh, oui." Actually he says that even when CC isn't sick during their TV cuddle time.

I suppose I feel a little guilty worrying so much about my Chat-baby and not as much about baby baby. Of course I haven't forgotten about bébé, but she's been safe in my belly whereas Chat-baby took that nasty fall. There were times early in my pregnancy when I almost found it hard to imagine loving my baby more than CC. Now I know that of course if bébé were allergic to cats, I'd have to part with CC, not bb. No brainer there. Let's just hope we can all be one happy family. Pretty soon CC will be back to his old tricks, jumping on the counters without invitation as my husband snarls, "Hey, Chat-chat, you need a hand there?!" Ah, the good old days.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Playing nurse and téléréalité

I've been worrying about the Chat. He hasn't eaten anything since yesterday morning and has just now started to drink a bit of water. Plus he's taken to hiding again. Under the bed, in the litter box (nice one that). So I schlepped the 12 pounder to the vet again and she did an X-ray. He appears to have a little fracture of the sternum and perhaps some swelling. So she gave him a cortisone shot and told me to try to get him to eat more. I even bought that special milk for cats. But all he'll let me do is put a bit on his lips then he licks it slightly. Well, we're doing the best we can for the little fellow. Thanks for everyone's get well wishes.

To distract me from worrying there is always Internet (surprise) and a little reality TV à la française. I am a bit addicted to this one show called Un dîner presque parfait (An almost perfect dinner). The concept is that five people take turns inviting each other over to eat during one week. They all try to outdo each other in terms of cooking, decoration of the table and/or room and finally ambiance.

It has become my little guilty pleasure. I sometimes try to do the ironing at the same time so I won’t feel like I’m totally vegging, but then again, what’s wrong with some vegging?! Sometimes I actually get some recipe ideas, but come to think of it, I haven’t actually incorporated any of them into my cooking. Maybe it’s more fun just to see how other people cook and clean and decorate their homes. Plus you get some folks who are just too serious about their food and you want to tell them to take a break and eat like the rest of us. Like this snooty lady who owns a restaurant and therefore thinks she can openly criticize the other hosts if they don’t make their own mayonnaise or raspberry purée.

My other reality show at the moment is called L’amour est dans le pré (Love is in the prairie). My husband gets into this one, too. The idea is intriguing: take some single farmers, vineyard owners, goat cheese makers, what-have-you, and try to hook them up with someone willing to live out in the middle of nowhere. It’s mostly men who are still single and hoping to find their better half through the concept, but there is usually one lonely cow-girl, too. In our household it’s practically interactive TV, because my husband keeps talking to the screen and saying, oh, no, that girl’s not prepared for country life/her eyes are too small/she’s too aggressive, etc.

It is pretty interesting to see how the farmers and their candidates try to get to know each other. This one clueless guy didn’t even bother to pick up the two girls he’d selected to spend a week with him (yes, two at the same time, in separate beds, mind you). They had to call him from the station and he told them to rent a car. Plus that evening he had a meeting about some bicycle outing so the girls had to fend for themselves for dinner. What a catch! Another guy still lives with his mom, so he and his potential lovemate spent their first evening over an awkward dinner of crêpes and Nutella in the presence of maman.

Now there is also the summer junky one: Secret Story (the English name gives it that special something over here). I watch snippets now and then. I’ll mostly catch up on this one through the tabloids, no doubt. Don’t know if they have it in the US, too. The idea- some largish number of highly photogenic people live together in a mod house with, of course, a swimming pool. They all have secrets they must successfully keep from each other and they try to discover the other candidate’s secrets to win money. So far the audience knows that there is a mom and daughter in the household, plus a lesbian couple, and a fake couple. Mostly this show seems to be a jumping off point for aspiring models, weather girls, singers and actors. At least that’s what the tanned and cute candidates are hoping.

