Thursday, September 29, 2005

La cueillette de Gally

I accompanied Maylin on her first school field trip -- to a farm in the suburbs to pick apples! And I thought we were going to watch a show or something at a nearby school. Either my French is really bad, or the permission slip was really lacking in valuable information.

There were four other parents accompanying the class. On the bus, they were all snapping pictures of their assigned group of kids with their digital cameras. I didn't bring a camera and instantly regretted not thinking of bringing one. I guess I haven't figured out all the fine details of being an active parent in France. Note to self: on field trips, bring digital camera and a box of Kleenex. Fortunately, I had plenty of Kleenex on me. Little did I know that part of my job as a chaperone would be to blow everyone's noses.

The other parents noticed that I had the group of sickies. My three kids, including Maylin, had a cough and runny nose, and one was really not looking too well off and had to sit next to the "nurse" on the bus both ways. Luckily, they still all had a good time picking apples on this huge farm which, to my knowledge, also had radishes, tomatoes, raspberries, and pumpkins. The apple orchard had at least five different types of apples. My charges and I landed ourselves in the area with the prettiest apples -- small, red, sweet, with a beautiful white flesh -- I think they were called "reinettes." My group had fast pickers so we finished before most of the other kids.

I met two other English-speaking moms, one of them was the same one whom I had helped the other day with the translating. She's actually Australian and has only lived in France for four weeks. I can't imagine how especially difficult it must have been to have her kids start school straight off and barely know the language. The other mom was an 8-year expat from Montreal but we didn't have much time to talk. Each of my new acquaintances have their children in different classes. Maybe they separated us so that we, parents and kids, would learn French faster and not cling to each other for support all the time.

On the bus back, I was starting to realize why French kids are so well-behaved. I saw the teacher and other parents constantly correct the children for the tiniest infractions, like not sitting properly with their backs flat against the back of the seat or turning around in their seat to talk to the person behind them. The children were very gently advised, never with anger or frustration. The repeat offenders received gentle threats of punishment. As a result, we had a very peaceful return to school. Can you imagine this happening in the U.S. with thirty-six 2-3 year-olds?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Me? Translating?

Wow. I didn't think it would happen this soon, but at Maylin's school today in the lobby, I was asked by one of the staff members to translate what she was saying to a flustered British woman who had twin boys clinging at her heels. The mother wanted to see her sons' teacher, but there was a class in progress in the small gym, which we walk through in the mornings to drop our kids off to their classrooms. We were not to disrupt that class nor our children's teachers, who would come and retrieve the children coming in for the afternoon session, or kids who don't currently have lunch at the school. The mother asked the staff member if it was possible to pick up her children the next day right after lunch. I posed this question in French and translated to the mom that it wasn't possible. The children are picked up at 4:30 pm. I told the woman that Maylin will start going to lunch two days a week. She didn't seem to know that that could be done. I explained that it was necessary to find another parent to share the four-day week, usually through a note on the bulletin board in the lobby. It was amazing to me that I knew more than one other parent at the school.

Even though I'm the parent, I feel like I'm the one who gets all the homework. Once in awhile, the teacher sends home a little notebook ("un petit cahier") with Maylin with a note pasted inside to sign and return the next day. I'm understanding all the French, but unfortunately, all the written teacher-parent communications leave out rather critical explanations -- something I've come to expect in what John calls a "high-context" society. The French have a "high-context" society where it is assumed that you know everything already. Therefore, little details are given and you never feel like you're being talked down to, but you sometimes feel confused. There was a note giving dates when our children would be using a "structure so-and-so" and recommending not to dress daughters in skirts and dresses on those days. It didn't explain that this structure was very large, very tall, specially-designed indoor gym equipment made out of wood that would require lots of climbing and jumping. I assume that Americans would have explained this, customary behavior for a "low-context" society that thinks, "Just give me all the info. You won't make me feel stupid."

I finally feel like I'm on top of things with Maylin's school. I've done all my homework, signed all required forms, paid all required fees, brought in a box of Kleenex, her gym shoes, her painting smock, and made some bigger photos of Maylin for the teacher to use. She never specified size the first time -- another high-context society thing. I just noticed that all the other children had their photos up next to their coat hooks.

I just learned that afternoons at school are optional, for the first-years at least, and that actually, school isn't required for Maylin until age 6. So all this doesn't even count.

Just this very minute, I discovered my watch was slow. That explains why Maylin's often one of the last kids in her class to get picked up after school. But she's always sitting quietly, obediently like the other French kids. It often seems unrealistic -- the bench starts with 20 preschoolers sitting still, not making a sound. How do they do it?

I thought that the 5 free hours a day I get while Maylin is at school would really be free. But no. I'm a hard-working Mommy, walking the dog, getting the groceries, running errands, cleaning the house, preparing Maylin's lunch, preparing Maylin's after-school snack to take to the park...there's all this prep work that I didn't take into consideration before. I guess I don't have to do all that, but Maylin seems so happy when she comes home and sees her lunch laid out on the table for her. And she's so happy when she gets a snack right after walking off the school premises. It's worth it, but it's exhausting. I probably only get one real free hour a day. It'll be a little easier for me once she starts eating at the school cafeteria twice a week. Those days she'll be in school from 8:30-4:30 non-stop. She'll be okay, I'm sure. I just hope she gets comfortable with the school toilets quick. She still hasn't gone there yet.

I do enjoy our long lunches together, from 11:30-2:30. We eat our lunch, and then it's preschool activities at home! We do our painting, make things with Play-Doh (smells better than French modeling clay), do educational computer games, and write in our preschool workbooks (some in French, some in English). She doesn't nap anymore -- too bad. The days when I need a nap -- ooh, those are difficult. I try lying down, Maylin yells at me to get my attention...eventually she stops and just plays by herself or, if I'm really lucky, falls asleep, too.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Stroller mysteries

We've had such awful luck with strollers since coming to Paris. We are on our fourth one right now. Our first stroller was a very nice one that my parents bought for Maylin. Like the rest of our apartment building neighbors, we left our strollers folded up in the foyer at the bottom of the spiral staircase. One day we came home from an outing to find our stroller standing in a puddle of water. Upon closer inspection, we found a hole that was burned through the entire length of the folded stroller. I was pretty sure it was an accident. We had lots of smoking construction people going in and out of the building. One of them probably accidently dropped a cigarette down the middle of the staircase to land squarely on our stroller. John didn't want to deal with trying to find the culprit or getting our home insurance to cover it because we were still very new to this country, barely knew the language, and weren't looking forward to French bureaucracy. So we forgot about it.

I bought a cheap umbrella stroller after that and kept it in my apartment most of the time, except when I visited friends, I was advised to leave it in their foyer, or at Maylin's daycare, in the indoor stroller parking area. It disappeared.

Recently, I absentmindedly left Maylin's third stroller outside of her school as I rushed off to do errands with my free time. When I returned a few hours later and realized my mistake, the stroller wasn't where I had left it. I asked the school guardien but they didn't know anything about it.

We're on stroller number four now.

Reluctant early bird

I really didn't want to wake up at 7:30 am today and 5 am yesterday. I can't seem to sleep in on weekends anymore, now that I'm on Maylin's school schedule. At least we go to bed early. I think Maylin and I konked out before 10 pm last night. So I got a decent amount of sleep.

Maylin's very good about telling us how her day went. "I paint my hands with orange and green," or "Mommy and Maylin eat lunch with Karen," or..."I pee-ed on the floor." Her teacher said she had "un petit accident," but judging by the weight of her soiled clothing in the plastic bag, I'd say it was a pretty big accident. Maylin normally has amazing bladder control, but I had a feeling the dam might burst because she drank two large cups of diluted apple juice in the middle of the night and didn't want to use the potty before school. An accident waiting to happen. She came home in dry clothes -- but they weren't the ones that I had carefully packed in her backpack as instructed. Somehow she came home in way-too-short boys sweatpants and supersize underwear. I guess it was an emergency that had to be dealt with rather quickly. The bag that Maylin's soiled clothes came in also included a soggy little form letter that asked me to wash and return "le change" as soon as possible. The form letter made me realize how many of these "petits accidents" really happen in preschool.

Like I said, Maylin normally has amazing bladder control. On our 7.5 hour flight from Paris to Boston, our layover city, Maylin told me several times she had to go to the bathroom, but refused to use the toilet when she saw it. I offered different positions, but was always denied. Somehow, she was able to hold it for a total of at least 10 hours. That's two hours before our flight left, the actual flight, plus going through customs and baggage claim (we missed the toilets before customs and the baggage claim). I think Maylin gets her control from me genetically. When I was a child, on long road trips, I remember for some reason being too embarrassed to tell my parents I had to go. Maybe we had other relatives in the car or something. Anyways, I would hold it until the very last minute -- until I was jumping up and down like a deranged pogo stick. My parents would pull the car over alongside a beautiful golden field of wheat or other desolate area and I'd rush out to relieve myself. There are pictures of me, looking pained, in a peaceful golden field.

I wanted to go to the famous flea markets of Paris this weekend, but the weather has been wet and cold. This afternoon, we plan on doing an indoor activity -- visit Centre Pompidou to see a design exhibition before it closes. I think Maylin will enjoy it -- there will probably be lots of smartly designed home and industrial products as opposed to 2-D stuff on the wall.

Go make yourself happy today.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I love you, Mommy

I usually lay down with Maylin in her comfy double bed until she falls asleep in the evening. We tell each other "good night" and "I love you" before dozing off. It is always amazing and touching when she says, "I love you, Mommy." She's starting to say it outside of bedtime, too, out of the blue. And it's oh so sweet.

We've got our sweet moments and our little devil moments. The last week she's still been jetlagged after our Ohio trip and though we have a normal sleep schedule, her fatigue shows up in her temper tantrums, crazy ones that I haven't seen for many months. She screams, won't listen to reason, and gets this real scary, mean, mad look. Sometimes I lose my patience and raise my voice. I catch myself, calm down, give her a hug, and then she tells me, "You scared me." She does this each time I get mad at her. I am quick to remind her that she scared me, too. After we kiss and make up, she falls asleep within minutes.

I love it when she's trying to comfort me. After returning to the apartment from the airport after our Ohio trip, I had an episode of excruciating sinus pain that ran along the left side of my entire face -- the unbearable pain was in my teeth, ran along my jaw line and into my cheek bone. I told John it was worse than labor because at least contractions stopped -- this pain would never cease! I lost it and was crying and screaming for a very strong pain reliever (fortunately, John still had a powerful one left over from his minor surfing accident -- broken wrist). Maylin got the idea that bringing me a piece of leftover piece would make me feel better. She's so thoughtful and sweet. When I had morning sickness during the first trimester of my last, brief pregnancy, I would rush over to my ginger candy and pop one into my mouth for instant relief. Maylin would watch with concern and ask, after I had eaten the candy, "That's better, Mommy?"

Maylin has had less than two weeks of school and she's using her French more. I still hear "encore" a lot, but she's also now using "comme ca" ("like that") in the correct context when she's demonstrating something to me. I was unconciously humming, "Are You Sleeping, Brother John?" (originally a French song) when she started doing some hand movements to it and saying, "Comme ca." She must have learned the gestures in daycare last year. My polite girl also says "please" ("s'il te plait) and, on the way to school, tells me she wants to say "hi" to "madame" (her teacher). Too, too cute.

My father is always asking me, "How much is she talking now? What can she say now?" Well, all the time with me, and just about everything. She's still shy around other adults. She speaks to Daddy, too, but not as much. Maylin uses big words sometimes, and recently put together a 7-word sentence. I can't remember it, but I remember John and I looking at each other in amazement after hearing it.

She loves playing with other kids, but she's equally comfortable playing by herself. At the park, in the crowded sandbox, there will be chaos all around her, but somehow, she creates a small, calm space where she sits and plays quietly alone.

At this point, I could see her becoming either an artist or an actress. She has some gorgeous abstract paintings that I can't wait to frame, and she has some drawings of an entire family -- Daddy, Mommy, and Baby have big, round heads with eyes, nose, and mouth, and have arms and legs coming out of them. She doesn't have the concept of body down yet. When she watches TV, she's often acting out the same thing she sees, with lots of expression. How fun it is to watch her.

Time to pick her up and go to lunch together with a friend in a cafe! Bye! Have a nice day!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A moment

I finally have a moment to sit down with my thoughts -- I have too many thoughts right now. I was trying to take a nap after dropping Maylin off at school, but my mind's too busy. Right after we got back from Ohio, a good friend of mine from Berkeley arrived to be our guest for two weeks. We've had so much fun, and I've loved playing hostess, but I'm starting to realize how much energy it takes. I have a break for a few days while he visits Germany to see another friend, so this is perfect.

I think if I didn't have to wake up at 7 am every morning I wouldn't be so tired. I actually roll out of bed around 7:20, shower, get Maylin dressed, try to feed her breakfast (she's usually not hungry this early -- just like Mommy was when she was a girl!), and take a brisk 5-minute walk together to school hand-in-hand. If we're a little early, these walks are especially enjoyable. She looks so cute walking so quickly with her lavendar backpack on, shuffling her feet a little. In the last few days our route became a little treacherous. Some renovation is happening to the front of one of the buildings on Boulevard Pereire and is resulting in a mixture of water and concrete dust to drip down through the scaffolding over our heads. The plastic tarp worked for awhile, but not anymore. Sometimes I try to dodge the drops, but with Maylin, we cross the street to avoid messes. Two days ago, I didn't get hit by dirty water, but I did get some dirt thrown down on me! Someone, also on Boulevard Pereire, was throwing debris/rubble from the top of the building into a dumpster on the street next to the curb. I didn't realize this until after I was pelted with the fine dirt which accompanied every toss of debris. That's city life for you.

City life. My friend and I decided to explore the St. Germain area one evening so went to the nearest metro station. The car we chose happened to have a guy lying on his back on the floor. It didn't look that strange to me since there are drunks who sleep in the cars once in awhile. As we entered the car, two other people quickly ran out. I assumed they realized last-minute that this was their stop. Then we heard a very concerned woman's voice in the distance. I realized she was trying to get the conductor's attention, to get help for this man who had apparently just passed out. Two male passengers attempted to wake up the man, saying "Monsieur, monsieur" and slapping his face. But no movement. We got a little worried that this guy might be dead! Fortunately, we did see his chest move up and down, but just slightly. I think he finally did move a little and our train continued onto the next stop. At this stop, three metro officials in gray suits holding walkie-talkies came in and tried to wake the man. He rolled onto his side and still seemed almost completely out. The officials propped him up onto a seat and then carried him out and had him sit on a bench on the quai/platform. Who knows what was up with this guy. He could've been a druggie, a drunk, someone with narcolepsy?

That same evening I saw something I had never seen before in Paris but had heard about. In St. Germain, at midnight, we encountered a police-escorted mass of rollerbladers going down the street at a quick pace. Hundreds of them. Traffic had to be stopped. It was an amazing sight -- mostly young people, a couple older children, some with backpacks, most without helmets(!). And the sound -- the rollerblades whizzing and whirring on the pavement created this low, almost hypnotic, buzz. It took 5-10 minutes for all of them to pass us. About five police vans with their flashing blue lights followed up the rear. It was all so breathtaking. A few weeks ago I had fantasized about getting roller skates (something more romantic about the old-fashioned kind). I did a little skating in high school -- I might get into it again with a friend here.

Time to walk down the street to get some groceries. I just LOVE this convenience of being able to walk everywhere. I don't miss driving at all. We do have a car, but we only use it for weekend trips and John does all the driving since I don't drive stick (automatic transmission are hard to come by here).

I'm going to do even more walking than usual now because I gained back some weight during vacation and during this past week (I tend to cook heavier for guests). I'll try to get out of the neighborhood so I can explore more of the city. Paris has several very charming areas -- the Marais, the St. Germain area...and I want to go to one of the locals' favorite parks, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. I recommended this park to my visiting friend and he was very impressed. I've never gone!

Have a great day, everyone!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Trip to Ohio photos

Here's the link to our mid-September trip to Ohio. A busy, fun-filled week with friends and family!

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8SZNGLds3f6

Saturday, September 17, 2005

John is a Columbus celebrity

Recently, we spent a week in Worthington, Ohio, visiting John's fun family (Maylin had a blast with her cousins). One of John's brothers spoke to a neighbor, who knew someone who worked for the Associated Press, about John arriving from Paris to watch a football game (one of the biggest in the nation between #2 University of Texas, Austin, and Ohio's darling, #4 Ohio State University). Of course, we went to Ohio to see family, but the story got a little distorted. Somehow though, this story was news to Columbus and Worthington people because John had a phone interview with a writer for the Assoiated Press the day after our arrival. See the article by visiting the link below. By the way, this same article shows up on about twenty other websites, including the Washington Post website and msnbc.com.

http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory?id=1108098&page=1

That same day, a photo shoot was held at the Ohio State football stadium. See the link below for a photo of John on the internet!

http://news.yahoo.com/photo/050908/483/ohjl10109082119

The next day, a camera crew arrived from the local Columbus news station to interview John! John showed up on the news two times that evening. They introduced his clip with other "crazy" people -- some drunken Texas Longhorns getting psyched for the game at a local bar. According to the reporter, John may have been one -- to fly from Paris to Columbus, Ohio, to see a football game. We can't believe that this little thing made the news, but maybe not enough happens in Columbus? Just so you know, John was very poised and articulate. We're proud of him.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Links to recent photos, finally

Trip to Provence in August, 2005

http://www.triptoprovence.shutterfly.com

Grandma and Grandpa's visit to Paris and Alsace in May, 2005:

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8SZNGLds3fJ

Please let me know if these links are not working!

I feel good

Living healthier means I’m living happier. After being pudgy for three months, I am slowly getting back to my normal weight. In two days, I lost two pounds. I think it’s helped that John’s been on a diet which has required me to cook a bit lighter. He eats less and inspires me to eat less, too. We probably both eat half as much as we used to. Also, I wake up earlier now so I have time to eat a balanced breakfast which prevents me from gorging myself at lunchtime (that’s always good). Cereal with soy milk and a banana or other fruit gets me going in the morning.

I’m still too scared to try on my jeans again, though. Thank goodness for elastic wastebands. It’s a pity that they don’t sell a lot of stylish pants with elastic wastebands! My tummy looks like it’s back to normal. The furrowed brow has reappeared above my belly button (extra skin from pregnancy number 1).

I like being able to walk quickly again. I feel nice and light – I could almost fly! And I can run with Maylin again, too. She likes running, and she can do it pushing her own umbrella stroller, laden with her dou-dou and groceries! I love it when she takes a break once in awhile to catch her breath – she looks so cute.

Maylin’s first semi-day in school

I guess I didn’t understand the school letter because I thought they would let parents stay in class for a bit until their child got acclimated to the new environment, classmates, teacher, etc. No, I was nicely asked to leave after dropping her off this morning. And again, this afternoon. She cried a lot less this time though. Poor thing. An all-French environment. I think she’ll do okay, though. It’ll be like living her French cartoons. I’m glad she wasn’t the only one crying. She might be one of the youngest, but she’s certainly not the smallest. I think most of the children are already three years-old so they’re a bit more mature. Her teacher is very warm, very friendly. I can tell from her smiling eyes that she is very kind and sincere. I’m sure Maylin will love her.

I’ll be getting plenty of walking exercise taking Maylin back and forth, to and from school. Each way takes 5 minutes of brisk walking. Starting next week, I’ll take her to school at 8:30 am, pick her up at 11:30 am, take her back at 1:30 pm, and pick her up at 4:30 pm. That’s four round-trips for me, adding up to 40 minutes of fast walking. Not bad. That doesn’t include the other walking I do to get my errands done and to get to other activities.

It’s amazing how much I can get done, two hours here, two hours there, while Maylin is in school. Next week, I’ll have six hours all to myself! It’s quite a weird feeling. I’m not accustomed to this sudden liberation. The three hours in the morning should allow me to either take a French class or a dance class and get my grocery shopping done. The three hours in the afternoon will let me continue my voice lessons once a week and walk around cool Parisian neighborhoods whenever I please. Ahh…this may prove to be heavenly.

I plan to resume my regular music-making activities in October after we get back from a trip with Grandma and Grandpa to Taiwan! I’m really looking forward to all that. This month, we’ll be going to Ohio to visit John’s family, whom we haven’t seen for almost two years? Maylin will be so excited to play with her many cousins!