Friday, May 26, 2006

Weird conversations, Tome 2

Boy1 must be going through some developmental stage, as they do from time to time, or even all the time. Anyway, this one must have something to do with gender stuff.

A few times in the past week, Boy1 has tried to cop a feel of my breasts. In his own 5 1/2 year old oh-so-subtle (not) way. The first couple of times, I just let it pass.

But a few nights ago I didn't. It was bedtime, he was standing on his bed and I gave him a hug. During said hug, he placed one of his hands right on my one of my breasts. I pushed his hand away (gently) and said, "Sweetie, you can't touch my breasts."

Boy1 said nothing.

I continued. "See, breasts are private parts." I put my hands over my chest. "These are private parts." I put my hands over my crotch. "And these are private parts. Just like your penis and testicles are your private parts. And we don't touch other people's private parts."

Boy1 said nothing and looked pensive.

Then he said,"Ok Mama. But, man, you girls are so lucky. You have lots more private parts than we do."

Sounded like something Joey might have said.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The silent treatment

My father's not speaking to me again. But I'm ok. He wrote me in March and in his letter there were some references to the past that were just too whatever. So I wrote him back a nice, long, newsy letter and included one paragraph of hey-there-might-be-another-way-of-looking-at-things. I couched it in non-judgement - it really was that, I just wanted him to know that his vision of our shared life is not a vision shared by all involved. He's usually a very conscientious correspondant, so I can only assume his silence is to let me know he didn't appreciate that paragraph. I'm working up the courage to call him, courage I need - not because I fear his reaction but because our phone conversations, even under the best of circumstances, are difficult. We just don't have a lot to say to each other. I give news of the boys and my life here, he gives news of his health and his golf game, and that's about it. We've tried talking about politics but his only news source is Fox News so I spend that part of the conversation feeling like I'm hitting my head against the wall. Talking about the world is worse, when I once asked about travel he replied that he had really no interest in ever leaving San Antonio. He moved to Texas after retirement but he's been a Texan in his heart forever, I suppose. (Diane and others in Texas, take no offense, none is meant.) He did say that the next time I made it back to Illinois, he would drive up. When I mentioned that a plane might be easier he said, "I flew once."

The good news is that I really am ok. Not hurt or disappointed or mad or anything. As I said in my previous post, he cannot give what he does not have, so I don't have any expectations. I'm sad for us a little bit, that our relationship is so fragile that a couple of let's-compare-visions sentences can lead to silence, but I'll persist because I want him to know I love him anyway, even if he didn't like that paragraph and even if he doesn't want to know what the past was like for us. That's what you do with family, right?

It's Ascension Day today, a national holiday, and the bells at the church down the street from my house are ringing right now. I'll take that as a yes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Qui suis-je, Tome 2

One of my brothers and his wife are coming to visit. We are all really excited for a variety of reasons. The children because aunt and uncle play with them, talk to them, read to them, and spoil them so much that they feel very adored. Husband because he and brother can commiserate during apéritif and go on about what a princess I am (untrue, by the way) and because he says that sister-in-law is the best tourist ever, very interested, attentive, and appreciative - it's a real pleasure to show her around (she's even been taking French classes - the ultimate sign of touristic commitment). As for myself, I love their visits for all of the above reasons and also because it's so nice to be around people who've known me for more than 10 years.

Husband knows me well, he really does. But he only knows my history as I've told it. And although he's been to the US quite a few times, I don't think he really knows what it's like to be an American. I've been living here for nearly 9 years and I'm just starting to get an idea, a real idea, of what it's like to be French.

Anyway, a few years ago, husband mentioned that I was not myself when longtime friends and family came to visit. And he did not mean that in a good way. My attitude towards him was different. More attitudinal even. Husband is the kind of man who says something like that and then goes on about whatever like he didn't just open a huge can of worms. So, of course, I drilled him with questions. Was it what I said or how I said it, to him or about him, with everyone or not. We narrowed it down to words not said, just a tone or attitude (oh that's helpful) and only when longtime female friends were visiting.

