Thursday, 13 April 2017

A Fortnight of Firsts

"Just think," UFM said to SCB as we sat on the runway with the engines of the plane starting to throb, "you're nine months old and you're going to fly for the first time. When I did that, I was 25 years old!"

I was a bit nervous about our first experience of taking a baby on a plane, but in fact everything went very smoothly. SCB was not keen on sitting still on my lap at first, but having scarcely napped all day, cried for a couple of minutes after take off and then fell asleep for most of the rest of the flight.

And so our first trip to Scotland as a family of three got off to a good start. Slightly less good was the fact that SCB was carsick four times on the 45 minute drive from the airport to my parents' house - clearly we were being optimistic about the fact that this might have improved since the last time. As a result, we weren't as adventurous about going on lots of trips as we might have been, but the last ten days have nevertheless been packed with other fun "firsts".

We had lunch in Edinburgh with my best friend from university and her baby, who I had never met. We chose the Morningside area, as it's yummy-mummy-ville and therefore full of nice cafés for mums and babies who lunch - the place we chose even had babyfood pouches on the menu, as well as numerous highchairs available. Taking advantage of having a ratio of three devoted adults to one baby, we took SCB swimming for the first time, which she absolutely loved. She also had her first ever play in a swing park and adored the swings (possibly surprising, given the aforementioned carsickness!).

Over the weekend, we ticked off another country, with a trip over the border to the Northumberland coast in the north-east of England. I had been when I was little but didn't have many memories of the area, and I was surprised by both how rural and how beautiful it was. There are lots of long, sandy beaches and historic castles. We were lucky that the sun shone the whole time we were there, so SCB had both her first picnic and her first paddle in the sea ... wrapped up in a warm coat in true British style!

And, for the first time in a long time, I'm feeling quite reluctant to go back to France tomorrow. Normally I enjoy seeing friends and family and reconnecting with home but I'm usually equally happy to get back to my "real" life on the other side of the Channel. This time, despite the fact that I'm very happy with my French life at the moment, I have this feeling that everything from spending time with friends to getting out of the house when you live in a third floor flat with no lift, is so much more effort. Hopefully some nice sunny weather and the prospect of lots of lovely bank holidays will be enough to change my mind when we get back!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Feeding a Baby the French Way (sort of )

Since the French are often held to be the world experts on eating well (and according to some, also on bringing up children!), I was interested to see what the advice would be when we moved SCB on to solid foods.

Confusing, would appear to be the answer.

To be fair, the guidelines in the carnet de santé are fairly straightforward. Fruit, vegetables and meat can be given from 4 months and should definitely be given from 6 months. Most cereals can and should be given from 8 months. (The exception is baby rice, which is possible from 4 months but never actually recommended.) For most things, there should be a gradual progression from purée to lumpier textures and then solid pieces.

Go beyond the carnet de santé, however, and the simplicity stops. My GP, despite the fact that SCB didn't start solids until nearly 6 months old, said that she should have a month of nothing but vegetables, followed by a month of nothing but fruit, then a little bit of meat, and finally carbohydrates. When I asked about quantities, he said, "Oh, just use the jars. They're very good." Laurence Pernoud, meanwhile, keeps suggesting putting baby rice and even purée into bottles of formula. From other research I knew that the most important nutrients to introduce for exclusively breastfed babies were zinc and iron, while baby rice is mostly full of empty calories and apparently arsenic too, so I wasn't too keen to follow either of their advice!

In the UK, the NHS advice is to begin solids when the baby shows certain signs of readiness which generally appear around six months. There is less emphasis on the order, although it is suggested to start with fruit and vegetables, and giving finger foods early on is recommended. Baby Led Weaning is also very popular. In France BLW (DME, la diversification menée par l'enfant) is almost unheard of - the only time I ever heard it mentioned was at meetings of La Leche League, and even there it wasn't common.

In the end, we did a mixture of what the carnet de santé recommends along with some finger foods as per the NHS advice. We were a bit more lax about the order we introduced things, but with hindsight I'm not sure that was a good idea, as I suspect some of the terrible nights we had in the 7th month were due to poor digestion. At the same time, SCB was clearly hungry for solid food by this point, so I'm glad we didn't try to feed her on nothing but fruit and vegetable purée for two months! I've read elsewhere that the World Health Organisation recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for six months is largely due to the risk of food poisoning in developing countries, and that introducing certain foods before that can reduce the risk of allergies, so perhaps the answer is to start a little earlier, but with smaller quantities. Unfortunately, whatever country you're in, it seems that nobody is totally sure what's correct (or if they are, they're probably being contradicted by official advice from elsewhere), so it's very hard to know.

Three months on, however, we have settled into a nice little routine. SCB has cereal and fruit for breakfast, then mashed up vegetables, carbohydrate and protein for lunch. With the nanny, she has some yoghurt because she isn't having as much milk. She has more fruit in the afternoon, then dinner is a bit more random, as it depends how hungry or tired she is whether she'll eat much or not. I liked the idea of BLW/finger foods, but I find if she does nothing but feed herself for a meal, she'll eat very little and most of it will end up on the floor, so we tend to give her bits and pieces to munch before or alongside the spoon feeding.

I guess only time will tell whether she ends up needing to drink Perrier after meals to help her digestion like a true French person or whether she'll have British-style insides that can stomach a big fry-up for breakfast ...

(Just in case you missed the link earlier, the Science of Mom blog has lots of interesting reading about studies relating to infant nutrition and other aspects of parenting.)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Recently we have mostly been ...

Enjoying the springtime. The flowers are out, the blossom is on the trees and it's daylight in the mornings, meaning that I can now take the scenic route to work and breathe in less exhaust fumes. My new routine is super-healthy, as I'm fitting in an hour of walking every day. It makes a nice change from spending hours on the RER.

Getting more sleep. SCB is now on three meals a day and is doing much better at night, so juggling work, sleep and looking after her is much easier than it was a month or so ago. She's started to pull herself up on the furniture and wants to walk, though, so keeping up with her is becoming another form of daily exercise for us!

Worrying about politics. Between Brexit and the upcoming presidential elections, there's a lot of significant change going on, and it doesn't feel like a good time to be an international family. While we're happy in France at the moment, UFM and I have always agreed that living in the UK would be an option for us in the future, and Brexit could make that much more difficult. SCB and I, as British citizens could move there whenever we wanted to, but to bring a foreign spouse, you have to prove that you can support them with a minimum income of more than £18 000, so if UFM was to come with us, one or both of us would need to find jobs before we arrived. It makes me so angry that Brexiters claim to be making life better for British people, when in fact for many of us, significant rights will potentially be eroded. And if Le Pen gets her way in France, similar things could happen here.

I'm very admiring of some of my American friends who since Trump's election have become extremely politically active and are fighting hard against every policy they disagree with, but, not living in my home country and having limited voting rights in France, I'm still looking for ways to take similar action myself. In the meantime, here's hoping that the French make better choices than the British did come April!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Parisian Public Transport with a Baby

When we lived in the centre of Paris, I quickly figured out that the easiest way to get around with a baby was to use a sling or baby carrier. Shops are narrow, pavements are busy, and accessing the metro almost always requires you to go up or down some stairs. Any time I took the pram, I felt encumbered and awkward, while with the carrier, I was light of foot and free, with the added bonus of permanent baby cuddles, better baby napping and no screaming fits on public transport.