With the wasteland that is summer TV, I’ll probably be spending more time than I’d like to admit watching this type of entertainment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

room transformation

It's not even 6:30 a.m. and I'm blogging and checking emails. Just couldn't sleep anymore. Husband is still in bed though. Chat is convalescing in his basket. Tried to give him a bit of those pain meds but some of the syringe contents are on the side of his basket. Perhaps I've got a bit of that nesting syndrome they say expecting women can get. My head is rather a-buzz with things I want to do today- mostly on the order of organizing, cleaning, writing. Part of me doesn't want bébé to come until I've finished my mental lists. Plus that barbeque Sunday.

As I mentioned, we put that crib together Sunday. In fact it was easier than the shelf system. And no major fights! I told my husband that Ikea must have tested the assembly of the crib to see if it could go quickly and pain-free since there could be frantic fathers doing it after their babies have arrived. He wondered if they tested it on American girls, too. Ha ha.

We put up this mobile my friend lent me but it seemed too low. So I put a teddy bear in there to simulate baby's position to see if it would knock her head. My husband then practiced picking "baby" up. Hand supporting the neck and butt, he asked? Umm, yes, I think so, I answered, trying to sound convincing myself. Later I showed him the part of Dr. Spock's baby book which says babies aren't as frail as they seem.

I catch him later listening to the mobile music. He prefers the little toy he bought that plays "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star". Something about the cute tinny music gets to me sometimes and I get teary. So husband says perhaps the crib is for me and that baby should sleep in the real bed! I think he's feeling more like a papa-to-be lately. He keeps looking at my belly and saying, "you're a little pregnant there."

Yesterday the doctor asked us if we wanted to induce next week. Kind of shocked us as she's not due for another 3 weeks! I think honestly they're having a bit of a backlog at the hospital. The midwife said recently that the delivery rooms are always full. So maybe they figure by inducing some they can set their own timetable. But my husband and I would rather just wait (but not too long). Plus, that's two weeks less of diapers, Mr. Logical added.

We'll see.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chat-chat on suicide watch

Maybe he's getting antsy about bébé's arrival. My husband did use his stern voice on him yesterday when we were putting the crib together so he wouldn't jump in it. And maybe the Chat can tell there's something in my belly that will one day pull his tail with glee. At any rate, he has been jumping to the neighbor's balcony quite often lately. We got so tired of it so my husband put a filled watering can between our balconies to deter this bad habit.

But what do I see out of the corner of my eye as I'm putting up my laundry to dry today? Chat-chat trying to jump around the watering can and his paws finding nothing to land on. And like a cartoon with the Road Runner and Coyote, he's free-falling from the fourth floor. Or fifth floor we would call it in the US. I seriously hear the instructions in my head to scream. And I do, one worthy of a horror film. Not that it would have brought him vertically back to me or anything, but it seemed the right thing to do. I bend my head down over the railing expecting the worst, but he's on the grass below, still moving. Thank god the grass and not the concrete barrier near the little parking lot.

I hear this wailing and think it's the cats on the first floor (second floor US) who are upset about Chat-chat in their territory. I see their owner, a nice little guy in his 50s with silvery hair and moustache bending over too. I explain the situation to him and ask him if his cats are meowing, but in fact it's Chat-chat. Meanwhile I've screamed to my husband to go get the cat. Which he dutifully does, having to chase the shaken kitty out of the bushes and getting a nice scratch for his efforts.

Back in the apartment Chat-chat seems to be walking ok but is a bit quieter than usual, mind you. But later he goes hiding under the bed, and you cat owners know that can mean sick kitty. I debate on calling the vet but finally do, who advises me to bring him in. So after chasing him out of the bed (with the broom handle, hubby's idea), we take him in for "observation." Two hours later we go to get him and he's had a dose of antibiotics and pain meds. Now he's hiding behind the couch (easier to access for us than the bed), and will be getting a dose of pain medicine for the next five days. He's still rather quiet, but considering the height of his fall, it's no wonder!

