Friday, January 29, 2010

Eighteen months

I used to think it was funny how parents said their children were 21 months old. Why not just say nearly two? But now I see that there can be a world of difference between, say, fifteen and eighteen months in terms of development. More than that though, I suspect parents prefer to count in months to keep their children small, at least in their minds. Because it does indeed go by so fast!

Last week Juliette marked the eighteen-month milestone. She’s a walking, babbling little creature. I sometimes squat down to her size, tucking my knees under my chin, to see the world from her perspective. It would be fun to keep her at this mini-me size, but of course she must grow up and become a big girl.

She’s starting to understand us and if we say, “bring me my shoes”, she’ll go and get them happily (by this I’m not advocating child slavery). At Tata’s, she’ll do the same when she asks her in French to fetch the smaller baby’s shoes. If I ask her for a hug or kiss, she’ll (usually) do it.

All those toys she got at Christmas seem to keep her occupied only two seconds before she switches to another activity. And after the Ikea and toy catalogs, now it’s the Oprah magazines (thanks, Crystal) which really captivate her. The desperate cry for “baby, baby” means she wants us to sit with her and find the few ads with babies and animals in America’s favorite talk show host’s magazine. I’ve been able to read bits and pieces of articles in between the constant page turning. Her first crush may be on Dr. Phil at this rate.

Her vocabulary is growing fast these days, and I’m still tickled when she catches on to the English words. Since I last charted her progress, there are lots of new additions, including: ducky, doggy, stuck (well, it’s more like "tuck"), diaper, key, chee(se). She startled an old man at the grocery store by shouting at “chee” when were in that very aisle. There’s something resembling shopping, all done (all dumb), flower, up (which also means down for her), dirty, "la la" for light and probably a few others I’ve forgotten. You’ll hear a few on this video. Just yesterday she said her first “oh, la la” while the sitter and I were saying this famous French expression for some reason or another. Milk, however, is always the French baby word “lo-lo”. I guess there are some things I can’t change, at least not now.

So happy year and a half, little one. We’re so proud of you and we love you to pieces.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Picture of the week

IN: the expression "barely bigger than a baguette"
OUT: the expression "knee-high to a grasshopper"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Parenting from the other side of the planet

I thought about saying “from another planet altogether”. There are just moments when I wonder why the French seem so very different in terms of basic parenting guidelines. From the very beginning of my pregnancy it seemed the rules were different here. There were special things to watch out for that one wouldn’t even need to be careful about in the US (e.g. eating unpasteurized cheese). And even the list of things to bring to the hospital had terms that seemed more foreign than they should have been, like the famous gigoteuse, or sleeping sack. Apparently these little baby sleeping bags that strap around their shoulders are also becoming popular in the US, but they’re still very much a European custom at the moment.

When comparing the eating recommendations here with what US moms are doing, I saw yet more differences. Here once babies who are eating solids they often get yogurts after meals, whereas in the US it might be more a bottle of milk. It’s not really surprising considering how much the French love their dairy products. The yogurt aisle is huge here. And whereas my mom sends me all these fun finger foods for toddlers, I can’t find any ready-made stuff like that in my French supermarché. A look at the flavors of prepared baby food jars one can get here reveals some very French-style eating: leek and potato soup for babies, veal/rice/zucchini mix, ratatouille, vegetables and gruyere cheese soup, milk with pain au chocolat flavor. Yes, all that for babies! Back in the US I was tickled to see flavors like sweet potatoes, yellow squash, and pumpkin and banana mixed together.

But it seems that discipline may be the area where the Yanks and the Frenchies differ the most. At least depending on whom you ask. We are entering the dangerous time of tantrums and testing the parents at every opportunity with our little Juliette. She seems to be quite precocious for things like saying “no” and pouting when she doesn’t get her way. I’m a little reassured to know it’s this way with most babies her age. What’s harder is how to deal with it. As a first-time mom, of course, I seek advice. Folks from my mother-in-law’s generation say things like, ”Yell louder than her.” But after a bit of thought this seemed to be counterproductive. Wouldn’t she just yell again? Would she think the one who had the loudest voice could always win in life? I agree that babies pick up on tone of voice, but I don’t want to go hoarse after two hours of telling her “no”. And I don’t think that constant hand-slapping or spankings are the way either. I’d rather reserve this for a big no-no like running too close to the street. Too much physical discipline just conditions the child to this type of punishment and isn’t effective in the long run.

So I was relieved to hear my pediatrician say some similar things when I finally asked him how to deal with Tantrum Girl. Granted, he’s sort of a hippie doctor, but his advice was to ignore those tantrums and not “play” on her territory. Babies are trying to communicate with their parents but we must show them we don’t use this type of “talk”. Time-outs are good, too, he said. So now her playpen has become part time-out place, part toy chest for the mountain of stuff she’s accumulating. And as for the refusal to eat some things, he agreed that forcing was no good. The child’s becoming independent and the moment we try to force again, things can go sour. Of course, I’m sure all this advice comes with an unspoken “go with the flow and find a balance” clause.

The tough part is knowing what that balance is. Dr. Spock still hasn’t written the chapter telling parents “how to chill out”. I think I’ll suggest that for the next edition. Along with one on parenting in exotic places like France.

Because expats need other expats

I’ve always been the type of person who likes to see what other folks are doing. I need the reassurance they’re doing some of the same things as me. It’s even truer now that I live abroad. Judging by the amount of time I can spend reading other expat blogs and web sites, I definitely need that confirmation that others have been there, done that. It can make me feel less alone. So here’s a shout-out at the Expat Women’s site, which helps you do just that. They’re now three years old and they put out a lot of upbeat material on women living abroad. I especially liked the article about dealing with your perfectionist personality, written by an Australian expat. She said that being too perfectionist about cleaning, for example, can lead to “an immaculate mediocrity”. That is, spending all that time to have a super clean house leaves you no time to stand out in other areas. This is advice I can take.

