Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Aren't they cute?

We leaving tomorrow for a 5-day vacation. I won't have access to a computer while I'm away so don't think I'm just being lazy. Until I return, I leave you with a picture of me and my babies, just so everyone knows they really exist and I didn't make them up to have something to write about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Loosely translated

Sunday, we had friends over for a long lunch. (Hot crab dip with crudités, crostini with tapenade, crostini with fresh sheep cheese and tomates confites - roasted chicken with greek potatoes - arugala salad - pecan torte with lemon curd, for those of you who like to know what's cooking.) The couple JP and S, are both French and have two boys, aged 7 and 3 1/2. The adults drank and ate and talked, the boys ate and played and got very dirty.

When they arrived, we kissed (faire la bise) the way they do here in Laval, once on each cheek (in some regions it's twice on each cheek - R-L-R-L) . For kids, it's just once on one cheek, they get a discount since they're under 10. But even that is too much for Boy2 most of the time, who is too little to be requred to systematically participate in those kinds of rituals, at least that's how husband and I see it.

S (the mom), approched Boy2, said bonjour and tried to kiss his cheek. Boy2 hid his face in my legs and said, "Mama, I don't like her." S looked to me for a translation. I said, "He said he's feeling a little shy. Don't worry, he just needs a little time to get used to you." Which he did, sort of. He mostly just avoided her.

At one point during the afternoon, he had a slight altercation over a hole he was digging (thus the dirt) with one of the other boys. Gestures were made, names were called, pushes were exchaged. Boy2 ran over with a fake I'm-sooooo-hurt face for a hug. While in my arms, S, who was sitting next to me, tried to cheer him up with tickles and funny faces. None of which were well received. He switched his head to the other shoulder as to avoid her gaze and said, "I don't like you, leave me alone!" Again the please-translate look. I provided one, "He said he just needs to rest a little."

Now, S is a mom and she knows how kids are and I'm sure she wouldn't have been vexed by his comments. But still. It is so nice to be able to provide translations à la carte.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Half-American, Half-French

Saturday, the four of us had lunch at a little restaurant a few blocks from our house. We sat down at a table outside and started to look at the menus. Actually, husband and I looked at the menus, Boy2 rearranged his baseball hat (Cubs, of course) and sunglasses (Winny), and Boy1 played (and dropped on the ground several times) with a red car he got in an Easter egg.

We ordered, got beverages, relaxed in the sun and enjoyed one of the first warm spring days we've had this year.

On our right was the river that runs through the middle of town and on our left, the back wall of the castle.

Husband says to Boy1, "Isn't it cool? We're having lunch right by the castle."

Boy1, looking totally unimpressed, replies, "Why? It's just a castle. But I 'm so excited they have McNuggets on their kids' menu."

Just a castle? My 5 1/2 year old American child said just a castle? No, my husband's 5 1/2 year old French child said just a castle and my American child said McNuggets. That is not what I call the best of both worlds.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Analyze this

Lorraine posted a picture of Jung today on her blog ( - yes, I'm going to figure out the link thing soon) which made me think of Mary, my therapist who disappeared.

Mary Kleyweg was my therapist for a few years (shocking, I know) while I was living in Seattle. We talked about stuff, analyzed a few dreams, made a little headway or not. Whatever. Anyway, one day, late spring of 1994, when I showed up at Mary's house/office for my weekly appointment that never changed time or day, she wasn't there. I knocked, waited a while, and then left. I figured something had came up or she had left a message somewhere that I hadn't yet received.

I never did get a message and when I showed up the following week, she wasn't there. I went around the back of the house and tried the back door. Listened for her cool dog, Nebby (short for Nebraska). Nothing. As I was walking back to my car, I saw a neighbor gardening. I asked her if she had seen Mary. No, she hadn't, and, as a matter of fact, there had been quite a few of people like me (I think she meant hip and very sane looking) coming around knocking on the door and getting no answer. What was strange was that the house was totally intact except that Mary was gone.