My husband thinks this experience will "teach" the cat not to jump again. I know better. I think we'll just have to remove that watering can and let him land stably on the concrete post between our balconies. Or NEVER open the balcony again and suffocate on the hotter days. It's the price to pay to keep kitty from using up those 8 remaining lives!

Friday, July 4, 2008

A 4th in France

It's my sixth time to spend the 4th of July in France. I have to admit it was never my favorite holiday when I was stateside, but I do sort of miss it now that I can't celebrate it properly. And just by coincidence I did something today that reminds me of my nationality: going to the French administrative office (la préfecture) to renew my visa that allows me to live and work here legally.

This used to be my least favorite activity in the world when I lived in Lille. I had to get up at ungodly hours to stand in line outside their ugly, unfriendly Préfecture to wait for the equally unfriendly guards to open the doors and look at our passports and give us a number. Then I'd wait inside in offices that were screaming to be remodeled often to be told conflicting things by civil servants who desperately needed vacations or transfers to Martinique.

But in my new city it has been smooth sailing. I just walk in when I want and wait a minimal amount of time. Today I asked a fellow foreigner if I needed to go to the reception first. But he didn't speak French. Later I heard one of his friends speaking English with one of the employees so I asked where they were from. Sudan in Africa. I told them I was American and they said, "First country in the world." I didn't want to come across as one of those smug Americans who thinks her country is better than everyone else's. So, I said, something like, but not Bush. Then the guy said, "Obama." I guess it's true that many African countries are watching the campaign closely since his father is from the continent. When the employee called my name to give me my temporary visa, one of the guys said, "America." I imagine most of these guys would love to have a chance to live there. It's hard enough for them to make it in France not knowing the language.

Must be my international day, 'cause at the bakery, after I asked for my bread, the baker asked me "Is that all?" in English. Then we talked a bit about where I was from. He knew about the south and of course had the stereotypes of our racist past. I tried to tell him things were better now. He was born in Morocco and made a joke that Moroccan and American almost sounded the same. Well, letter-wise, I suppose we can give it to him.

I don't think I'm gonna make anything particularly American for dinner today. But I wouldn't mind having a nice light mayonnaise potato salad, juicy hamburger, a slice of watermelon and some Barber's ice cream air mailed to me. Mom, are you taking notes?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It’s oh so quiet

It feels like that Björk song that starts out with that line, in a throaty whisper. Then builds up to a brassy refrain that sounds like it comes from a 50s musical. Now everything is calm, I’m in my apartment- piddling, cleaning, resting; my main company until my husband comes home is Chat-chat. There’s no crying, no diapers to change. The baby is still inside, occasionally moving a foot rather vigorously, but still hidden. But soon, all that will change.

I’m sure that in a few months, the memory of being pregnant will be just that. And a distant one. Now it almost seems I will always be in this state. I can barely remember what it was like to have a flat stomach and feel my ribs. I’m used to carrying my offspring around with me all the time. But in a few weeks she’ll be introduced to her stroller and crib and perhaps one of those baby-back/stomach packs. Instead of being a vague idea, she will be pink flesh and tiny fingers.

Now we are just in the wondering stage. We wonder what color hair she will have. My husband hopes she’ll be a bit red-headed like me, and perhaps my own vanity would like that too. To have a mini-me? But there are plenty of dark-headed folks on both sides of the family, too, so it could go either way. And her eyes? Probably light, we guess, since the immediate family all have blue or green eyes. My rudimentary genetic skills from school taught me that. Could she be taller than us, my husband wondered this weekend? There are some tall ones in our families, too, like my sister and my dad’s side. Imagine our “little” girl towering over us at 15! Of course, what’s most important is that her heart is strong, she’s got good lungs to deliver that first cry and that everything else is in order.

I read my baby books sort of like I’m studying for an exam. Ok, no pillows or big blankets in the crib, check. Don’t heat up bottles in the microwave, check. But soon will come the practical exam. Luckily the hospital here teaches you lots of important things those first days, like how to give baby her bath, how to clean out her eyes and nose, I suppose. How to feed her, how to hold her. Then they’ll let us loose on our own to frantically remember all that.