So excuse me while I don’t mop and instead read a few more blogs…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Keeping it in perspective

Perspective will always be something in short supply for me. This week there have been lots of wake-up calls to try and remind me that I’m just one little person on this crazy planet, but still I falter.

Monday night Remi came home with flowers. But not for me. He had to make a flower arrangement for a funeral the next day for a twenty-year old girl. It shook me up to think of those white roses and pink gerber daisies that would be out in the cold the next day to honor this brief life.

And on that same day Tata Marie’s husband had to go back to the clinic as he was having trouble breathing. Unfortunately the cancer’s he’s been battling for four years is weakening him. Tata tries to be so strong, and she is, but I see it gets to her some days.

Then Wednesday morning I woke up to hear about more tragedy on a larger scale in Haiti after the horrendous earthquake there.

Wednesday also brought more snow and a chance of sleet, so I decided not to go to a workshop an hour and a half away that I was supposed to attend. The night before I’d been irritable trying to print out my rough drafts for this and was short with Juliette as she wanted up in my lap again and again as I was on the computer. And then I felt bad for yelling at her when she went into tantrum mode. Why hadn’t all those more important life lessons struck a chord? Why was I still sweating the “small stuff”? What would it take to make me stress less for good?

Around 9 that night she woke crying and I went in her room to rock her back to sleep. Her breathing became regular quickly and her body was heavy with sleep in my arms. I silently apologized again to my baby for being in a bad mood.

And like everyday that I “fall off the wagon” I promise that the next day I’ll try to remember those life lessons. Better luck next time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Week In France

Field reporter Milam here. The first full week of the year has come and gone. At moments it seemed like I was just surviving it, despite a small number of hours actually spent working. Tuesday I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. since I needed to get baby to the sitter’s by seven and myself to work by 8. Remi’s car was acting up so he didn’t want to risk taking her and breaking down in the cold.

Oh, the cold. It has come back after our brief week of “mild” temperatures. And Thursday morning there was snow on the ground again. I drove to work in the dark (it’s still dark here till 8 a.m. or so) and fog. The snow is still a novelty to me and I’ve enjoyed pretending I’m from Massachusetts or one of those other areas of the world where they routinely deal with snow. Do the people from these parts feel superior to the others because they can navigate through snow? After a while you want to get out and there’s a sense of pride of overcoming the elements (as long as the roads are sanded, that is).

We had to get out Tuesday anyway for Juliette’s second dose of the famous vaccine. She cried again, of course, but at least now it’s over. The French government wishes they could say the same. They’re dealing with some major fall-out since they ordered over 90 million doses of the vaccine for their population of about 60 million people. Why? Because at the time they ordered, the recommendations were for a two-dose system, whereas now that’s only the case for children, not adults. Plus, they didn’t count on the French being so very anti-vaccine. Now the government is trying to sell some of the excess doses (apparently Egypt has bought some) and hopes to cancel the remaining orders they have with pharmaceutical companies. Ditto for all the face masks they ordered.

They must be glad there are other news stories this week, like the annual winter sales period. Along with July it’s one of the only two official times when stores can really mark down items considerably (or so they say). Feeling the contradictory need to buy in order to save money, we ventured out this morning in caps, scarves and gloves to check out the deals. We were a bit disappointed not to find super savings, but we did get a few things. Some ballerina style house slippers for me, some clothes for Juliette and a coat for Remi.


(The outfit's still a bit big on her now.)

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

Friday, January 1, 2010

January Schmanuary

I’d somehow forgotten that in France New Year’s is a big deal. On Wednesday I went to the supermarket and had to navigate through the crowds of people buying loads of seafood and specialty cheeses. Here the New Year’s Eve/Day meal is almost as big as the Christmas Eve/Day meal. Except there are no presents. Just a million wishes from everyone you see: bonne année, bonne santé (happy new year, good health).

Personally, I’m not crazy about New Year’s. It’s kind of a let-down after Christmas. In my mind December is that cozy midnight blue sky with twinkling lights and all the colors of the Christmas tree. And then there is January. Just white, like the new pages of the calendar. A blank that will soon be filled with the ho-hum routine of work. Somehow we limp through January and get to the rest of the year. But boy is it tough.

Maybe another reason I don’t like New Year’s is that there are these expectations that things should be better, and that I should actively do something to make them better. Whereas I’m lazy and would really like good things to just happen to me. Making resolutions is probably a good idea, but, like many, I never seem to keep them. I always say I’ll try to be more positive and worry less. I might as well say I’ll keep on being negative and give myself a stomach ulcer.

But no, seriously, I’m gonna try to take better care of myself. Maybe some more exercise, as this is good for you both physically and mentally. And just the little things like using a nice night cream on my face and taking a bit more pride in my appearance instead of just throwing on whatever is clean. Being a mom isn’t an excuse for not being a little girly now and then.

I won’t make any more resolutions for fear of not keeping them. But in general I hope to take things a little less seriously and be kinder to myself and others. Let’s hope this lasts till February at least.

Happy New Year- Get your Black-eyed Peas Here

As promised, here's Juliette's homage to the Black Eyed Peas. I saved it for January 1st 'cause in the South they say you have to eat these on New Year's. For prosperity, according to Wikipedia. Let's hope we'll all have as much energy as JuJu in 2010!