Now, I don't know much (obviously, as I didn't get to finish my therapy), but I think that disappearing is high up on the therapist's don't do list. And Mary was really great. Honestly. Smart, very professional, successful, ethical. The only thing I can think of that could explain all this is Witness Protection. (Stop Laughing.) She mentioned that she had been asked, on occasion, to testify in court procedings that required a psychologist's expertise.

For a while, I read the obituaries and listened to the news. Nothing. Every few years I do an internet search. Nothing.

So, Witness Protection Management People, if you read my blog, send me a little sign please, something really small that won't endanger any lives, to let me know that Mary's ok.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

St. Antoine

I'm not the kind of person who loses things all the time. I rarely misplace my keys or cellphone. But some items have been lost occasionally that were very important to me. A photo album, a bracelet, a christening gift for Boy2, Boy1's lovey when he was at an age where sleeping without his lovey was inconceivable for him (and that meant I wouldn't get any sleep either), and lately, my intuition.

The first time I called upon St. Anthony for help was when the lovey was lost. I called my mother in a panic and, while turning the house upside down, followed her instructions. St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around, something is lost and cannot be found. After I hung up, I threw a bargain into the deal. Um, St. Anthony I'll stop swearing forever if you help me find this irreplaceable piece of cloth. And he did. So I did. Boy1 had stuffed his lovey into a little box in the bathroom I use to store tampons and something made me look inside that box that was much to small to hold a lovey. Seriously, since that day I can count on one hand the times I've slipped up. Now, my niece says that I cheat. Because I don't count ass or bitch as swearing. But really, anything you can say on highly censored American tv can't count as swearing.

Since that time, I have repeatedly asked for St. Anthony's help in finding important things because he gets the job done. And I always throw in a bargin just because I feel like I have to do something. I mean I'm not even Catholic (or much of anything) and here I am asking for a favor. Sometimes I wonder if he doesn't have a deal with a michievous angel or saint pal who makes me lose the things so he can slowly chip away at my bad habits and character defaults during my times of crisis.

The day he got his biggest laugh was December 26th, 2004. My mother had gotten me a beautiful rosary bracelet (I know, I know, I'm not even Catholic) to replace a favorite bracelet I had lost years before (didn't know St. Anthony then either) and, at about 6:00pm, I realized it was no longer on my wrist. I provide the time so you can imagine all the ground I had covered. We had been all over the town center (on foot, of course), up and down and all around my small but tall house, and we'd driven a couple of places too. So basically, the bracelet was GONE and I knew it. There was no way, not even with St. Anthony's help, I was ever going to find that bracelet. So right away I started pleading and, thinking it was such a total lost cause, got out the big bargin material. St. Anthony, I'll do anything, um what could I do, I know, I'll, ha,ha, pray 10 rounds on that rosary bracelet a day if you help me find it. You guessed it. I found it. Under the driver's seat in my car. I swear I could almost hear the laughing. My mother, in fact, did burst out laughing when I told her what I had promised to do. My husband just said, "For life?" Well, I guess so as I had been too stupid to put another prepositional phrase at the end of the sentence I had whispered into St. Anthony's very attentive ear.

(Please note, of the above listed lost items, all but one have been recovered. I haven't actually asked for help with the photo album because I'm not sure I have anything big enough to bring to the bargining table for a favor that size.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Congé Parental

How much is a stay-at-home-mom worth these days?

In France, her current monthly estimated value is 530€.

After the birth of your second child, you can leave your job for up to 3 years (and get it back when you're done) and the government will pay you 530€ a month to stay home and take care of your family. It was originally established to encourage families to have more children (birth rates were low for a while) and to lower unemployment (at least on paper) by creating a (temporary) job.

When asked what I do, I say quickly and without heistation that I am on parental leave. I feel no embarassment or shame or even intellectual inferiority - why should I, right? Just because I've stopped working doesn't mean I've become a burden to society or lost my ability to converse with adults. I just assumed the lot of us felt the same way. Then, last week, at the Dr.'s office, I read an article in a women's magazine in which the author lamented her parental leave status. She claimed to feel a serious gêne (discomfort, embarassment) around her when she told people what her current activity was. That there was judgement in the eyes of those around her and that her worth in this society could only be defined by a truly professional activity. Now, if there's one place on earth where a stay-at-home-mom can claim some worth and recognition (economically speaking), it's here. We actaully get paid to do it! Not a lot, mind you (especially considering that it's the one job in France exempt from the 35 hour work week law), but still. Symbolically, I think the paycheck is important.

So I asked around. And most of the women I talked to agreed with author. Which just seems so paradoxical to me. But then, of course, France is full of paradoxes. This is the country with the strictest anti-smoking legislation in Europe. But people here smoke EVERYWHERE (those very strict laws are not enforced).

So how is it that I don't seem to feel this gêne they all told me about? A few possiblities. I'm too obtuse or egocentric to notice it, it doesn't apply to me because I'm a foreigner and lots of rules just slide right over us, or, my favorite, it isn't really there at all, it's just a shadow of what used to be true. Those women grew up during a time when women who worked were more highly respected than those who didn't. But the pendulum here has swung back the other way and now, I think, you can do whatever you want and feel good about it. If I'm incorrect, I'll just continue being obtuse.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A splinter by any other name still hurts

This afternoon, Boy2 and I were upstairs looking at his hand, trying to see if there was a splinter. We decided there was indeed a splinter. After locating the tweezers, I started to dig.

Meanwhile, Boy2 was downstairs playing his idea of music on a small guitar. When he noticed we had been gone for too long (as far as he was concerned), he called out for his brother. Boy1 replies, "I can't come down right now, you'll have to wait."

Boy2, being 2, replies, "But why?"

Boy1, having been (oh how wrong we were - but by the time we realized it, it was way too late) accustomed to ALWAYS having an explanation provided, provides one. "Because there's something mysterious in my hand and Mama is trying to dig it out." Well said.

Boy1 remains dissatisfied. "Mama, come downstairs."

"No, you come upstairs."

So he starts to walk upstairs. After a couple of steps he says, "Mama arms."

"I can't come get you - you come up by yourself."

With an exasperated sigh he says, "I can't Mama. I too heavy."

Yeah, I know what you mean.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My husband has a mistress...

A while back I was having tea with a mom from Boy1's school. We were talking about kids, of course. P mentioned that despite the fact that her husband worked long hours and didn't get to spend a lot of time with their two girls, they still insisted on an early bedtime. She gave a few reasons and then whispered the most important.

"To be honest, S and I just want to have our evenings to ourselves. I'm completely fusionelle with my husband."

Fusionel is a hard word to translate - it's something like REALLY close, fusion-like, coalescent, merging, in a non-sexual way. You get the picture.

When my darling spouse came home for lunch, we chatted about our mornings (actually I chatted and he muttered) and I mentioned having had tea with P. Then I relayed the fusionel comment, wrapped my arms around him, and said how I would love to be fusionelle him.

My sweet husband smiled a rueful smile and said, "Ma pauvre chérie, je suis fusionel avec la télévision." (My poor sweetheart, I'm fusionel with the tv.)


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Help! My lips are moving and nothing is coming out...

Yes, the joys of dubbed television are many.

In the beginning it's extremely annoying. But after a while you get used to it. Or at least you deal with it without complaining constantly to your spouse or trying to read lips (to your spouse's great relief). Then you start to observe the effects it has. Like that Seinfeld reruns are not funny dubbed in French. Seriously, we'd rather watch a blank screen than Seinfeld in French and we both like that show. Or how regional and even some foreign accents are completely lost. They're all just speaking standard French most of the time. So a southern accent or a Jersey accent is completely lost - we can just hope it doesn't have too much to do with the essence of the film. And the strangest of all - the people who do the dubbing have other gigs too. So the guy who does George Clooney in movies and ER reruns is the voice over in a hand cream commercial. Now I'm thinking that should count as a celebrity endorsement.

Since January we have a dsl computer tv thing deal that allows us to watch some channels in v. o. (version originale) - but without subtitles. Now it's the spouse's turn to have to concentrate while watching tv.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mes amis

My dear friend Lorraine ( has posted a couple of pictures from my wedding weekend (August 98). That was really an amazing weekend - actually an amazing ten days from the arrival of the first guests, my mom, my aunt Sue, and Julie, to the last departure.

I went to Paris to meet Mom, Sue and Julie. We had a few really fun days in Paris before heading to Nantes, where I was living at the time. My mother and Sue were staying in a hotel, Julie and I were in a hostel a few districts away. Mom and Sue had all kinds of adventures. My mother is a magnet for that kind of thing...

One evening, after dinner with Julie and me at a pizzeria where the owner shamelessly flirted with Mom, it was decided that they could make it back to their hotel unescorted on the metro. They got in, knew where to get off, everything was going well. Until. At their stop, they were the only ones getting off. And they couldn't get the door open. Parisien metros have a kind of flip up handle that seems pretty straightforward but it was Mom. So they look at a man standing near the door and Mom says the ONLY French word she can think of while pointing to the door, "Bonjour." Now, mind you, it's about 10:30 in the evening, so Bonsoir would've been the better choice but, either way, it was going to have minimal impact on the door problem. No response. She continues. And continues. Finally, after about the 6th bonjour, the man tilts his head and says, "Bonjour." And then kindly opens the door for them. This was followed by being caught in a downpour which was not kind to a badly tie-dyed scarf being used to 'protect' hair, being two blocks from the hotel and still being lost, and being given faulty directions by well-meaning police officers who couldn't stop laughing at the scarf.

A few days after we arrived in Nantes, Eric, Lorraine, and Dylan arrived. We ate, drank, and were merry through a civil ceremony, a religious ceremony, and a day-after party. My father-in-law had tears in his eyes when he said goodbye to Dylan.

There was also magic that weekend. Julie was actually pregnant with her daughter (and my goddaughter) Adele but she didn't know it yet, the moon was higher and bigger and brighter than I have ever seen it (it was full on the night of our religious ceremony), my soon-to-be father-in-law didn't even blink when I asked him to walk me down the aisle, and I actually got married. I never really thought I would get married - I figured I would always be with the older guy or the married guy or the older married guy or the young but very wrong guy. And yet there I was, next to the perfect man for me - right for me for all the wrong reasons and wrong for me for all the right reasons. He often says he knows me comme s'il m'avait faite (as if he had made me) - and he's right because in some ways he did make me. He made me into the wife and mother I never thought I would be. Even more incredible is that I got to begin down that road with my friends standing right there wishing me a bon voyage. I doubt they know how much it meant to me - they can't - as I couldn't describe how loved I felt in the church that day, knowing how far they had come and how much they had done for me.

Eric, Lorraine, Dylan, Beth, Julie, Mom, Sue - nearly eight years and two children later, thank you my friends. You are treasured.

Friday, April 14, 2006


One of the things I appreciate about French is its colorful expressions. The following post may be considered a bit crude so if you're a daffodil, don't read on. (That means you, Mom.) Here's a selection of a few of my favorites.

pas catholique - literally, not Catholic. Used when describing something or someone that's not quite right. I think we could safely say that George W. Bush is pas catholique.

j'ai les dents du fond qui baignent - my back teeth are swimming. Used to describe that I'm-so-full-I-could-explode feeling following holiday dinners, for example. As in, there's so much food it's backing up into my mouth. Yeah, gross, I know.

fini à la pisse - finished with piss. Used to describe someone who didn't get a good piece of the gene cake. Meaning that the father of said someone, at the tail end of his pinacle of physical pleasure, finished up the job with, yes, pee. I think we could safely say that George W. Bush is fini à la pisse.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Can someone please tell me how to get the title to show up like a title?


The name of the town I live in and my husband's last name are spelled the same backwards and forwards. Yes, I know there's a word for that. But one of the longterm effects of living here is that my English is now crap. I don't make syntax errors or speak like Van Damme or have a lost look in my eyes while I search for basic English words. But I have lost vocabulary. I swear, for every new French word I've learned over the past 8 years, I've lost an English one. Now, mind you, I haven't lost any really important or useful ones but, at certain times, I feel like my useless college degrees are a big lie. Seriously, I have a degree in linguistics and I'm afraid to admit it.

Another one of the degrees was in applied linguistics. I learned all about second language acquistion and teaching esl. You would have thought that one wouldn've been really useful here. No. I've gotten jobs here teaching English not because I had a degree saying I was qualified to do so, but simply because I'm American. The French have an extraordinary amount of faith in native speakers. It's like we're born qualified to teach. Never mind pedagogy, never mind language acquisition theories, never mind training. Up until this year, I only felt the positive effects of this attitude. Things recently changed and I discovered that there's a hierarchy governing us native speakers living in France - in the academic sphere at any rate.

In the fall, I decided to volunteer at my son's school. I mentioned to the director that I would be willing to give an hour a week of English fun and games or instruction or both if they were interested. He smiled and said thank you and never followed up. No big deal. I mentioned it to a few of the moms I see when we pick them up for lunch. They all seemed very enthusiastic and said they would follow up with the diretor. Nothing happened. Finally, I mentioned it to a mom who is also a teacher at the school. She said she would love to have me in her class once a week and could we start as soon as possible. So we did. At the next staff meeting, F announced our collaboration to her colleagues and the director's attitude (as well of that of all the other teachers) was revealed. I don't speak the most desireable variety of English. It would seem that, unless you're from the United Kingdom, your English isn't really English. It's just a pale imitation that will, if passed on to poor, unsuspecting 3rd graders, cause more trouble than it's worth.

Fast forward to the new school we're sending both boys to in the fall. We visited it and met all the staff last weekend. When some of the teachers heard me speaking américain to the boys, they all jumped up with questions. Where are you from? Are they bilingual? Oh you're American, how wonderful, would you consider helping us teach English in class? Apparently when you're the only native speaker around willing to work for free, you get a free promtion up the hierarchy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Weird Conversations

I had two of them yesterday. The first was with Boy1 (5 1/2). When I picked him up from school we talked about his day. He handed me some drawings and said, "Alice did wheat drawings today." What are wheat drawings? "No, wheat drawings!" Yeah, I heard you, so did you do spelt drawings? Corn drawings?

That's when things heated up. And it got a lot worse before it got better. Winds up he was saying huit (eight in French) drawings and had either forgotten how or was too lazy to say eight. Forgetfulness and laziness are two reoccuring themes in conversations with bilingual children. They cut corners whenever they can. I know, I know, give them a break, they're learning two languages at once. But really they're not. They're acquiring them, which is a heck of a lot easier than learning.

The second was with Boy2 (2 1/2). At 3:00am he starts screaming. I jump out of bed and run up the stairs. Heart pounding, I rush into his room. All screaming stops. B2 says, with no tears on his face and instead, a huge smile, "Hi, Mama!" What's wrong, are you ok? "Yes!" Why were you screaming? "Oh, me sad." Why were you sad? "Um, because me very sad." Yeah, well, let's talk about this tomorrow.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A shrug of the shoulders and a sigh

Living in France has certain advantages. Living in France while there are student riots has none. Despite the fact that I've been living here for over 8 years, there are still some things I just don't get. All the students will go on and on about how sacred the right to strike is but when you mention that the right to be able to pick your kid up (Boy1) from school and drive back home in under an hour (we're talking about a 10 minute trip that I would've made on foot had Boy2 not had a fever) is just as sacred, they look at you like you're a stupid American. Which I am, but still. Most of the people not rioting are pretty philosophical about the whole thing, which is equally as maddening. Really. They take it like bad weather. Oh it's raining today, oh half the streets are blocked today. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Or maybe not, they're not the most optimistic people. And so, with a shrug and a sigh, they just accept it as part of the national landscape.