So I did some thinking. And realized he was right. I was not the same when they were here. Maybe it's me, maybe it's my generation, maybe it's having gone to high school during the fashion disaster that was the 1980's. But I felt like I had to show my friends that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I had not become what I had always said I would NEVER be. A 1950's housewife. There's nothing wrong with being a housewife and I love my life, truly. I would not change my choices if I could, and you know how much I don't want to go back to work. But I never thought I would be living my life this way. And I, being me, made a lot of noise about that over the years. The thing is that my friends don't ever judge me and they would love me no matter what my life looked like. Which means that I was really trying to prove it to myself. Which is an exercise in absurdity.

My attitude is now revised, I no longer have anything to prove, except to my brother - that I am not a princess. Which, he would say, is another exercise in absurdity.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Husband and I went to Tours this weekend. We left on saturday morning and came back sunday around noon. Our first 24 hours away from our children ever. Happily, we got along really well and had things to talk about other than the children. While in Tours I learned two things. It was kind of like a field trip.

Mustard has really cool splatter patterns.

Husband and I found a nice brasserie for lunch on saturday. Upon arrival at our table, husband took off his coat with a flourish. And knocked a small mustard pot off the table. The mustard pot fell to the floor right at my feet. There was no mustard on the floor. There was, however, a series of near-linear splatters all over me. We thought it was confined to my coat and hair. Husband sweetly scraped as much as possible off my coat with a steak knife. I went into the restroom to get the rest out of my hair. I came back, we settled in, and ordered. Husband ordered jarret, a small ham. The waiter deadpanned, "Avec de la moutarde, monsieur?" When he came back with our wine he discreetly pointed to my leg and said, "Eh, madame..." There was a long line of mustard splatter from the bottom of my jeans up to mid-thigh. Talk about elegant.

There is a shop in Tours that only sells brioche.

No baguettes, no croissants, no pains au chocolat. Nothing except for brioche. Now, I like brioche as much as anybody. What's not to like? But I did not think there could be a shop where you can only buy brioche. Or that someone could sell that much brioche. There were three, well, four varieties. A large-ish braided loaf, a traditional round brioche, a smaller version of the traditional round brioche, and that same smaller version but with small morcels of chocolat. The shop was right by our hotel in a quiet section of downtown Tours.

You might be thinking, so what? We have bagel shops. Yes, we do. But with bagels you have infinite possibilities. Sweet, savory, toppings, sandwiches, cold, hot, toasted, not. (I must stop this. I miss bagels sometimes.) Anyway. It's not the same with brioche. Brioche is just brioche. It's always sweet and nearly always consumed for breakfast or perhaps at snack-time for kids. That's it. But that's not stopping the people of Tours. They were in and out of that shop all day long. A constant flow of brioche buyers. Which tells me that I have clearly been underestimating the possibilities of excellent brioche.

Friday, May 19, 2006

You've got to be kidding me

No matter how long you live in place, no matter how well you get to know the customs and the people, there are still surprises. Some good and some whatever.

Friday evening after picking up Boy1 from school and running a few errands, I was ready to go home. My in-laws were arriving for the weekend, I needed to start dinner, pick up the family room, and return two phone calls. I was neither stressed nor in a hurry, just a mom with a few things to do.

I started to turned down the lane that leads to our garage and quickly backed up as I saw that there was a truck blocking the way. At the end of the lane is our neighbor's house. Their front courtyard and our garage door were blocked by two trucks. I should mention that our neighbors are renovating their house in a really big way. I'll also mention that they're really nice and we get along really well. We use the familiar tu form to address each other, have drinks and crab dip occasionally, and always stop to chat when we run into each other. Their project has caused a few minor inconveniences but nothing bothersome.

From the top of the lane, I could see the neighbors and two guys who have been working on the stones of the front facade talking in the courtyard. I waved to get their attention. They didn't see me. I yelled, "Salut!" to the neighbors. They didn't hear me. So, I whistled. I know how to whistle well. Fingers in the mouth very loud kind of whistle. Everyone turned. I made the universal can-I-park-in-my-garage gesture. NeighborB nodded. So I waited at the top of the lane until the stone guys packed it up and moved their trucks.

