This is a quick one following on from yesterday’s post about how kids hate shut doors and you can kiss goodbye to ever poo-ing in peace. Today I came across this picture that someone sent me a while back. It sums it up perfectly …
I went to a baby shower a few weeks back. All the people there were already parents so one of the activities was that we write out our lessons learned and this meant that the new, first-time mom wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
‘Yay!’ I exclaimed with a clap of my hands because I love giving advice and people are unfortunately rarely open to receiving it. I hunched over my paper and scribbled away. I wrote and wrote. Then I put up my hand and said, ‘I need more paper’.
It’s been a while since I blogged on the topic ‘things I have learned so far’ since having Megan. I vaguely remember I got to part 7, which if I wrote everything down that she has taught me, should actually be about Part 107. Ok, here’s part 8…
If you want honesty, ask a 21-month-old’s opinion
The other day, I noticed my teeth are slightly discoloured, like a little bit yellow. This freaked me out because, while I don’t have time for fancy grooming, I still care about basic personal hygiene. I don’t want to have smoker’s teeth when I don’t even smoke.
I examined myself in the mirror and then asked Alastair for his assessment, ‘Hmmm, yes. They are slightly discoloured. They’re not as pearly white as they could be. But I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out so don’t worry about it.’
I felt I needed a second, more honest opinion.
‘Megsie’, I interrupted Megan who was arranging plastic vegetables on her bedroom carpet. ‘What colour are Mommy’s teeth?’
I bared my teeth at her.
‘Lallo,’ she said.
I immediately called the oral hygienst. If Megan says my teeth are yellow (‘lallo’), then they must surely be yellow.
No more afternoon playdates
I am not inviting people round for afternoon playdates again. This is new stance is not going to help me on my quest to find a BFF in Switzerland but so be it.
Guaranteed, without fail, whenever I invite anyone round for a playdate at 14h30 or 15h00ish, I get an sms. Will be 15 minutes late. Johnny sleeping! What follows is then a series of messages from the mom saying she will be arriving later and then later because Johnny still hasn’t woken up.
I get it that we moms, who are often catatonic with exhaustion, could easily blow the brains out of anyone who wakes a sleeping child. It seems like sacrilege whenever I am forced to wake Megan up. But, on the other hand, I am tired of my afternoon plans being at the mercy of little Johnny’s rhythms.
I reply, ‘No problem. Come when you can’ because how else am I to respond? Eventually the mom pitches for afternoon tea at 16h00 when the scones I prepared for 14h30 are ice-cold and I have lost my mojo. I confided my frustration to someone who said her friend once arrived for afternoon tea at 17h30.
It’s great for my friends that little Johnny is sleeping so long. The mom can surf the internet or finish the laundry. But while their Johnny is napping through the afternoon, my Megan is swinging from the chandeliers. I am reluctant to leave the house or start an activity with her because the person sends an sms every 15 minutes to say they are sure to be at my house in another 15 minutes.
It is better to arrange afternoon meet ups at the park or some neutral location. If the person is late, that’s no problem because Megan can burn herself out on the slide and swings while we wait.
Keep control of the electronics
Sometimes, when I need to make a call, my phone says, ‘iPhone disabled for the next 7 minutes’ and I know Meggie has been at it again. She disabled wifi on my cell phone. She also activated sticky keys on my Macbook and it took me over an hour to figure out how to turn it off again.
She rang a friend of mine who said he just heard heavy breathing at the end of the line. She skype messaged my old work colleague with hgdgdgduaa5%^^. She miss-called a family friend who is currently in the middle of the Appalachian Trail in the USA. The other day I set up a baby-friendly, educational app on the iPad to amuse her for 5 minutes while I washed the dishes. When I returned, she was sliding her index fingers across the screen and watching a video clip in Hindi on YouTube.
It may give you 5 minutes peace to let a baby fiddle with the electronics but you must be careful because, before you know it, you will find that your keyboard is disabled or you’ve been billed for random data you’ve supposedly downloaded off the internet.
Goodbye personal space
Ever since we got married, Alastair’s rule has been that the toilet is his space for peace and privacy. This was initially difficult for me to understand as I grew up in a tiny house with one toilet and no one enjoyed the luxury of ever doing his or her business at a leisurely pace.
When you have a baby, the line disappears. There is no personal space. Alastair has taken forever to cotton on to this. I’ve been telling him for ages to GIVE IT UP. Megan is drawn to the shut door like a moth to a flame. She huffs and puffs outside it and demands to be let in.
Alastair has whimpered from the bathroom asking us girls to please, for goodness sake, give him a few moment’s privacy and has questioned why it is necessary for us all to be in the bathroom at the same time or hold family conferences while he’s on the loo.
Obviously you must still maintain some important boundaries but I have discovered through personal experience and discussions with friends that, when you have children, the bathroom becomes like a busy train station concourse and the days of reading a book on the throne are long gone.
