Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When all the news is bad news

If you don't like messy situations that have no clear-cut answers, don't read this post.

If you don't like raw emotions that won't disappear with the flick of magic wand, don't read this post.

I still have to write it though.  Not for anyone in particular.  Not to get a pat on the back because I care.  But because I am still having trouble processing it all.

Last week another little girl's life was cut short.  The incident was brutal and it rocked France, a country small enough in terms of population to mourn these losses on a national level (whereas they are sadly more commonplace in the US, five times larger in its population).

When I heard about it the next day while driving to work, I felt tears come to my eyes immediately.  I have a little girl a few youngers than the sweet Chloé who was murdered.  But you don't have to be a mom or a parent to feel moved by something like this.  I'd say you just have to be human. 

I was shaken up for several days and said a prayer before bed for that lost little soul and her mourning family. I couldn't get the sadness of the events out of me.

Then I read something else that haunted me nearly as much.  It was about the treatment of women and girls by ISIS.  (Note: the article I read was in French but this one tells a similar story.)  I'd heard about this before, but the article confirmed again how horrific it is for females who fall under the hand of these terrorists.  They are raped, treated like objects and property.  Sold to be wives for men in this group or given as "presents".  I was sickened again. 

Somehow we identify more with one little girl than with the thousands of women and girls being treated like this.  Perhaps we can't process the sheer horror of it happening on such a grand scale.  But what's happening in Irak and Syria is just as bad.  It is setting the position of women back centuries.  It is saying that we women aren't worth anything except our bodies.

And in both cases I don't know what I can do.  I feel helpless.  And angry.  I don't want to sound anti-male, but the majority of violent crimes and sexual violence especially, are committed by men.  Why are we allowing this? 

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don't have the answers.  There is no quick fix to this kind of ugliness.  I hold tighter to my own girl and try to teach her (again) about strangers.  I hope she will know that girls are just as worthy and smart as boys and never let one boss her around.  I pray we will all stand up to oppression and bullying, be it in the schoolyard or on a global scale.

I hope we can pass tighter laws that don't let those convicted of crimes against women and children just go back on the streets to start again.  I hope that good will win against evil.  That right will eliminate wrong.  The battle is long, but we have to keep on fighting.  For Chloé and for the nameless girls in Irak and Syria.  And for our daughters.

Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.  For more information, you can check out the UN site

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Things moms say

You don't have to be a mom to appreciate these.  Chances are you heard them out of your own mom's mouth. Or maybe you find yourself using them on nieces and nephews.  It seems to be ingrained.  And once your child hits the toddler stage or even well before, you might utter a few of these.   When necessary I've included usage notes and translations. 

1. We'll see. Usage: In response to a repeated request for a toy unicorn or any small item your child can't live without.  Translation: Maybe not.  Maybe never.  I just don't have the energy to keep arguing so I'm going to give you this vague promise.
She finally did get her toy unicorn and took this picture of it.
 2. That is NOT a toy.  Translation: I've already told you not to play with that flashlight/pair of binoculars/power drill but you don't seem to understand.  I'm hoping this simple statement of the facts will make you stop, but probably not.

3. Mommy's just a bit frustrated. Usage: after a verbal blow-up.  Best accompanied by an "I'm sorry."  Translation: moms have bad days, too.  Kids need to know we're not perfect (as in "really not perfect").

4. This is the last time I ask you to do this. Translation: This is probably really the third to last time I ask you.  I've already asked five times.  Consider this as a warning that there may be a blow-up (which may lead to a #3 statement).

5. How many times do I have to tell you?  Usage: When the child still hasn't brushed her teeth/hair/put on her coat.  Translation: Like #4, there will probably be at least two more warnings.

6. One day you'll understand (when you have a strong-willed child just like you!).  Implied meaning: And I hope you'll call me and ask, how did you do it mom?
Me in my toddler years.  I only *looked* sweet and innocent.
 7. Because. The classic one-word response that says it all. Translation: I have no more reasons to give you anyway and this should suffice.  Variations: Because I said so. / Because I'm the mommy/boss.

8. I already said no.  Already asked, already answered,as this parenting advice column suggests, could be a strategy for nagging.  Translation: Please stop asking because you (should) already know the answer.

9. Alright. Usage: In my family this is the precursor to a command and J won't have any of it anymore.  She doesn't like the implied tone of "let's get down to business" and told me to no longer say "alright" at the beginning of my phrases when it's bath time. So I'm switching to "ok" or "time for your bath" etc.

10. I'm going to get angry.  Translation: In other words, you ain't seen nothin' yet.  Or, I already am angry but I've been holding it in.  Soon you'll be hearing #3. 

But the most important thing moms and dads should say is...

I love you.  No translation needed.  But it's implied in the ten statements above, because if we didn't care enough to get angry and show our kids how to behave, they'd turn into monsters who were socially unacceptable.  Dr. Spock (the baby one, not the Vulcan) backs me up on this.  So keep on lovin' and teaching them manners, but as kindly as possible. 

What did your parents always say to you?  What do you say to your kids or nieces and nephews.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

WYSI*N*WYG: What you see is NOT what you get

We have entered a new era.  The era of Internet honesty.  Call it the Facebook backlash or simply overexposure.  A few posts I've come across lately (thank you, Facebook for showing me what my other friends "like") reveal that a lot of people out there are becoming aware of the dangers of reading too much into other people's or even their own posts.  When you put your best foot forward, people don't realize that sometimes you stumble, just like the rest of us.