Then the hard work (and the fun?) will begin.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Month

So I’ve turned the calendar into July now. A month I thought was so far off. I remember back in January when I put this calendar up and my husband and I perused all the months. Each month has a cat and a dog or rabbit and dog, etc. which have nearly identical coloring and are snuggling together. July has a sandy/gray tabby kitty and a calico type rabbit. And lots of appointments at the hospital marked in, for birthing classes, nursing classes, plus the arrival of mom and sis on the 25th. Husband’s birthday the 24th (ooh, mustn’t forget to buy him Season 3 of The A-Team). And not marked but certainly anticipated: baby’s arrival for the 30th. Of course, that’s a guesstimate. She doesn’t have a calendar in the womb to consult, so she’ll come when she wants. Maybe even August.

Now I’m on maternity leave and feel that I have a million things to do and I’m not sure where to start. Organizing stuff, not necessarily baby stuff, but paperwork, old clothes. Cleaning out the old stuff I’ve been hanging onto for too long. Reapplying for my carte de séjour (basically my visa which I must still renew even though I’m married to a Français). Packing the famous maternity suitcase. Making sure my apartment is decent for visitors (cause pregnancy isn’t an excuse to let everything go to pot).

And in between all that I’ll read on in my pregnancy and baby books. I have four total. Three in English, one in French that is for the husband but which I’ve read more than him. Last night he started reading it more seriously. He wanted to start from the beginning, but I told him to skip to the part about the delivery, considering the date. From time to time he would say, “Eh, bah, ça va être gai!” Translation: well, that’s gonna be pretty. I’ve been trying to drop him subtle hints for months now that delivery is not in fact always pretty. He started musing about how they clean up the room afterwards. A high-pressure hose? A metal grill on the floor to let everything drain out? That’s my husband, so romantically practical.

But no matter how many books I read or classes I take, I know nothing will completely prepare me for the pain and even the good stuff that comes afterwards. For the moment I am still rather anxious about the pain part. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that I found out there isn’t always an anesthesiologist there exactly when you need him or her. If you’re so lucky as to deliver at night, on the weekends or a holiday (July 14th, Bastille Day, is coming up!), the anesthesiologist is shared between maternity and surgery. And apparently epidurals are not as urgent as putting someone to sleep for heart surgery. I beg to differ, but hey, that’s their policy.

At any rate, I think it will be an eventful month…

Saturday, June 28, 2008

On sale now

It's one of the two official sales periods in France. Though frankly there are many times of the year where you walk into a shop here and see little green stickers saying 20 or 30 or even 50% off, officially, shops can really only go hog-wild on sales in these periods starting in January and June. A typically French stick-to-the-rules kind of thing. I thought it was all kind of silly when I first got to France. But I sometimes happen upon some good deals, and having two X chromosomes, I do procure a little pleasure from that!

Of course this year it's not really worth it to buy stuff for me. May get the size totally wrong considering the bowling ball in front of me. But I can still find good deals for other people. As the husband was actually home yesterday (yeah!), we went to Kiabi (fairly nice mid-range clothes shop) to look for some pants for him. He goes through jeans like paper napkins considering his dirt-attracting job. Whoever said men don't like shopping didn't meet my husband. He can actually take MORE time than a woman. Not that he adores the activity, but when he sets his mind to do it (twice a year maybe) he takes his time. So after nearly snorting in laughter at the "young" jeans that have faded patches and weird zippers (he thinks he could get money by exchanging his old ones), he decided to try on six pairs of slacks that would be decent for working.

So we head for the dressing room area in the middle of the store which is for tout le monde- that is to say, everyone, women, men and kids, though with curtains, of course. He tried on pair after pair and dutifully bent over to make sure they weren't tight you-know-where. And after each pair he stepped up onto the little platform to let the shop assistant measure and pen for his hems. I swear we were in there about 25 minutes just for that.