When I finally got the car parked, the boys out, snack and book bag material in arms, I went to close the garage door. I saw NeighborB and said, "Hey B, I bet you didn't know I could whistle like that." She said, "I loved it but stone guys were offended."

I offended stone guys. What? I offended stone guys? They were blocking my garage and I offended them by asking them if I could park my car in my garage? Again, what? Why? How? I was nice to B while asking my questions - it wasn't her fault but surely there was something more to the story.

It was the whistle.

Maybe it's a guy thing, maybe it's a French thing, maybe it's a French guy thing, but stone guys were offended because I, a WOMAN, whistled to get their attention.

Later, I drilled unsuspecting husband about the whistle. He said that woman don't whistle here. It's not ELEGANT. Which is apparently offensive, nearly criminal even. (Although he did have the good marriage saving sense to say that he didn't mind at all that I whistled.)

Let me just say it again. You've got to be kidding me.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Whose Louise are you?

Yesterday, like everyday, Boy2 and I arrived at Boy1's school at 11:45 to pick him up for lunch. Which, I must say, is always, without exception, such a pleasure. We hug like we haven't seen each other in months and it's one of the sweetest moments in my day. Anyway, from his carseat in the back, Boy2 spotted a mother (and friend) carrying her 3rd and youngest girl (16 months). The mother stopped when she saw us and waited for us to catch up.

En route, Boy2 said, "Look, Mama, it's my Louise."

"She's your Louise?"

"Oh yes, she's my Louise."

We met up and exchanged greetings. I was carrying Boy2 (yes, he's very heavy) and Louise was also in her mother's arms.

Boy2 gazed at Louise and then said to me, "Oh Mama, my Louise is so cute."

Then he leaned forward and said,"Now I kiss my Louise." And gave her the sweetest kiss on the cheek.

Louise beamed at him. Despite the fact that she speaks no English, she knew exactly what was going down.

The lessons I haven't learned

I firmly believe that there are certain lessons in life we must learn. I also firmly believe that we will be presented with opportunities to learn these lessons until we succeed. And I also believe that the situations in which these opportunities are embedded get yuckier and yuckier if we choose not to learn them the first (or second or third) time around.

Let me give you an example.

Starting at a young age, I've had problems with friends. Not all of my friends, and not very often, but it's definitely been a reoccuring theme. Enough so for me to (eventually) to figure out that there was something more going on than just problems with friends. Know what I mean?

The first time was when I was very young, 7 or 8, and a relatively newish friend caused a lot of trouble and generally made me miserable until she decided to make someone else miserable. I remember coming home in tears and a blanket of incomprehension. Why, I would ask my mother. What I now know is that behind every why is a me. Why me?

Then we moved. And it happened again, this time when I was 12. A very good (up until then) friend turned on me, in a really big way. And made it her mission to recruit as many followers in her anti-Nicole crusade as possible. I temporarily lost a lot of friends and was generally ignored and scorned by a large group of people. Then, magically, months later, it ended, as it had begun, with no logic. Said friends spoke to me again and we all acted as if nothing had happened. But it had. And again, why me?

Next time around, I was 15. Another very good friend (up until then) became boderline nasty with me, but without cutting me off completely. Again, the same dénouement, we went back to being friends, but of course, things were never the same. How could they be? And yet again, why me? What did I do?

College pretty much went off without a hitch. I was learning about boys, I didn't have time for girlfriend politics. Post-college too. I was lulled into thinking my lesson learning days were over (at least in the friendship arena). Wrong.

I certainly wasn't suspecting a situation like that to come up here. Things are so different here (ha ha). You can run (to France), but you cannot hide from the lessons you must learn.

And so, last year, another friend turned on me. She was much more subtle than the others had been, and much more manipulative. But this time I really think I learned the lesson. It has never been about what I did to them to bring on the wrath. It has never been about why they didn't like me anymore. It has always been about who I am when this happens. My ablility to remain honest and compassionate when faced with lies and disdain. And about not giving into the why-me in me, the victim who leaves her spirit in the past with those lessons unlearned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Promises, promises

Before leaving for work this morning, my husband spoke sternly to both boys while I was upstairs getting dressed. They were both a little grumpy this morning for unknown (even to them, I think) reasons and I believe husband was trying to insure that they wouldn't make life too hard for me today. It's wednesday and since there's no school in France on wednesdays, he was imagining a morning full of whining and bickering.

It went fine with Boy1. Boy2, on the otherhand, is 2.

"Boy2, I want you to be really well-behaved this morning."

"No, Papa."

"I want you to cooperate with Mama if she asks you to do something."

"No, Papa."


"I don't like to cooperate with Mama."


"Because I said I don't like to cooperate with Mama." This was said, of course, with hands on hips.

Ah, a morning full of promise.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bridges not bombs

I haven't seen my father in 20 years. (Oh no, here she goes again. I've found Mary and her new Witness Protection Identity is my blog.) The last time I saw him was for 5 minutes in the Vice-Principal's office at my high school when I was 16 years old (no, I was not in trouble). And that was the first time in 3 years. Up until I was 13 we had seen each other fairly regularly since my parents' divorce when I was 5.

About 5 years ago, I contacted an aunt and uncle (on his side) I had been close with as a child. They gave me occasional news of my father. I had pretty much written him off, going through phases over the years - anger, indignation, sadness, disappointment, detachment, relative indifference, although not necessarily in that order. Then I had kids.

It didn't bother me that my children wouldn't know him, his loss, I thought. My sweet mother used to say that to me. When he didn't (ever) call or when I didn't see him for years she would say, "It's his loss." I remember thinking, yeah sure maybe, but it's my loss too. When Boy1 was old enough to start asking questions, I began to wonder how I was going to be able to explain all of it to him. And what my attitude would tell him about relationships and family.

I have a dear friend who makes bridges for a living. Once, years and years ago, he wore a t-shirt that said "Build bridges not bombs." Or maybe it was, "Make bridges not bombs." Anyway, those words have stayed with me all these years and I never knew why (I'm neither an engineer nor a bomb-maker person nor a peace message sign carrier) - until Boy1 started asking all those questions about family and feelings and forgiveness for wrongs, real or imagined. I realized that it was my responsibility as a parent (only speaking for myself here, please find no blanket statements where there are none) to build bridges. To show him an example of forgiveness and to let him watch me learn to love someone again.

So, while pregnant with Boy2, my aunt and uncle told me that my father had cancer. Maybe it was that, maybe it was Boy1's questions, maybe it was hormones - anyway, I sent him a birth announcement when Boy2 was born. He wrote back. And a tentative correspondence began. Let me be clear. My father is not someone, in any other circumstances, I would choose to correspond with. We are thousands of miles apart in every way possible. Seriously. And yet.

I have forgiven him for all those wrongs I felt so strongly about, real or imagined. I love him again, but differently, without the expectations and conditions I guess. Because, quite frankly, he would only disappoint me again. He cannot give what he does not have. So I love him, simply as my father. Not the father I always wanted, not the father I would've like to have, but as the father I had. Straight from the heart, bypassing the head, as a gift. For my kids, for me, and for him.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Neither here nor there

I didn't call my mother to wish her a happy Mother's Day yesterday. I forgot, as I do most years, not because I don't love her, but because it's not the same day here. In France, it's the last saturday in May. So I call her on the French one and she forgives me for not remembering and says sweet things like, "That's ok, I get to have two Mother's Days this way."

But the Mother's Day thing brings up a bigger issue. Aside from the big holidays, Christmas and Easter, for example, the holidays are different here. Obviously, you're probably thinking. This is a traditionally Catholic country, and while they could teach us a thing or 200 about real separation of church and state, Catholic holidays do dominate the calendar. All Saint's Day, Acension, Penecost, Easter Monday, these are all bank holidays here. But I don't do much about them, not being French and not being Catholic. Some other big American holidays, Thanksgiving and 4th of July, for example, I don't do much about either. Thanksgiving because, well, it's hard to schedule much on a thursday when everyone works and the following weekend is usually when we celebrate my birthday, (December 1st in case you want to leave a birthday well-wishing comment that day) and spending 12 hours in my kitchen is not how I want to spend my birthday weekend. Gosh, I am SO high-maintenance. 4th of July, well, I guess because Independance day here, Bastille Day, is the 14th, so they both kind of get lost in the shuffle. But as the kids get older I realize I need to get a little more into the spirit of things.