SCB is bigger now though, and too heavy to carry for long on my front. Our Manduca carrier can also be used on your back, but it's not as good for napping because the baby's head isn't supported, so we now use the buggy more of the time.

It's been quite a learning experience. Our buggy is fairly lightweight, but it's not tiny, as we bought it when SCB was 3 months old and still needed one with a lying down position. (Tiny lie-flat buggies do exist, but they cost a LOT of money. With hindsight, if we were still living in Paris, I would say it would be a worthwhile investment though.) I can carry buggy + baby up a flight of stairs if needed, but together they weigh 16 kilos, so I would rather not! The buggy won't fit through the standard entrances in the metro, and as SCB can't stand by herself yet, I can't really take her out, fold the buggy and get us all through. It is possible to put in on an escalator, but you're not supposed to, and it never feels very safe.

So here is what I've learned about Parisian public transport when you need to bring your wheels:

- 90% of the RER A and B are pushchair and wheelchair accessible, with lifts from street to platform level and wide gates in the stations. You have to know where to find the lifts though - at La Défense, for example, you practically have to walk off the platform and into the tunnel, following a very discreet sign. Also, the lifts are frequently under maintenance, and there is only one at each station.

- The metro is very hit or miss. As well as surprising mini flights of stairs even in stations which have some lifts, there are lines where some stations have wide gates and others don't. Only the line 14, as far as I know, is completely accessible.

- Most (maybe all) buses have a buggy space next to the wheelchair area. This works well as long as there isn't another buggy already occupying the place (which there might well be, as none of them are on the metro!). Also, these spaces aren't big enough for some prams, as I found out to my cost early in my career as a Parisian maman , when I attempted an unplanned bus journey with a Maxi-Cosy car seat attachment.

- The tramway is by far the easiest form of transport to use, as everything is at street level and there's loads of space in the carriages. It's great if you need to go somewhere around the edges of the city.

So, it can all be a bit unpredictable. Every time I go into the city centre now, I think about people in wheelchairs and how on earth they cope. If everything worked the way it was supposed to, you could probably plan a way of getting most places, but I don't know what would happen if you got off the train at a station only to find that the lift was out of order. I believe there is an interphone system that people in wheelchairs can use to ask for help - I really hope it works! (There is more information about public transport for wheelchair users here.)

On the plus side, in my experience, people are really nice about offering to help you. The other week I was at Nation and all the lifts AND the escalators were closed, but a nice man waited at every flight of stairs between street level and the RER platform to give me a hand.

Thursday, 23 February 2017


A few weeks ago, we went through a phase which was really hard. While in theory I was feeling good about being back at work and also having time at home with SCB, in practice I was exhausted. For long and complicated reasons, the days I was working, SCB was waking up multiple times in the night, then the weekend would roll around, UFM and I would spend it both being tired and grumpy, then just when we started to settle into a normal routine, it was time for me to go to work again and the whole thing would start all over again.

Luckily, I then had a few days off. Luckily, the sun then came out and we went for some nice long walks with the buggy. And on one of these walks, I realised that obsessing about sleep and feeding routines was taking up far too much of my thoughts when there were so many things I should have been enjoying. I made a point, when people asked how SCB was doing, of talking about the super-speedy commando crawling, and her big smiles when she comes and finds you in another room all by herself, and about the fact that she now says "Ma-ma-ma" and "Da-da-da", and when she is particularly satisfied with something she's doing, "Ah-boo!"

I stopped mentioning the lack of sleep.

And suddenly, everything just seemed to click into place. She started eating three meals a day. We would hear her beginning to wake in her cot in the night, then she would just go back to sleep. One morning, we all had a lie-in until 9 o'clock. UFM and I had the energy to talk to each other again.

I'm not such a believer in the power of positive thinking that I would claim that a simple change of mindset could cause all this, but it does go to show that with babies, it's often best just to roll with a situation, because everything will sort itself out in the end.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

In which I suspect I give my non-Frenchness away once again

It's one of the classic lessons to be learned when you move to France from less stylish lands: you never ever leave the house looking scruffy, not even just to pop out to the bakery for your Sunday morning baguette. (As Sarah Turnbull's partner explains to her in Almost French, "It is not nice for the baker" to see you looking a mess.) In my previous life, I would never have gone so far as to leave the house in my pyjamas (that is not nice for my pyjamas, which are supposed to stay clean)  but I would definitely have nipped to the shops in tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie if that was the quickest thing to put on.

One way of avoiding going to the shops at all, of course, is to have your shopping delivered, which is a particularly essential service when you have a baby and no car. In fact, when you're at home with a baby all day and just getting out of the house is a huge mission, somebody coming to refill your kitchen cupboards with no effort whatsoever on your part feels almost like a special treat and you forget that you paid with it all on your credit card the day before.

We normally get our deliveries from Auchan. They usually have slots available soon after you place the order and unless it's an evening slot, they tend to arrive at the beginning rather than the end, so you aren't left waiting for ages. They have a reasonable range of products (although not nearly as much as you would find in the actual shop), including the brand of  (more) environmentally friendly nappies that we like. If you buy five baby products, the delivery is free if you enter the code POUR_MON_BEBE, and they also do free delivery for pregnant women. Auchan used to deliver in cardboard boxes which you could either recycle yourself or send back with the delivery people for them to recycle, but they've recently switched to plastic bags. These are also supposedly recyclable, but nowhere I've ever lived in France accepts plastic bags for recycling, so I suspect a lot end up in the normal rubbish. Another drawback is that if you do your shopping at popular times, they tend to run out of certain products.

We've also tried using Carrefour a few times, but despite the fact that this is my favourite supermarket when I go to the shop myself, I've never got on with them for deliveries. You usually have to wait several days for a slot, and the last time I had to contact customer services after they sent us meat that was about to go out of date, they took weeks to get back to me.

This week, Auchan were switching over to a new version of their site and I only discovered after I had spent 45 minutes filling the basket on the old site that I wasn't going to be able to pay for it or transfer it to the new site, so I took the huff and did my shopping at Super U instead. They appeared to have a good range of products, but when the shopping actually arrived, there were a lot of substitutions and omissions. Super U did well on eco-friendly packaging, with everything delivered in strong paper bags, and even the fruit coming in those biodegradable plastic ones. (They don't do eco nappies though.) Another plus was that the shopping arrived sharply at the beginning of the eight o'clock delivery slot.

This meant, however, that we were up but not actually dressed when the buzzer sounded. I wonder how much of a cultural faux pas it is to let the supermarket delivery man see you in your pyjamas?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Experiences of Breastfeeding Part 2

This morning, I took SCB to the doctor for her monthly checkup. As usual, he started off by asking me about feeding and I explained that she is still breastfed as well as now having her solid foods.

And, as usual, he went on to tell me exactly how many millilitres of milk she should be having and in what size of bottles throughout the day.

This has been going on since we started seeing this doctor in September. He's friendly, he's well-qualified and his surgery is just around the corner from where we live, which is why I keep going there. He's also never been anything but positive about the fact that I'm still breastfeeding. But after every appointment, I leave feeling as if we have a massive communication problem. It's as if the information I'm giving him is so far from what he's expecting that it just doesn't compute, so he gives out whatever advice he had prepared in his head anyway.

I was even more conscious of the gap between his advice and reality this time around, as I had been sitting in the waiting room reading a leaflet about sleep which claimed that "after the age of 3 months, babies do not need to eat at night". This may or may not be true for formula-fed babies, but for breastfed babies it's terrible advice. Not only is night feeding totally normal and often necessary, breastmilk contains substances which help the baby to sleep, while the act of nursing releases hormones which make the mother feel drowsy too. Studies have even shown that breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep than formula-feeding parents because, although they are woken more often, they also get back to sleep more quickly.

A big part of me feels that all of this is very wrong. I should be able to get advice from my GP on how best to feed my baby in the biologically normal way.  Public health advice should support breastfeeding, not sabotage it, as the sleep leaflet was likely to do.

But I guess on the other hand, the vast majority of women are winding down breastfeeding by 3 months and would like their babies to sleep through the night as they are often going back to work, so perhaps the numbers affected by this are very small. Nobody has ever said anything negative to me about the fact that SCB is still nursing at 8 months old, but people are surprised and usually ask if it's not too tiring. (Answer: yes, I'm tired, but not because of making milk!)

It's an interesting contrast with the UK though, where despite the fact that most people are giving at least some bottles by 3 months and certainly by 6, healthcare workers are not even allowed to give advice on bottle feeding as it's seen as promotion of formula milk.

Luckily, I have enough confidence about what I'm doing that I mostly just ignore the GP's advice. I've got lots of friends to share experiences, I've joined some groups, both French and Anglophone, which provide support and there's a whole internet of information out there. I just hope other mothers who want to breastfeed for longer manage to do the same, because being different in France is never easy!

Friday, 20 January 2017

Thoughts on Going Back to Work

I wrote a while back about how much I appreciate the fact that France offers lots of options in terms of going back to work (or not) after having a baby.In the UK, maternity leave and pay is structured in a way that means most people take at least 6 months and often a year after the birth of the baby. In France, by contrast, most of our friends returned to work after between 4 and 7 months. In my job, though, nobody would have batted an eyelid if I'd taken a year, so it really did come down to what we wanted and what we could afford, and in the end I opted to work 3 days per week, which will continue at least until SCB is one, when we'll re-evaluate the situation.

While there have been some practical issues relating to the childcare, so far I'm happy that we've made the right decision. SCB seems to really like the nanny and I think it's good for her to spend time with other children rather than being at home with just me all day. I found the build up to leaving her with someone else hard and was having crazy dreams about being separated from her in bizarre circumstances for about a week before it actually happened, but in reality it was fine.

On the work side, I've been busy, busy, busy, but almost entirely in a good way. I was a bit scared I might have lost my professional touch after eight months of absence, so it was satisfying to find that I could more or less just pick up where I left, with an extra layer of efficiency driven by the need to be out the door promptly in the evening.

The best thing, though, has been having so many things to look forward to in the week. While I enjoyed being full-time at home with SCB, every day was very same-y. I used to look forward to UFM coming home, then feel vaguely disappointed that I had so little to say to him about what we'd been doing, or look forward to the weekends only to discover that they were just as tiring as the weekdays. Now when I'm at home I look forward to the company and stimulation of being at work. When I'm at work I look forward to having accomplished what I need to do in the day, then picking up SCB and spending time with her in the evenings. I look forward to Friday because I can relax after a busy week. I look forward to spending time as a family at the weekend, or taking advantage of UFM being around to go out and do things by myself. And then I look forward to the days that SCB and I have with just the two of us, enjoying being at home or going on little outings together.

Finally, I look forward to going to bed in the evening and having a good night's sleep. Currently, that's the only hope that is consistently disappointed!

Saturday, 14 January 2017


Just over a week ago, I blogged about how I hoped the beginning of 2017 might present us with some enjoyable survival challenges.

Hollow laugh.

The past week has definitely been a challenge. I think we've survived OK. But it certainly wasn't enjoyable.

On the Friday SCB caught her first stomach bug from one of the other children the nanny looks after and began the day by being sick all over both of us, and the sofa, just as we were about to leave the house. On Friday night, UFM, who had been up since 5am, was delayed for four hours coming home from Brussels after a Thalys train caught fire. On Saturday, SCB was getting better, but I caught the stomach bug and spent the whole night throwing up and most of Sunday doing very little other than lying around the house groaning. Being sick and dehydrated messed with my milk supply, meaning I started the week with a very grumpy, hungry baby who eventually decided that the solution was to cluster feed ALL NIGHT just before my toughest day at work, then refused to eat anything or sleep at all all day with the nanny.

One week later, I feel as if we have finally come out of the tunnel and are starting to feel normal again.

The funny thing is, having made it through the whole painful episode has been kind of motivating. Having experienced what only just managing feels like, I'm now looking forward to doing things better this week. I'm actually happy to be spending time this weekend tidying the house. I'm going to shop for and cook some healthy food so that I can stop staggering in from work and filling up on the Christmas chocolates because they're the first thing I can get my hands on to eat. I might even find the time to plant the bulbs I bought back in November in the hope that it's not too late for them to flower this spring.

We'll see how much of that actually happens ...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

They Grow Up So Fast

When you're a kid, it's so annoying the way adults comment every time they see you on how much you've grown.

Then you become an adult yourself and you find yourself being that annoying grown-up saying it to other people's children.

Then if you become a parent yourself, you start thinking it about your own baby EVERY SINGLE DAY (or so it seems).

SCB turned 6 months old just before Christmas and I can't believe all the changes that have happened in the last few weeks. In a funny way, I found 3-6 months harder than when she was just a tiny newborn, partly because, after a lovely summer, I was alone with her a lot but mostly because, having been a chilled-out champion sleeper, she started teething and being hungry in the middle of the night as she went through a massive growth spurt. While she certainly woke more in the night during the first few weeks of her life, at least at that point she was steadily improving rather than going backwards!

It all happens for a reason, though, and there have been lots of fun developments to make up for the lost sleep. SCB started rolling quite early, then got distracted by her sore gums for weeks, then learned to move around by pushing herself in reverse across the parquet floors of our flat. I would leave her on her playmat and come back to find that she'd backed herself into a corner and was crying to be rescued. She can also now sit up by herself, although she occasionally topples over and bashes her head if not closely supervised. Her absolute favourite thing, though, is standing up (with help) and pretending to walk. Papi discovered a baby walker in the attic, so she spent Christmas speeding around on that and having a great time, but I'm kind of relieved that we haven't it back to Paris with us as it makes her suddenly extremely (and somewhat unnaturally!) mobile.

SCB has been making a wide range of noises for quite a while now, but the major difference recently is how clearly she seems to know what she wants and a developing ability to express her preferences. It's fun watching her personality starting to emerge, and, if one of her character traits is stubbornness, well, as my mother-in-law would say, "les chiens ne font pas des chats"! Luckily she is also very friendly and loves looking at new faces and charming strangers on public transport with her cheeky smile.

Finally, after two months of teething, SCB now  has two little teeth in her bottom gums. I was ridiculously excited when I saw them, partly because it confirmed that really was what all the fuss had been about and partly because I was hoping we'd finally all be getting more sleep and enduring less screaming. Unfortunately, the next lot seem to already be on the way because that hasn't really happened. I actually Googled "how bad can teething be" to check that we weren't horribly mistaken about the cause of her distress and the internet has confirmed that yes, it really can be this awful. On the plus side, now she is 6 months old, we can give her both paracetamol and ibuprofen, but it seems a bit wrong to be happy about that!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Hello 2017 ...

... and a happy new year to all my readers!

We spent Hogmanay and new year in a gîte in Brittany with my brother, his wife and my little nephew, with an old friend of UFM's joining us for dinner on the 31st. We didn't do a massive amount over the 5 days we were there as just getting out of the house took a fair bit of organisation with two babies to work around, but we did have a good time eating, drinking and catching up.

For our traditional seaside walk, we went to the coast at St Brieuc. There were no massive waves this year, as the tide was right out and the sea far away in the distance, but it was a lovely cold, clear day with sunlight shining off the wet sand and the rock pools.

When my sister-in-law asked over dinner whether we were making any new year resolutions for 2017, I replied "survival" - and only half in jest. This week SCB is doing her adaptation with the nanny and we're all going to have to start adapting to me being back at work. I'm a bit apprehensive about the organisational side of things but I think SCB will enjoy being with the other children the nanny looks after and I feel pretty good about getting back to doing a job I love. So 2017 will indeed be about surviving, but hopefully in a "rising to the challenge" rather than an "only just coping" sort of way.

I hope it's a good one for you too!

Monday, 26 December 2016

It Doesn't Feel a Lot Like Christmas

It's December 26th. Traditionally, the day when, after the madness of Christmas, you eat leftovers, go for a healthy walk, possibly visit some relatives and, especially if you are a child, spend some quality time with your new presents.  Except that we're in France where, in UFM's family at least, the main celebration takes place on the evening of the 24th, so yesterday already felt like Boxing Day and today I feel as if I'm suffering from some kind of cultural jet-lag.

When I was a child, Christmas went something like this:

On Christmas Eve, after a build up of advent calendars, Christmas events at church and school, the buying of a Christmas tree (until my parents decided that we were too old for that - we weren't -) and the end of term, my favourite auntie would arrive, and that was like a sign that Christmas  had really started. My auntie took us to the pantomime every year, usually either on the 24th or the 26th.

On the evening of the 24th, there was the excitement of putting out stockings (which back in the olden days were actual socks) and we would go to bed with strict instructions not to wake up any grownups before 7am, with auntie being allowed an extra half an hour of sleep because she was a visitor. I would get up and take my stocking into my brothers' bedroom and we would open them together, a clever parenting trick which kept us reasonably quiet and entertained until the adults got up.

When we were little, we opened our main presents before church and you were allowed to take a present to church to show everyone. Stockings were from Santa, but we knew who had given us our other presents, which were either left under the tree or hidden around the house for us to find. Then we would come back for morning coffee and fancy biscuits and play until lunch time. We always had our Christmas dinner in the evening in our house, so after a normal lunch we were taken out for a walk, presumably to keep our energy levels under control. Then it was Christmas dinner, with crackers supplied by favourite auntie. I have memories of putting on a concert for the adults in the evening or singing carols around the Christmas tree, but I suspect we were packed off to bed fairly early to give the grown-ups time to recover.

This year, we arrived at my in-laws' a few days early. UFM's brother and his family got here on the 23rd and his sister, who lives locally, came round with her son on the evening of the 24th. SCB enjoyed lots of attention from everyone and ate mashed banana and yoghurt while we had our apéritif, but we stuck to her normal routine and put her to bed around 8pm. Because my nephew was only there for the evening, the other children were going to open their presents as soon as Santa had been. Santa brings all the presents in France and my two nephews still believe the story, so we had to work quite hard to keep up the pretence. This was going to happen at midnight, after the meal, but as the boys were getting over-excited and tired, he arrived a little early, so we did present opening between the main course and the cheese. The kids played with their new toys, we finished the meal and everyone went to bed a bit after midnight.

SCB "opened" her presents on the morning of the 25th (we tore off the paper and she tried to eat it). UFM's sister came round for a lunch of leftovers and in the afternoon we walked up to the church to see the nativity scene before his brother and family left to go and visit their other grandparents. We Skyped my parents, who were just about to start making their Christmas dinner and, with not much else to do, I logged on to Facebook and realised that most of my UK friends were still right in the middle of their festivities.

It wasn't a bad Christmas at all - we had a lovely time, SCB had a lovely time (and clearly didn't care that she didn't open her presents at the same time as everyone else as long as she got to chew on the packaging), and from UFM's point of view, the celebration was complete. But I think for me the fact that it was a) short and b) happened on a different timeline to my internal calendar made me more aware of what was "missing" from my idea of what the 25th of December should be like. This is the second year running that we haven't been in the UK for Christmas, so perhaps that made me more conscious of it too.

And this is the reality of living in a foreign land: things are generally not better or worse, just different, and sharing in the new traditions means not always keeping up with the old.

Next year, though, wherever we are, Santa will definitely be filling up my daughter's stocking!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Unlocking le franglais

Back in 2003, I returned from France to the UK and wanted to use the phone I had bought in France with my UK SIM card. I had to phone Orange to ask for the code de déverouillage and I remember how, after a few weeks of not speaking any French at all, having previously been almost completely immersed in it, my tongue twisted around the syllables and I wondered if it was one of the hardest phrases in the language for English speakers to say.*

Fast forward to 2016 and I discover that the French must have found it too complicated as well, becasue the word used on the SFR website for unblocking a phone is now désimlocker.

Don't you love a bit of franglais?

* It's not, by the way. In my book that honour is reserved for the line "tu n'es plus du tout du tout  dans le coup" in this song.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

An Everyday Day

A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and notified my employers that I will be returning to work in January. Given that it's now nearly the end of November, and that two weeks of December will be filled with festivities, it suddenly seems as if there's not an lot of "normal" time left of my parental leave. I want to remember what this period of our lives was like, so I've been trying for ages to write a post detailing what happens in an ordinary day. But each time either something happens which makes the day less "ordinary" or I end up running out of time to finish the post, then I forget what we actually did. So here I am trying again, and hoping that today will be the day that it actually gets published!

10am: SCB woke up at 8 this morning, which is much more civilised than the 6am starts she was imposing on us for a while. She's been waking a lot in the night recently, often 3 times between 7pm and 6am, due to teething, the cold or some other unidentified only-baby-knows-why reason, so a little lie in was a relief! I fed and changed her, then she played on her playmat while I ate breakfast, then sat outside the bathroom door on her bouncy chair while I had a shower. I dressed her, and by 9:15ish she was already starting to get a bit grumpy, so she had some more milk, then I put her in her cot for a nap. (I still find it weird that it's normal for babies to need a nap so soon after they get up in the morning, but SCB rarely lasts longer than 2 hours before the eye-rubbing and the grizzling starts.) Some days she settles happily with very little fuss but today she cried a fair bit and it took a couple of attempts before she settled.  I should be using this time to clean the kitchen and do some childcare related paperwork, but as usual I'm having an indulgent bit of internet time first. Often we have an activity planned (physiotherapy for me, baby group, shopping trip, meeting a friend in Paris for coffee), but there's nothing in the diary today, so I'll be making it up as I go along.

12:30pm: After blogging, I tried to fill in some paperwork for the CAF but couldn't finish it because I didn't have all the information I needed. (Unlike other several other administrative services, which have been made significantly more user-friendly over the past few years, the CAF is still stuck firmly in the byzantine era of French bureaucracy. The joys.) I washed some dishes and was just settling down to figuring out my Christmas shopping list when SCB woke up. We got as far as the changing table before a serious teething crisis kicked in, so the next hour was filled with trying to dress her and me and administer Doliprane while all the time she would only stop screaming if I held her in my arms and walked around. The medicine seems to have taken effect now though, and she's playing happily on her playmat while I cook up a chicken curry for lunch.

4pm: The Doliprane effect lasted for about an hour, then poor SCB was once again screaming in pain. Luckily, I was dressed by this point though, so was able to go for the standard emergency response of putting her in the sling and going out for a walk, and she fell asleep almost immediately. I started off with a trip to the toy shop, where I bought my nephew's Christmas present (which was always going to be the easiest one to find!). Then we went for a stroll around the park and sat on a bench to admire the view. It 's a gorgeous, cold, sunny day today, with nature on the cusp between autumn and winter, so we were able to enjoy being out for a couple of hours. The cold air seems to have finally cleared out my sinuses, so I'm celebrating the return of my sense of taste with a cup of coffee and some Christmas gingerbread biscuits from Lidl - completely justified given that it's now the start of December (and let's not talk about that fact that I'd actually already eaten half of them before the end of November!).

Christmassy-looking berries in the park

Mummy feet and baby feet in the park. I usually think festive-themed clothing is totally naff but I found these booties in a bag of second-hand stuff we were given and I think I might have to make an exception for baby clothes!

8pm: SCB had one last bout of teething pain at around 5pm which required lots of rocking and soothing and finally resulted in her falling asleep in my arms. I wasn't going to take the risk of moving her to her cot, so that turned in to an hour or so of one-handed internet surfing time for me :-) When she woke up, it was bath time and she suddenly cheered up. I always lie her on her changing mat on the floor while I run the bath, and tonight she entertained me greatly by moving herself off the top end of the mat (lying on her back, but head first) by pushing with her feet. Unfortunately she didn't quite manage to repeat the stunt when I rushed to get my phone and film her, but I did get some sweet videos of her doing gymnastic poses and sucking her own toes. After bath time, she had more milk and, to my surprise, given the long nap at 5 and the teething, fell asleep fairly quickly afterwards. Fingers crossed we're in for a good night!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Happy Story

Last week I went to the mairie to apply for SCB's French ID card. I had collected together all the documents on the list: my ID, proof of address and an official copy of her birth certificate dated less than three months ago. (Nothing makes you realise that time is flying by like your baby's birth certificate being out of date. And for British people, it's a bizarre concept anyway, because how could a birth have changed, but it's because in France, other life events, including death, would also be recorded on the birth certificate, so it does make sense here.) I had to fill in a form with SCB's details, including her height in cm, which will have changed in the time it takes to produce the card, she's growing so fast at the moment.We had also managed the amazing feat of getting approved style photos where SCB had her eyes open and her mouth closed - basically what a baby would look like if one were ever included in a prison line-up. The lady at the mairie actually complimented SCB on her poker face and we joked that she clearly already has the required skills for life in France.

When it came to the documents, however, she was not so sure. I had brought a justicatif from our energy company and not a bill, which is apparently not always acceptable, and she was almost certain that they would want to see UFM's ID, as he is the French parent. We live not far from the mairie, so I told her I could go and get the other documents to add to the file but she said they couldn't accept an incomplete file, so either I could hand it in and they would phone me if they needed more details or I could take everything away and come back to start from scratch. So far, so typical of l'administration française.

Being optimistic, lazy and not in a desperate hurry to receive the ID, I decided to take my chances. She gave me a receipt, told me it would normally take 3-4 weeks for the card to arrive and reiterated that they were likely to ask for the French parent's ID. So when I had a message on Monday from the mairie, I assumed that was going to be the reason ... but no, the card is sitting in their offices already and all I have to do is go and collect it! After our recent (and ongoing) experiences with the bank, all I can say is that I was in need of a pleasant bureaucratic surprise.

In other happy news, Nicholas Sarkozy has been knocked out in the primaries for the presidential elections next year. I can't say I'm a big fan of Fillon's ideas, but at least he isn't the man who was defeated last time by the guy who went on to become France's most unpopular president of all time. I was also pleased to see Jean-François Copé (he of the "droite décomplexée") come last with a paltry 0.3% of the vote. In the age of Brexit and Trump, it's good to know that the worst doesn't always happen.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Liberté, Egalité (Baby)

Yesterday afternoon at 16:34, women in France staged a walkout from work to highlight the fact that, due to the gender pay gap, for the rest of 2016, French women will effectively be working for free. And France is not the worst offender, with a pay gap which is actually below the EU average and significantly less than in the UK or Germany.

Equality between the sexes is a subject which has been on my mind a lot recently, particularly as I am currently taking parental leave and being paid precisely nothing at all.

"On paper" I really have nothing to complain about. Compared to many other countries, France offers a lot of options in terms of balancing career and family. I had 16 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, and Understanding Frenchman and I both have the right to take time off work or work part time right up until our daughter is three, when she will be starting school. And while the state handouts are not as generous as they used to be for parents taking time off, there is quite a lot of financial and structural support for childcare, making going back to work a relatively easy and financially viable decision. The liberté of choice is there.

On a personal level, I'm also happy to be spending time at home with our baby. It has its lonely and difficult moments, but generally I enjoy our days together and I appreciate having the flexibility to take things as they come. I would have found it very hard to leave her when she was 3 months old, but by the time I do go back to work, I think we'll both be ready for a bit more variety and stimulation. I don't even really mind doing the lion's share of the housework, given that I have the time (and also have to live with the consequences of not doing it all day every day). It seems only fair that when UFM comes home from a long day or week at work, he should spend time with the baby rather than mopping the kitchen floor.

So the problem is not that childcare is currently my full-time job. What frustrates me and gets my feminist hackles up is when looking after the baby turns in to my all-time job. And by that I mean the times when, even when both of us are there, UFM gets on with other things without a second thought and I am left, literally, holding the baby.

It's not that my husband is sexist. Pre-baby, we had a wonderfully balanced relationship where housework was mostly shared out according to who hated doing what the least and he was actually better at some typically "female" things, like remembering birthdays, than me. And since the baby was born, he's been a caring and involved dad who can do all aspects of childcare apart from breastfeeding just as well as I can.

So how did we get into this situation where looking after the baby is, by default, only my job?

Feeding is the most obvious practical element. SCB considers expressed milk in a bottle as the equivalent of serving vintage Moet in a plastic cup and reacts with fervent Gallic protest, meaning that if I do want to go out without her, I have to plan it into a three-hour window of freedom and/or hope that she doesn't wake up before she's expected to. And when you're keeping track of feeding, you tend to keep track of naps and nappy changes as well, which leads to also being the person who is keeping tabs on her exact position on the living room floor and whether she is about to suffocate on a cuddly blanket.

A long working hours culture is another one. UFM leaves the house at 8am every morning and returns at 8pm. This corresponds almost perfectly to SCB's waking hours, meaning that even just having bathtime with daddy is tricky on weeknights. As a result, he is less tuned in to her routine and the cues that certain things need to happen, meaning that he does sometimes depend on me to tell him what needs to be done.

With the move and all the work we've had to do on our flat, we've also been forced recently to adopt a largely divide and conquer approach to getting things done. And dividing according to stereotypical gender roles is often the most efficient approach, even if it isn't the most fair.

Finally, I am to some extent my own worst enemy, partly because I like looking after SCB and partly because I find it hard to relinquish control. I know that I don't need to be checking up on everything that UFM does as a dad, but if I hang around or offer suggestions, it definitely looks that way, and I'm so much in the habit of monitoring everything in my own head all week that it's difficult to stop at weekends!

What is the solution? In an ideal world, I think both of us would work part time and each have days in the week when we would be solely responsible for childcare. Unfortunately, while this is technically possible, society is not yet really in sync with the rules and, in my husband's job, it would not be easy to do. (This is partly a sexism thing, but even if he were female, I think he'd be expected to make use of some of that wonderfully available childcare rather than take long-term parental leave.)

Instead, we are trying to make weekend childcare his responsibility. It doesn't mean that he has to do everything, just that it is his job for planning what needs to be done. At the moment, that tends to work on Saturday mornings, while by Sunday afternoon we're more in a sharing situation, but it's a step in the right direction, and I definitely feel more positive about our division of labour by the end of the weekend than I usually do at the end of a long week!

What about everyone else? Any tips for correcting inequality, whether it's in childcare, in your relationships or at work? (And if you know how to get a baby to take an occasional bottle without giving up on breastfeeding, I'm all ears for advice on that too!)

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Recently we have mostly been ...

Charming grandparents (SCB): my parents came to visit last week, followed in close succession (as in, four hours to change the beds and do the hoovering) by my in-laws. SCB has been enjoying lots of attention and cuddles and I suspect is feeling quite disappointed now everybody is gone and she's stuck with me all day.

Administering Doliprane (Me): SCB has also been getting majorly into teething over the past week, although we have yet to see a tooth. Cue interrupted sleep and lots of crying. At one point, our upstairs neighbour knocked on the door because she'd heard all the screaming and wanted to check if I needed a hand, and I had explain that my parents were here but even with three supposedly competent adults, we couldn't calm the poor baby down. She reappeared an hour or so later with a plate of American desserts (they are from the US) to keep us going, so I need to invite her back at some point for cuddles with a hopefully calmer baby! It took a day or so for us to work out that the screaming was almost entirely teeth-related and give in to administering regular doses of the sticky pink syrup. I don't particularly like giving SCB lots of medicine but whoever coined the phrase "mother nature knows best" clearly wasn't thinking about how humans acquire their first teeth.

Bedroom hopping (but not in that sense) (all 3 of us): the reason UFM's parents came to visit was to help us decorate what will eventually be our bedroom, which when we moved in was entirely covered in old-lady wallpaper.

Yes, even the undersides of the shelves in the cupboard.

New paintwork
The new colour was supposed to be cream, but as the paint was bought by UFM and his dad, and my father-in-law is colour blind and UFM didn't realise that the colour would come out much stronger on 4 walls than on the sample sheet, it's actually pale grey, so what you can see in the second photo is my attempts to find a new colour scheme. The logistics of having various people sleeping the the right beds and working around the decorating meant that we ended up sleeping in all 3 of the bedrooms in the flat, including the one where chunks of paint have been falling off the ceiling ever since the flood, but we're back to normal now.

Admiring the autumn colours: all four grandparents needed to be introduced to the walks in our new area. There have been some lovely sunny days and the leaves this year have been beautiful, so it was nice being out and about.

Admin, admin, admin: between the baby, the move, the flood and our endlessly-incompetent bank, we seem to have endless paperwork to do, and now that all the visitors have gone, there's no excuse for not tackling it. Which is why I'm sitting here blogging, of course.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Sologne and Thanks for all the Fish*

*Actually, there are no fish in this blog post. Nor will you find the meaning of life, the universe and everything. But my friend made the joke and I thought it was funny.

La Sologne is the area of France south of Orléans where we went with some friends for our first ever weekend away with baby. It's covered with forest and lakes, which meant that it was beautiful in the autumn with the leaves just starting to change colour. It's almost completely flat, which made it an easy place to go for walks even with an increasingly heavy baby. It's filled with deer, wild boar, and the people who hunt them, which made for an exciting half hour or so when we took the wrong path in the forest and found ourselves in an area where people had clearly been shooting extremely recently!

The reason that the Sologne is so wild is that the ground is very wet and therefore presumably difficult to cultivate, so there isn't much agriculture. Lots of people had lovely big vegetable gardens and orchards though, so growing things on a small scale seemed to be easier. The villages were very pretty, with mainly timber and brick houses, while every so often in the forest we would pass an enormous château, usually with its own lake. (Passing the estate agent's window, we were tempted by a more reasonable few hectares of land complete with not one, but two lakes and a wooden cabin.) Sadly, although there were plenty of hiking trails, most of the lakes were fenced off in people's private property, but we were able to admire a few nonetheless.

Supercool Baby enjoyed her first hiking trip, doing lots of sleeping in the sling then waking up to admire the light dancing between the leaves when we stopped for lunch and laid her down in the grass. I think it did both me and Understanding Frenchman good too, to get away and do something we've always enjoyed, surrounded by good company, and just be able to bring the baby along. And after all the fresh air, she settled down quickly to sleep in the evenings and we could have fun cooking up a big meal and eating with our friends. Hopefully it's an experience we'll be able to repeat a few times before she gets too heavy to carry at all!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Recently I have mostly been ...

When I'm at work, I eat in the canteen, as does Understanding Frenchman. Being at home all day means I'm responsible for sorting out my own lunch, so I've been taking advantage of that to resurrect some old favourites that UFM doesn't really like and try out some new recipes. Last week I bought soy sauce and made stir-fry, which I used to eat about once a week but literally hadn't had for years. Then one day when we had run out of vegetables, I was inspired by the fruit bowl to fry a few slices of apple in salted butter to eat with pork chops. It was really good.We've had various visitors recently, so I've been using that as an excuse to test out our new oven for baking. I made banana cake, millionnaire shortbread and carrot cake, and the difference compared to when I used our old grill oven is amazing - success every time! Both the banana cake and the carrot cake went down really well with French friends who were already fans, which surprised me, as they're not the kind of baking that you see often here.

Obsessing about nap times
Super-cool Baby has been a great sleeper from birth, but I'm pretty sure we've hit the dreaded four-month sleep regression this week, because while nights are still OK, getting her to take naps has been, well, a nightmare. 45 minutes of rocking, singing and nursing may or may not result in a half-hour nap, and if it doesn't, she's guaranteed to be grumpy and clingy until she finally does get off to sleep. If she does, I then start stressing about the rocking, singing and nursing creating bad sleep habits that are soon going to disturb our nights as well. Out of all of the things you get to worry about with a baby, I think sleep is a particularly stressful one because there are so many different ideas on the subject, what you do now can have a major impact on what your baby will do later, and bad sleep can ruin your life for years. Scary stuff.

At the same time, I find the whole subject kind of boring and dislike the fact that I spend so much of my day thinking about it. So I'll stop writing this paragraph now.

Exercising my pelvic floor
Yes, I finally sorted my self out with a kiné, who I go and see twice a week to get all those important muscles back in shape. I accidentally ended up with a man because I called the number for a woman who I found in the annuarie santé but got through to the guy that she shares her clinic with instead. I thought it might be horrifically embarrassing but it's actually been absolutely fine. My stomach muscles are apparently pathetically weak, however, so I have to practise doing plank-type exercises for thirty seconds at a time. At the moment I can only hold the position for about ten seconds, so I have a long way to go!

Finally, as a change from all of those exciting activities, I also went on a night out with friends on Saturday evening. We went to a restaurant not too far away and I was already on my way home after a few hours of good chat and company when I got a text from UFM saying, "Help, she has woken up and is crying!", so that was definitely a success!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Areu, areu

"Areu" is one of the few words that I learned through doing crosswords in French. I've been attempting for years to learn to do mots fléchés, which are more or less the equivalent of a quick (non-cryptic) crossword, although I believe the most accurate translation is actually "arrow words". In that time I have progressed from Level 1 to almost being able to do Level 2. (I was delighted when I learned that there was also a Level 1-2 category because it made me feel that I had made more progress!) As it turns out, doing synonym crosswords is a fairly useless way of learning vocabulary because you encounter the words entirely out of context and, if you cheat by looking at the answers often enough, you can learn that two words are synonyms of each other without actually knowing what either of them means.

Anyway, it turns out that even learning the word areu from the crosswords was a bit pointless, because my daughter probably says it to me a few hundred times every day. The best English translation of it is probably "goo-goo, ga-ga", but that is nothing like as onomatopoeic as the French word for that cooing noise that babies make when they're happy.

Unless, I've been wondering, it's particularly French babies who make the sound in this way. Perhaps it's being surrounded by all those rolling rrrs that makes them exercise their vocal cords like this.

I suspect probably not, but I do like my theory and I haven't spent enough time with other babies of this age to have any evidence to the contrary. Any thoughts?

Monday, 26 September 2016

My Experiences of Breastfeeding

When I was still in the early stages of pregnancy, I remember having an intense conversation with Understanding Frenchman one night about the fact that I wanted to breastfeed our baby and how worried I was that in France that might be a difficult thing to do. Among my family and friends it in the UK it is very much the norm, and when I was still living there, it was, as it is now, very much promoted as the healthiest option for mother and baby. In France, on the other hand, I could not recall ever having seen a woman breastfeeding. In addition the internet had led me to believe that I was living in a nation of bottle-feeders where the top priority for women was getting back to work fast and keeping their assets in shape for their husbands (or lovers, or whoever). And we all know that the internet is always right. Right?

Well, not really.

As I mentioned before, I gave birth in a "hôpital ami des bébés", so I was, as expected, well-supported there. To be honest, though, one of the most important aspects of the support was the fact that I was still in hospital on the third night when my milk came in and feeding really hurt, as is the norm in France. I was able to buzz for a friendly nurse who assured me that the pain was to be expected and would pass. (This is one of the many medical situations when all the information you receive beforehand talks about "some discomfort" when what they actually mean is that it can be agony.) Had I been already at home, which in the UK I probably would have been, it would have been a long wait until the next day to get expert advice.

Like many new mothers, I was also nervous about feeding in public. In both the British and French media, you can find stories about women who have been told not to feed their babies somewhere and it's caused a huge furore. When I read forums with people's everyday experiences however, most of the French mothers only had positive experiences to share. An interesting difference, I thought, was that the British websites were more militant about promoting right to breastfeed openly and anywhere, the French forums were more likely to contain tips about how to be discreet if you wanted to. While I don't think the militants are wrong, I found it easier to think about feeding my baby as something personal that I could just get on with in the way I felt comfortable than to consider it as a political act. Anyway, in my actual experience over the past three months, once I got over the initial awkwardness, it has been absolutely fine and I've never registered any sort of judgement other than smiles.

My experiences among family and friends have also been different to what I expected. It turns out that many French women, including a lot of our friends, do breast feed their babies, just not for very long, as there is a culture of going back to work quite early here. As a result you're less likely to see nursing in action, but that doesn't mean it's not encouraged. In UFM's family, most of the children were bottle fed, so I initially felt quite shy around them and tried to find quite corners every time the baby got hungry. That didn't last very long, however, as we kept ending up at random people's houses at unpredictable moments, and a hungry screaming baby is definitely more difficult to deal with than hitching up a t-shirt, so in the end I just went for it and nobody batted an eyelid. (The one exception was UFM's little nephews, aged 5 and 6, who were both fascinated by the process and insisted on coming to watch!)

Sadly, I've also learned along the way that in the UK, despite the promotion of breastfeeding to the point where many women experience it as pressure, the support once the baby is born is not necessarily all that wonderful and, despite the fact that maternity leave tends to be longer than in France, many mothers give up early on despite wanting to continue, so my vision of how things would have been over there was also somewhat rose-tinted in the beginning. The grass is not necessarily greener, and all that. I've also realised that the choice between breast and bottle is not always as straightforward as it is often presented to be, and that people make their decisions for any number of (valid) reasons, so I hope that nobody reading this post feels there is any judgement implied.

As a result, I feel very grateful for the mostly positive experiences I've had so far, both practically and socially. And perhaps the one good thing to come out of the infamous burkini affair is that the prime minister himself has provided the perfect riposte for when anyone ever criticises mothers for getting their breasts out in public (even if his art history turned out to be incorrect). If Marianne can freely show her naked bosom to feed the people of La République, then so can we all!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Au revoir, Paris

It was early on Sunday afternoon. I had spent the morning planting window boxes for our balcony and Understanding Frenchman had been trying to repair a wardrobe and organising things in the cellar. At about half past one he reappeared and asked if he should go and buy bread for lunch.

"Is the bakery still open?" I replied. He looked at me with an expression of dawning realisation: we were not in Paris any more.

We moved almost two weeks ago and the bits of the flat we're actually living in (as opposed to the part that will need to be redecorated following the flood in July) are pretty much sorted now. Water damage aside, the flat is great and I think we're going to be very happy here. Nevertheless, despite all my moaning about Paris over the past three years, I couldn't help feeling a little pincement au coeur as we left.