I did check about for myself but saw nothing tempting. I have a vision of this blue summer dress which is as yet still elusive. It would be a blue between sky and navy, with a high-waist or sort of simple late 50s style. Mid-length and soft cotton. If I could sew I'd sew it myself.

Anyway, no dream dress this time, so I continued my vicarious pleasure by buying a few baby things. I'm still working on the list provided by the maternity department. This is a daunting task in French. At first I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Brassières en laine. No, it's not a bra. It's a wooly cardigan according to my British friend who has been there, done that with the French birthing process. Does bébé really need that in the middle of the summer? Apparently yes, considering she'll be coming from the nice body temperature swimming pool of my belly. So I got another one of those.

And little socks and what they call here a gigoteuse. After describing it to my mom, she thinks it's a sleeper. A blanket type material that fastens or zips around the baby and is "worn" on top a bit like a pair of overalls. Keeps the baby from moving about too much and maintains a constant temperature. I stopped another customer to get her advice on one. Turns out she was a mother of three, so I was in good hands. And another little sleeper that the husband picked out. His first time to shop for the baby, so I let him explore. A few other odds and ends and we then had to wait in the horrendous check-out.

I must admit I looked around a bit again today, but didn't see anything I can't live wihout. I really could get addicted to this, but my bank might have some issues with that.

If any of you are planning on shopping soon, I will leave you with this pearl of wisdom from Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones books. Only buy clothes that make you want to do a little dance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The baby-related blog entry

I finished that Ikea shelf system (all by myself!). Not without a few snafus which I’d like to blame on the sometimes too subtle pictograms that Ikea uses as instructions. Soon my husband and I will put together the crib (let’s see how smoothly that goes, he he). Physically we’re getting things prepared for bébé. But the fact that our baby has an American mom and a French papa adds some other things to our checklist.

This morning for instance I was looking online to see about getting our little croissan’wich a US passport. I think it will make things easier when we travel back to the US (for one thing she can stay with me in the line and probably get through more quickly when we land back there). I found out that she will automatically be a US citizen even without us lifting a finger, because of my citizenship. Of course, I’ll also speak English to the baby, so she can understand her Yankee relatives, while her papa will communicate in French.

But besides a passport and linguistic abilities, I feel that I must pass on some cultural heritage to our baby. I may live in France and speak some French every day, but I’ll always be American and never quite fit the French mold. Cue the Lee Greenwood music now. And I want to make sure that our baby has American values. By that I don’t mean Bush values, but more like an American side. That he or she knows that America is not just the land of McDonald’s (though I will take baby there, too!) or SUVs and the newest American starlet. That it’s her country, too, just as much as France will be. I’ll make sure she knows about Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie and the fourth of July and hot baked Tollhouse cookies. Yes, that about sums up the American experience, right?

Oh, it’s so much richer than that, I know. Those little things like a random airport worker calling you “darling” when she tells you how to get to gate 4. Or since I’m from the South, the joy of a nice cold homemade milkshake on a sweltering July day. The sound of a good summer thunderstorm. Chatting up the people in line at the Piggly Wiggly. I suppose it’s hard to define it.

What I definitely don’t want is for our child to turn up her nose at the US like some French do. To hear something like “All Americans are fat and want to rule the world” coming out of my child’s mouth would be a sure sign that I’ve failed to show her the real fiber of my country. And without living there a long time, it can be hard to get a real feel for a place and not reduce it to stereotypes. And I guess to be fair, I’ll have to limit my own sometimes negative comments about France in front of bébé. Because France is her country, too, and perhaps most of the time she’ll feel it’s more her homeland than the US. Hmm, bringing up a bicultural baby might be a bit more complicated than I thought.

Maybe my readers (all two of you!) can tell me what it means to you to be a (North) American…?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Calling Dr. House

Where was House when I needed him? Last week I really had an ARGGHHHH moment with the French health care system. There are times when I praise it, like when I see that I am reimbursed 100% for ANY medical care now that I'm more than 6 months along. And even if I didn't have French coverage, a run-of-the-mill check-up is 22 euros. Just a bit more than the average co-payment (which you aren't reimbursed for) in the US.

But there are some bugs in the system. I've been seeing these transparent green spots in front of my eyes from time-to-time. Sort of an inky halo around things. I told my OB/GYN this who said it wasn't related to the pregnancy but to try and get an appointment with the eye doctor all the same. As soon as she said this I knew it wasn't going to be easy. The ophthalmologists in the north of France are an endangered species. It's well known that the majority of them have set up practice in the sunny south of France. So if you live in the cool and often gray north, they will give you an appointment for, oh, next year.

And as I expected, when I called my "opthalmo" the cut and dry secretary said, one year. This despite my hurried explanation that I was pregnant, that it was important, etc. So then I called back the GYN office to get some advice. And got treated to a "Madame, you know this is the maternity department, it's not our fault there aren't enough opthalmos yada yada." Translation: why are you bugging us when it's clearly not our problem? I insisted a bit, saying, but my doctor said I should be seen quickly and I don't want to let this get out of hand. This led the secretary to give me the name of an opthalmo her daughter had seen who gave her a quick appointment. But I would need to call my GP first to get a prescription to see said opthalmo.

My GP, who is sometimes cut and dry herself, turned out to be quite helpful. She's 40ish with 4 kids and wears size 6 trendy city clothes. I always thought she was a bit too quick with her patients and maybe a tad superficial. But when I told her the story about waiting one year for an appointment, she sprang to action. She took her phone and called my original opthalmo and asked for an appointment. This same secretary who'd told me a year, told my doc next month. But super doctor persisted, saying, she's 7 and 1/2 months pregnant. Magically, they gave me an appointment for the next day!

Well, end of story, after waiting with all the other privileged people who had an appointment, my opthalmo thinks it's just eye spasms. Apparently nothing serious. But I'm gonna tell all the French people I know to make an appointment today, just in case there's the slightest possibility they'll need glasses soon. You can never do it too early.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ikea, with you every step of the way

This is the new slogan I’ve created for Ikea. It may have already been used by another company before, but it sums up my experiences with them. I had never been to an Ikea in the US because the nearest one was in another state. But when I moved into my first apartment in France (a ridiculously tiny studio with a view of the courtyard, i.e. brick wall) my boyfriend (now husband) took us to that big blue building. And I discovered that feeling of entering a life-size Swedish dollhouse. Dollhouse because I had the impression I was looking in the windows at some idyllic interior scene and the perfect-in-every-way occupants would be coming back soon.

It was a precious little kitchen scene which enticed us to buy our first dining room table, a warm wood half circle with built in storage for plates and such. We took our time and sat at the displayed table in the bright apple-green walled space and imagined ourselves in this little world. My husband even insisted on getting the same cushions for the chair as those on display because it just didn’t seem right otherwise to him.

When I moved to a bigger apartment we bought the same table model to create a larger oval table, and two more chairs. The original cushions weren’t available, so we were forced to mix and match patterns! And when we married and moved to an apartment with a real bedroom, we decided to get a real bed, alllowing the sofa bed to live out its intended purpose in the living room. Again, we chose the same warm wood as the other pieces we have in a style that reminds my husband of Little House on the Prairie. I myself was highly influenced by the crisp white linen on the display bed (successfully resisted temptation to buy said bedding!).

Five years since my first encounter I’m still rather enchanted by observing and touching the little details in the carefully created kitchens and living rooms on display in my local Ikea. This time around it was for baby that I went. I looked around the miniature world for children, with the soft colored walls and rounded edges of the cribs and shelving. To enter this section there is the normal passage and also a child-sized door cut into the wall. There were some parents with their toddlers checking the area out and it was funny to see the kids make themselves immediately at home in the different scenes. I chose a basic white crib and book shelf, part of the Hensvik series if you are curious. The names I can never commit to memory are also part of the Ikea experience.

