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!