I think what I'll miss is not so much the city as a whole, but our quartier. UFM and I lived together for the first time, got married and had a baby in our little corner of the 12th arondissement. We chatted to the baker, the greengrocer and the pharmacist, who all knew who we were and would ask how the baby was getting on. Our local boulangerie sold the best baguette I've ever tasted, and knew that we liked it bien cuite. When we wanted lots of fruit and vegetables, we walked down the Promenade Plantée to the Marché d'Aligre to buy them at one or two euros per kilo. My friends and I knew a selection of friendly bars where we could meet for an apéritif. We could go almost anywhere using public transport options that were practically on our doorstep. And when we wanted to escape from the city, the Bois de Vincennes was a pretty good retreat.

However, it turned out that even in the suburbs you can buy bread until 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, so we didn't go hungry. And there are compensations for becoming banlieusards. I still get a little burst of exhilaration when I step out onto the balcony in the morning and breathe in fresh air rather than exhaust fumes from the péripherique. (Did I mention  that we have a balcony? Actually, believe it or not, we have three - two little narrow ones and a bigger one where we can fit chairs and sit and watch the sunset. Yes, we are totally spoilt!) It's nice having a bit more space: we can now open our bedroom door fully and don't trip over a carrycot as soon as we step into the room. And no doubt we'll get to know people around here quickly too - nothing stimulates chit-chat with strangers quite as much as carrying a small baby!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tough Times, Baby

Having written a post all about the wonders of having a newborn baby, in the interest of providing balanced coverage (not least to my future self), it seems like a good idea to take a look over the challenges too. So here goes:

- For the first couple of weeks, your body is a wreck. I was looking forward to wearing normal clothes again, but in fact spent the first couple of weeks in tracksuit bottoms (soft and stretchy where you need them to be), cheapo vest tops (sore breasts and milk leaking everywhere) and my most ancient knickers (I knew you bled after giving birth but nobody told me how long it went on for!). I was expecting to be sleep-deprived, but wasn't really prepared for the physical exhaustion which followed the birth itself. The first time I went out myself, I walked 5 minutes to the supermarket, picked up too many heavy things in the fruit and veg aisle and had to call UFM to send his parents (who luckily were staying with us at the time) to help me carry the bag back. I think it took around 3 weeks for me to start feeling ok again,but I'm definitely not back to my normal fitness even now.

- Every trip out is an expedition, and sometimes also an ordeal. In Paris, it's pretty difficult to go to many places with a buggy, so until we got sorted with using the sling my main trips out alone were walks around the block. Also, with tiny babies, you never know when they're going to wake up and be hungry, so you can find yourself with a crying infant in all sorts of awkward places. My worst experiences were definitely medical appointments (of which there are a lot). You have no choice about the timing and can't be late, and Super Cool Baby was more like Stressed-out Crying Baby through most of ours, making it very hard to listen to the doctors and take on information.

- The Witching Hour. This is a common phenomenon where the baby cries unconsolably, usually some time between 7 and 11pm (and often for more than an hour). You can theorise about whether it's caused by gas, colic or releasing the stress of the day, but whatever the reason, there's no magic solution. (There are techniques which can help, but none of them is fail-safe.) The witching hour started for us at around 4 weeks. Since about 8 weeks, it's been shorter, less dramatic and less frequent, and we're really hoping that SCB got the memo that it's supposed to stop around 3 months!

- Your hormones are all over the place. Apart from one occasion when I burst into tears over a political debate at dinner time, I felt emotionally normal through most of pregnancy. Since the baby was born, however, I've definitely been more up-and-down and have to engage my rational brain to avoid behaving like a moody teenager at times.

- It can feel lonely. When people talked about this before, I thought they meant being stuck at home all day and lacking company, but between visitors, Skype and social media, that hasn't really been a problem. The loneliness I've experienced comes from a deeper place, from the feelings of bonding I have with the baby, and the realisation that nobody in the world, not even my husband, has quite the same bond. This is in no way a criticism of him: we have a very equal partnership and he's a fantastic dad, but his relationship with the baby, although just as important, isn't the same. (If it were, it probably wouldn't be a good thing.) And of course, the other person involved (the baby herself) isn't exactly a reciprocal partner. This is without a doubt the hardest thing I've experienced about being a mother so far, so in the spirit of sharing experience, I thought I'd better put it out there.

Tempus Fugit, Baby

The summer months have been flying by and soon it will be time for us to leave the fresh air and mamie's cooking in Brittany and face up to returning to Paris. As September draws near, I'm also getting my head around the fact that in a couple of weeks' time we will no longer have a newborn baby, but a 3 month old one. And while there's lots to look forward to in the next phase, I'm allowing myself to indulge in a little nostalgia as well.

Having a newborn baby is definitely not easy. Your body goes through the massive ordeal that is giving birth, then instead of lying in bed for a week to recover, you have to look after this tiny little being who requires all of your time and attention. I think perhaps I'll write another post about the hard parts of the first three months (that way, apart from anything else, if we ever decide to have a second baby, I'll remember that it wasn't all a bed of roses!) but at the moment I'm going to focus on all the reasons why the newborn period is awesome:

- Newborns really are super cool. I was expecting my baby to be sweet and adorable. (She is.) I was expecting her to cry, loudly at times. (She does, and it can be heartbreaking.) What I wasn't expecting was the sheer force of such a tiny little human - the changing expressions in her face, the determination with which she roots and sucks for milk, the extent of the stretches as she wakes up and her tiny limbs go in all directions, and the force of her cries when she doesn't get what she needs.

- If you're on maternity leave, looking after the baby is your job. Being awake during the night is tough, but at least if the baby falls asleep during the day (admittedly that's a big if!), it's perfectly acceptable to have a little nap. And after three years of 6am starts and long commutes, I think I actually prefer waking up for the baby to the alarm clock.

- You get lots of lovely visitors who tell you how gorgeous the baby is. If you're lucky enough to have had a shower that morning, they'll probably congratulate you, and if you haven't, most people are polite enough to keep quiet about it. When you take your baby out in public, you'll hear people whispering, "Look, did you see the tiny baby!" and old ladies will chat to you at the traffic lights about how lovely this time is and how fast it goes.

Tiny baby with tiny baby hands
- Baby smiles. At first the baby sourit aux anges (smiles to the angels), then gradually starts to respond to faces and expressions. We're now getting the beginnings of little baby laughs, which are just magical.

- The theory of the Fourth Trimester. The idea of the fourth trimester is that, because human babies are born at an early stage in their development compared to other mammals, the first three months are essentially an extension of their time in the womb. All the reliable sources of advice recommend that during this time you sleep in the same room as the baby, feed on demand, provide lots of cuddles and skin-to-skin contact, and generally do exactly what the baby and your instincts are telling you to do. After three months, opinion starts to differ on whether you should continue in this way or start to impose a routine (particularly in relation to sleep) and you have to decide which parts of the very conflicting advice to follow. I'm not looking forward to the stress of making those choices!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

From the Mouths of Babes

Last weekend we celebrated my father-in-law's 70th birthday by having lunch with extended family and friends in a restaurant. The children were being served their steak haché and the waitress announced that she had one which was bien cuit for UFM's six-year-old nephew.

From the other side of the room, we heard his seven-year-old cousin comment, "Il mange sa viande bien cuite - oh là là!"

Because in France not only are small children asked how they would like their meat cooked, they know that saignant is best and that asking for anything more than à point just isn't done.