Now I’m putting together the shelf. Much easier said than done when you have a bowling ball permanently attached to you. It’s also the first Ikea piece I’m assembling myself since my husband usually quickly takes over these “shared projects”. And as he mistakes parts from time to time and gets irritated, it usually ends up being his project as I stomp off in pouts. So far it’s going ok, but we’ll see if I really understood those pictograms well once I have to attach the final pieces together.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

another week for a TV junkie

This week was a doozy. Thirty-one hours of teaching (counting those breaks when the students do an exercise, thank god!). Not sure if I will be able to physically carry on a few extra weeks as I'd wished to do. That would allow me to stay home longer with bébé, but I might just be too tired to keep working beyond the official maternity leave date.

On nights when I am beat (and, heck, just about any other night, for that matter), hubby and I are are likely to park ourselves in front of the TV. I know we should vary our evenings a bit more, plus try to disconnect from TV more often. But when we're both barely able to sit up after a long day, we don't feel like a game of Scrabble or a heavy political discussion. We feel like watching House (or Dr. House as the French have for some unknown reason dubbed it). After watching about two seasons of it, all dubbed in French, unfortunately, we've come to see that this show pretty much follows the same pattern. I'll give you an example:

Telegenic person presents with strange symptoms- passing out in the middle of public event is the most popular. He or she is admitted and diagnosed with common disease X at the same time as the staff tries to rule out cancer. They treat the patient which relieves then aggravates symptoms. They come up with a second more obscure diagnosis. But this new diagnosis will probably require said patient to reveal infidelity, homosexuality or put their unborn's child life in danger. Or the doctors go searching this person's house and just happen to find some tiny clue which leads them to the real cause of the symptoms, e.g. the fact that their toothpaste is too old.

All that said, I do like the show a lot, and along with my other télérendezvous of the week, it helps me get by. We'll soon be approaching the summer wasteland of TV programming, so I'd better get my fill in.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another thing I like about France

Perhaps pregnancy is mellowing me, but I’m feeling a bit more comfortable in my adopted home country lately. The springy weather also helps because I can get out more and walk about. Today I went to the market in our town. It’s something I hadn’t done in ages, partially because I often work the times they have it here, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. But with no pesky Saturday classes this week, I took my little shopping bag and headed for the cobbled streets. I didn’t stop at the cheap Asian clothes racks or discount make-up that was very likely stolen from some delivery truck. At least that’s what the TV reports say. Instead I looked around the fruit and vegetable stands. It is a visual delight with all the bright colors of in-season goodies, cherry tomatoes and strawberries, leafy lettuce and peaches. Ok, maybe it’s still early for the latter. After a tour of all the prices, I got a kilo of peaches and a little bundle of green asparagus.

There are always a few merchants who call out to potential customers with things like “Hey, avocado lovers, check out these lovelies.” Sometimes they let you taste a cherry or two to entice you into buying. It certainly is more spirited than buying under the fluorescent lights of the supermarket. The British tourists seem charmed by it, too. I heard a few English conversations about whether or not to buy a kilo of this or that. Yes, like the bakeries, the market experience is certainly one of the more charming aspects of life here.

And though it’s been a bit more overcast this week, we can feel the good season is approaching. After months of wearing those winter coats, April and May have brought out the sandals (check out my friend’s blog about this) and sundresses. People immediately seem more relaxed and we can imagine ourselves already on vacation (the French pastime) as we traipse around jacket-free. My neighbors have been eating on their little terrace in the evening. No doubt summery dishes like tuna and rice and tomatoes and vinaigrette. And I’ve been lucky enough to have strawberries for dessert a few times courtesy my husband’s greenhouse (he picked the ones off the unsold plants).

I guess it’s part of what they call the “French quality of life.” Whether that compensates for poor job prospects and dismal winters, I’m not so sure. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.