My American friend Sarah is married to a Frenchman. She said that their biggest cultural challenge is food. Her husband can’t stand the way Americans/Anglophones eat. Both the food itself (glasses of milk for kids, sugary and processed foods, obsession with fat-free/low-fat products) and the approach to eating (constant snacking, children’s fussiness, rushed mealtimes, eating in front of the TV) is, in his opinion and I quote, ‘absolute bullshit’. So, my friend is compromising and is trying to feed her family the French way.
‘What does that mean?’ I asked.
‘Well, the kids eat the same food as us. We always eat together at the dining room table and dinner is a leisurely affair. We always have at least three courses, which is typically French. The starter is usually salad such as a green salad, carrot vinaigrette, tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, sliced radishes or chopped beetroot. The main meal or plat principale is, at minimum, some meat, a starch and a vegetable of colour. We don’t always have a sweet dessert. More often that not, we end off with cheeses or yoghurt. We only drink water at meal times. We don’t drink juice or milk, just water.’
Her 3 year-old daughter has sampled an array of cheeses. She is ok with blue cheese but prefers gorgonzola. A three year-old who eats soft, stinky cheeses! Wow.
Every week, Megan’s crèche puts the menu up on the wall and it blows me away. There are always multiple courses and it reads more like a table d’hôte restaurant menu for adults. I can’t believe these children eat exotic stuff such as bok choy, endives and fennel. Before I moved to Switzerland, I didn’t even know what fennel was but kids here have it as a staple.
Why is it that most French children in the crèche accept this type of food but there is no way my 21-month old Megsie Moo will allow a radish or camembert to pass through her lips? Why does Megan refuse even mild tasting foods such as cucumber, apples and bananas? Why are Anglophone kids so fussy and French kids are generally not?
For a while, I noticed that the French have a different approach to food compared to us Anglophones. Kids don’t dictate how and what they will eat. I think the French way is fabulous and I want to phase it into the Surycz household.
I’ve lost control of Megan food-wise. I bust myself cooking home-cooked, unprocessed, nonindustrial meals and she generally refuses to try a simple spoonful. She shuts her mouth like a trapdoor and shakes her head.
She prefers roaming round the kitchen in her bib, rummaging through the grocery cupboard or beelining to the drawer that contains the pureed fruit pouches. She looks over at me, points at them and barks like a seal, ‘urh-urh-urh’ while I sit on her mini-chair with my knees next to my ears, shake my head and coax her back to the table. The other day, in a blinding rage because I wouldn’t give her any of Alastair’s Country Crisp Muesli with dehydrated strawberries, she flung my Pyrex measuring jug on the floor and it shattered into a million pieces.
I beg her to sit down like a little lady. I would like to tie her to a chair but her highchair days are over. I feed her on my lap so I can help her focus. I beg her to eat just one more spoonful of Mommy’s lovely stew. I do it all gently and lovingly so as not to enrage my little princess and put her off completely. It’s all very ‘Your Royal Highness, please would you sample my fare’ and as I do it, I think, ‘This is total nonsense. I am the mother. She should eat the food I serve.’
My friend Jessica is half-French, half-American and grew up in France. She is shocked at how Anglophone kids snack all the time. I’ve noticed this too. Expat children are permanently grazing. Megan sometimes eats more during snacktime than she does at meals. She thinks life is a permanent buffet. She is always urh-urh-urhing for a ricecake, a fruit pouch, a biscuit or some little tidbit. French kids know that there are four times to eat during the day – breakfast, lunch, a snack at about 15h30 (called gouter) and dinner. If you are hungry in between, that’s tough and you must wait for the next meal.
The French believe that children should learn proper eating habits early on. Adults shouldn’t snack between meals, so neither should they. I have countless Anglophone friends whose children have subsisted on bread or yoghurt or cereal for months on end because they refuse to swallow anything else. An Anglophone friend disguises vegetables in kid-friendly recipes. French parents generally don’t make such concessions. Children should eat vegetables like adults. And they do!
So, how do the French enforce such compliance? They don’t. They are firm but there is no threatening and no force-feeding. Parents encourage children to at least try everything and, if they don’t like the taste of something, there are no substitutes. They start this from the very beginning. I have read a few French articles that say you need to offer a child a new food at least 10 times before they get into it.
Last night my French teacher and I discussed the French approach to eating and he said it is normal to have multiple courses at a meal. Food is about fun, pleasure and socializing. He said meal times are sacred in France/Switzerland and that is why businesses and shops are closed from midday to about 13h30 because you are supposed to cook a proper meal and sit down and eat it with your family or friends. It is general practice to always eat meals together as a family and never on your lap in the lounge. He said it is rare in France to grab a sandwich on the run or eat at your desk.
I’ve read two books on eating which are written by Anglophones living in France. I highly recommend Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything and Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food. When I first read these books, I thought they were pie-in-the-sky but I have seen first-hand that French/Swiss children have better eating habits than the Anglophone ones.
The French are not perfect. They could learn things from us Anglophones about friendliness, positive thinking and good customer service. But they have got this food thing waxed. No question.
I got this list of French food rules off Karen Le Billon’s website: