Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Feeding Bebe

Mademoiselle is 3 months old today!  But what really made me have one of those "oh, this time goes so quickly" moments (cue the cheesy music, please) was when our pediatrician told me that in just one month, it would be time to start introducing food to our petite fille. 

Food? Already?!

But let's back up a few steps, and talk briefly about Mademoiselle's nutritional journey to date.  For the first month of her life, she was breast-fed, with just a very few small bottles of formula given by Mr. Oil when I was truly desperate for sleep. 

At her one-month check up, the pediatrician asked if I was nursing, and I said yes but mentioned that she had been given a few bottles of formula.  "Wait," said the doctor, "what country are you from?"

"I'm from the US," I replied.

"But Americans do not do this.  Americans are very serious about the breast-feeding. They never give a bottle. Where did you come up with this idea?" said the doctor, quite shocked about my un-American behavior (he is French, of course). 

"Um, I was really tired?" I replied, a bit confused.  Was he going to chastise me?  Where was this heading? 

"This is so French!" he exclaimed.  "Of course you get tired, and it is better for your own milk if you get some rest.  This is very good!"  Phew. 

Anyone with a child, or who has any friends with children, surely knows that there is a great and ongoing discussion about the benefits of breast-feeding.  And there are significant amounts of judgment that go along with your decisions in this area.  I have no plans to expound on any of this here, and while I think the judgment exists just as much in the American expat community in France as in the United States proper, the French have a different outlook.  While nursing is encouraged, nobody is expected to nurse for very long.  In fact, one of the informational sheets I was given when I left the hospital with Mademoiselle stated explicitly that "long-term breast-feeding is not normal in French culture, and if you choose to do this, it will be difficult."    As an example of this, an American friend was at a dinner party here in Paris. She was still nursing her child, who was about 13 months at the time.  An older French woman who had never met my friend before said to her point-blank, "What, will you still be nursing him in university?"

When Baby Oil was born in the US, I was visited by lactation consultants in the hospital and had several follow-up visits with the on-site lactation consultant at the pediatrician's office.  In France, when I asked a question about nursing to one of the maternity nurses, I was told that the best resource for information on nursing was Message, the English-language expat moms' group of which I'm already a member. 

I stopped nursing 3 weeks ago, and it was absolutely the right decision for me.  Mademoiselle is thriving and smiling and happy, and I'm much happier too.  So right now I'm quite grateful to have had a baby in this country where women are not expected to subjugate their body to their child for months if not years on end (not that there's anything wrong with nursing, and yes I know that breast milk is best, and yes I know that the American Association of Pediatrics says blah-blah-blah).  I told the pediatrician at the three-month check-up that I stopped nursing and he gave me a blank look, as if to say, "why are you even bothering to mention such a trivial matter?"  

So at 4 months, we are supposed to start introducing food to Mademoiselle on a fairly regimented schedule.  While at least one American mom here has told me that she would ignore the French approach, I tend to agree with the pediatrician who explained that every year, a new set of recommendations comes out that changes whatever was recommended the year before.  But at the end of the day, we mostly end up doing what our grandmothers did, because we know that worked. 

At 4 months, we are supposed to give formula + rice cereal in the morning.  Then at "midday", give vegetable puree followed by formula.  At 4:00pm, fruit puree followed by formula.  In the evening, formula + rice cereal. 

The best part is the 4:00pm piece, because that implies that I am feeding my baby at precise times.  What happens if it's 4:30?  Will I anger the French food gods?

At 6 months, by the way, we give formula with cereals that contain gluten.  At midday, it's vegetables and meat or fish, followed by milk or "milk-based dessert" (because a 6 month old totally needs a 3 course lunch that includes dessert - good thing I bought those mini cocottes at the Le Creuset outlet - creme brulee is a milk-based dessert, right?).  More fruit and formula at 4:00pm. 

These decisions may have to moderated based on the fact that, as it turns out, our sojourn in France is about to end.  In July we will return to the United States for good, and in August settle into a new life in Brooklyn.  This has happened rather quickly and while it was something that presented itself to us rather than us searching for a way to get home, we are excited to be heading back to America.  Though I'm not sure what our American pediatrician will say about milk-based desserts and 4:00pm fruits! 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Sky Is Bleu

It's a funny thing raising an accidentally bilingual child.  Suddenly I have a much greater appreciation for immigrant parents in the US who send their children off to school and quickly become unable to help them in many respects.

Baby Oil has been attending a French nursery school (glorified day care, but nursery school sounds better) for about nine months.  It's a few hours every morning, and a fair amount of time is spent playing with toys.  The halte garderie is private and serves a significant number of expat families (five kids from our area's expat 2011 baby playgroup attend).  We are still mostly unclear about how much French Baby Oil understands while he's there, and how much he actually speaks. 

Yet in recent weeks, his French has started bubbling to the surface.  There was the day he came home and pointed out that "the sky is bleu."  For several days thereafter, if you tried to tell him anything was the color blue, he would correct you, and say, "No! Bleu.

There was the week the school dedicated to animals.  After that, we were summarily instructed to say "elephant" ("eh-lay-foh") instead of elephant, and "girafe" ("ghee-rahf") for giraffe. 

Somewhere along the way, Baby Oil started a gimick in which he would ask, "Tap?" and then attempt to smack Mademoiselle.  This was confusing because tapping someone is not necessarily hitting, and we didn't know what he meant by wanting to tap her.  But I mentioned this recurring scenario to a friend and she pointed out that "taper" in French can mean to slap or hit.  Point to the nursery school for teaching my toddler to ask if he may hit his sister in French. 

Interpreting toddler-speak is not easy in one language, and certainly gets more confusing when the toddler has access to a second language, and the parents don't know what he's learned in that second language.  Baby Oil's love of "gateau chocolat" has been clearly documented, and his big sentence in French revolves around that love - "Tu as fait du gateau?" (Did you make a cake?)

The only word we use for pacifier in our house is tetine, both because that is what the school calls it (though Baby Oil does not take his out of the crib these days, for the record) and also because frankly I don't like the word pacifier and I really don't like the term binky.  On occasion, Baby Oil has referred to his tetine as a tetifier - a combination of English and French terms. 

If Mr. Oil or I try to talk to him in French, it usually falls flat as he expects English from us.  And sometimes if he picks out a French book to read, and we begin to read it in French, he will stop us and say, "No! Read it!"  Because apparently reading in French is not actually reading.  But when a friend who is French - though is always speaking English around us, of course - reads to him in French, he happily soaks up every word and appears to follow the story.

Most of my friends here are raising children in bilingual households because one of the parents is French.  They have their own set of stories about specific items or phrases coming out only in one language, or emerging preferences for one language (usually French) over the other (usually English).  Parenting is often a humbling experience, but so far one of the most significant realizations of my own limitations is when my son says a word that I know means something in another language, but I don't know what it means.  Or when he nods along with a story that I can barely follow.  Or simply knowing that he spends more than 15 hours each week in a French-only environment whereas I spend none in such a world.  At the same time, I also feel fortunate to be able to give my son this gift - even if its only temporarily.

The sky is bleu.  I wonder what we'll learn tomorrow! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

All About the Fries

Here's a tip - don't go to Belgium and ask for French fries.  Definitely go to Belgium, however, and eat a lot of fries.  And chocolate.  And waffles, unless you are traveling during Passover.

We spent two days in Belgium last week - one day in Gent and one in Bruges.  Both are small to medium-sized towns about a 3 hour drive from Paris, and 30 minutes from one another.  Both boast beautiful Flemish architecture and winding canals.
Gent, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

Our first activity upon arriving to Gent was lunch. We picked the first place we came across, with a full menu of salads, omelettes, toasts, pastas, etc.  What most of our crew really wanted was fries, but when we asked if they had any fries, the woman said no.

"No?" we asked incredulously.

The woman explained that they were not licensed to serve fries because in order to do so, they would be required to have a specific fry chef and be a "real" restaurant.  We looked around and saw tables, chairs, tablecloths, and the full menu.  This is not a restaurant in Belgium?  And what on earth is a fry chef?

The mystery was only furthered when we stopped at a fry shop and were duly served by a sullen 20-something girl who most certainly did not appear to have any kind of chef credentials.  She was the only person working in the shop.   Outside there was a sign indicating that this shop has a "master fryer" but apparently he (or she) was not in the greasy shop populated by teenagers.
What's more delicious - Belgian fries, or Mademoiselle?

Even the Friet Museum (yes, a museum entirely dedicated to fries) in Bruges did not answer this question, though it did offer more information about the potato than you could possibly imagine.  For instance, you can massage potato slices on your nose every night to help get rid of shiny skin.  Also, potatoes were once considered a food of the devil because they came from the ground.  Belgian fries are, according to the Friet Museum, the best fries in the world.  That is possible, and equally possible is that the Friet Museum is the only museum in the world where in addition to a gift shop there is a fry shop.  And your entrance ticket gives you a discount on fries!

One important lesson we learned during this family vacation is that we are actually terrible at caravaning.  We had two cars, and theoretically one car would follow the other.   On the first day in Gent, we lost each other before we exited the hotel parking lot.  And my visiting family did not have a working cell phone.  The hotel clerk had told us generally where to park in the city and although that parking lot was full, we managed to somehow find each other anyway.   That was lucky, and we resolved to do much better the next day.
Baby Oil and his uncles explore the Castle of the Counts in Gent

So when we left for Bruges the next morning, we naturally lost each other before we left the parking lot.  Again.  This time the meet-up did not go as smoothly, in large part because the other car did not actually have a map.  We were supposed to meet a tour guide in the market square at 10:00am.  But my family never showed, and at almost 11 we decided we would start the tour without them.

Through some remarkable coincidence, we happened to walk over a bridge next to Bruges' famous "Lake of Love" when a boat tour cruised by on the canal.  We looked at the boat, and there was my family!  Our afternoon was thus spent all together as any afternoon in Belgium should be - touring the Chocolate Museum and the Fry Museum, and eating copious amounts of Belgian chocolate and Belgian fries.  It's not like French chocolate is anything to sneeze at - it's amazing.  But simply crossing that border gave us free rein to indulge in the not-exactly-exotic world of Belgian chocolate (which according to the Belgians, naturally, is the best chocolate in the world).

Our hotel was in a glamorous spot just off the main highway into Gent, and across the street from some sort of industrial factory.  It probably produces chemicals or detergent or something really boring, but Baby Oil pronounced after examining the factory out the window of our hotel room that "it is a factory making chocolate for [Baby Oil]!"  Ah, the optimism of youth.

On the third day, my family went on to Luxembourg and we headed back to Paris via Fresnoy-le-Grand.  If you've never heard of this town, you are in good company as it is squarely in the middle of nowhere.  But it is home to the Le Creuset factory and the Le Creuset factory store.  After driving for a good 30 minutes on country roads surrounded by quiet, lush fields, a number of World War I cemeteries, and remarkably little civilization, we found Fresnoy-le-Grand.  Turning onto the Rue Olivier De Guise, I was not at all convinced we were in the right place.  But then we saw a really big building that could pass as a factory, and at the end of the street was a small white house. 

From the parking lot, this is what you see:

And this is the store:

But then you walk in the incredibly inauspicious doors:

to this:

Hello Le Creuset!  Everything in the store is 30%-50% off.  And if you even try to suggest that these are the same deals that can be found at other Le Creuset outlets (I have no idea if this is true or not, but Mr. Oil foolishly brought it up), I will strongly argue that you are wrong. Regardless of facts.  And now I have a beautiful Le Creuset pot bought just feet from the factory in scenic Fresnoy-le-Grand, France.  Well, it's possible I have a beautiful large pot, 4 beautiful smaller pots, 4 beautiful mini pots, 1 beautiful serving dish, and some really nice spatulas.  I may have gone a tad overboard (no comment, Mr. Oil, if you please). 

Fries, chocolate, and Le Creuset.  That is my kind of trip!