I don't know if it's just a fad or a real turning point in how we view and use the Internet.  Maybe it won't change much about what we post, but it could make us think twice before making snap judgements about our FB friends.  I suppose I can't really throw stones in this glasshouse that is the online world, because for seven years I've been putting many aspects of my life on display for all to see.

Maybe some people (my practical-minded husband included) don't see much point in blogging.  But for me it has meant a lot these past years.   After years of keeping paper journals, it's been a way for me to capture what's going through my head.  It's helped me keep writing, something I've enjoyed doing since I was in grade school.  And let's face it, it helps me escape from the daily grind to a fun little world of silly and sometimes serious observations.  Not to mention that it's helped me connect with some other bloggers out there.
This is just a painting, not outside as it may seem.
I do try to keep it real and not paint a picture of myself as someone I'm not.  But, again, I probably don't always show the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Which is my right, of course.  But in the interest of full disclosure, here are three key things I'd like to point out, in increasing order of importance.

1. I'm kind of a slob.  If you didn't believe me after all those previous posts, believe me now.  I often go to bed with a sink full of undone dishes.  Sometimes I put off cleaning the tub in favor of baking or blogging or having tea with friends. Don't bother running your finger over any surface in my house.  It will probably be dusty.

2.  I'm not always patient with the people in my life.  You might get the impression I worship every cute thing my little girl does.  And mostly I do.  But sometimes I growl in frustration or roll my eyes or get all-around exasperated when she drags her feet.  Same with my husband.  I'm not an all-out nag, but I sometimes have to stamp my proverbial foot and say, umm, need a bit more help with this that and the other.  And I probably could say it a tad more politely, but again, frustration accumulates.

3.  I'm moody.  I may present myself as enchanted with life's small moments and always grooving to music, but I have my melancholy moments, too.  I get in funks sometimes take a while to get out of them.  Also, I take a long long long time to forgive people.

So there you have it.  I am so not perfect.  But I think you knew that. Just remember what you read here and elsewhere is just a snippet of someone's life.  Don't judge a person by their post or status update.  Not entirely, at least.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Things you only see in France

Thank you, smartphone, for giving me the ability to snap pictures anywhere anytime.  Otherwise you, dear readers, wouldn't believe me when I told you what I have been seeing around here.  To be honest, some of these things you might see in Belgium as well, or in Europe in general.

1. Priority on the right signs.  Truly the bane of my existence since I learned to drive in France.  When you see this sign it means you have to slow down because the side street on the right has the priority. I've had many a near-miss because of this rule.  I wish they'd just put a stop sign instead.
2. Tintin slippers.  It may have been a Steven Spielberg production, but Tintin and this captain character featured on the slippers are much more popular in Europe.  It is from a comic book series.  I don't know too many grown men in the US sporting these.  They'd probably prefer Homer Simpson.
 3. Speaking of men's apparel, French guys are not afraid to wear frilly scarves.  Just check out all these scarf and shirt/jacket pairings in the men's section in Monoprix, an upscale grocery store.  It's not just a metrosexual thing here.  I dare you to show me one Alabama boy wearing this style.
With a manly leather jacket.

I swear this was in the men's section.

Fresh summer sailor look.

4. Women of a certain age (as the French expression goes) might wear one of these smocks for cleaning.  You might see a lady cleaning her front stoop and pouring out the soapy water in this type of apron.
 5.   Here's a pun you can't make in English.  "Bio" is the abbreviation for "biologique" meaning organic.  This is an organic cotton shirt so the designers went with a punny expression.
6. People lining up to buy lottery tickets on Friday the 13th.  This is a newsstand that sells lottery tickets in the grocery store shopping center.  In France this day is considered lucky by many.  In the US it's associated with horror movies and bad luck. Since I recently had a fender bender on Friday the 13th, I'm thinking my American side must be winning (or should I say losing) out.
 7. Micro-sidewalks.  Two people can barely walk on this.  Don't even try pushing a stroller!  The two lines of brick in the middle are actually the gutter.
8. Microcars. My sister called these "baby cars" when she first came to visit me in  2003.  I still have to stop and stare at them sometimes. These particular ones are called "voitures sans permis" which means you don't need a license to drive them.  They must be easy to park, at least!

 9. April Fool's fish?!  Juliette was busy Tuesday night cutting out and decorating paper fish to put on the back of her unwitting classmates and teachers with a little piece of scotch tape.  When people tell you a fake story on April 1st it's called a "poisson d'avril," literally an April fish.  Maybe like a "fish story"?  Bakeries will also make a sweet flaky pastry in the shape of a fish for this day.
10. Food trucks that sell "French" hamburgers.  For all their love of using English words and even opening retro-themed diners, the French always want to have the last word regarding food.  I guess that's why this "food truck" wants to specify that their burgers are "français", oui, merci!  Whatever that means exactly.

And one more for the road... probably my pet peeve as an English teacher: the misuse of apostrophes.  The French do it to seem more English.  But it just ends up looking very French.  I guess it's their revenge for us making all those "Le bag" bags in the 80s.