There's a fine line you have to live with when you raise children biculturally. I want them to feel American but I also want them to feel at home here, not like foreigners. And I'm realizing that I've been putting most of the American focus on language, which is ridiculous, as if being American, or any nationality, could be reduced to linguistics. But reflections like that lead me to questions like what does it mean to be American and I don't really have an easy answer. I guess this is just one of those situations where it's best to fake it until it's real. So, Lorraine, get that book published, I could use some great ideas for establishing (Franco-American) traditions in my family. I'm officially pre-ordering my copy.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Accent this

While pursuing one of my useless college degrees, I learned that accent in a foreign language is influenced by many factors. The age at which one learns the L2, for example, is very important. Generally speaking, if you learn (really learn, not just get a little exposure to) a language before puberty, you won't have an accent. After that, you are pretty much guaranteed to have one. (Part of the very famous Critical Age Theory.) The status of the minority language is also important. A study conducted in US airports revealed that non-native English speakers with French and Italian accents were treated much differently than those with a Spanish accent (so an Italian man, for example, has little motivation to 'lose' his accent, given that it is seen as attractive). Other factors include, but are not limited to, extent of cultural and social integration, education level, professional activity, presence of a 'musical ear', fatigue, recent dental work, etc.

Those of us who are non-native speakers of a language show it in a variety of ways. There's accent, of course, but also (and not limited to) non-native syntactic constructions, approximative vocabulary, lack of fluidity or 'fluency', surface grammar errors like wrong gender, faulty verb conjugation, etc. Bored yet?

Beth was not that far off the mark in her comment to yesterday's post. I don't have much of an accent when I speak French, at least not all the time. (Although I don't think that's why I'm introduced as American.) And so, sometimes, people don't pick up right away on the fact that I'm a non-native speaker. But that is not necessarily a good thing.

Picture this. I'm alone at the farmer's market. (Alone matters because if the kids were with me, my foreignness would be obvious as soon as I spoke to the kids.) I go up to a stand and ask for, with no discernable accent, a couple of things. I chat with the farmer, and then I decide I want an onion. I ask for une oignon. The farmer looks at me like he's not quite sure what on earth is wrong with me. Yes, everyone knows it's un oignon. And native speakers never make gender errors, gender is inherent in the word for them and the article is just the external marker for it. Whereas for non-native speakers, gender is just another thing to learn and remember. Anyway, at this point, I reassure the farmer by telling him I'm not French. Ah, d'accord. I am then, usually, given deferential treatment and thanked profusely for stopping by. But sometimes I don't have the time to explain or don't want to. Which means that after having made a glaring grammar mistake, I just leave them with impression that I didn't make it out of primary school.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Sometimes I get the feeling I am the cultural diversity of Laval.

I know one other American, and she doesn't really count because her mom is French and she moved here when she was 8, so unless she tells them, people don't even know she's half-American.

I know a few Brits, but they don't really count because they're Europeans. Granted, they're not the most European group of Europeans, but they certainly don't fall into the exotic foreigner category.

Today when picking up Boy1 from school for lunch, another mother stopped to chat (the one who's fusionelle with her husband - See My husband has a mistress post in April) and after a moment she introduced me to her visiting sister-in-law. Nicole, this is S. S, this is Nicole, mon amie américaine.

I am frequently introduced that way, as if it were essential to know that to know me. Which may be true. I do enjoy being a foreigner and I don't think you can completely separate who you are from where you are from. Unfortunately, not many French people have an accurate idea of what the US is really like (by no fault of their own), so I'm not sure that knowing I'm American gets them anywhere.

Whenever anything really big happens in the US, the local radio station interviews me for their news show. Presidential elections (he didn't win! he didn't really win!), 9/11, and a piece they did on unemployment and foreigners.

On my street amongst the neighbors, I am referred to as Nicole, notre américaine (our American), which still singles me out as the foreigner but makes me feel cherished. Must be all the cookies and caramel sauce I make and distribute.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The first time I went to see a doctor in France it went something like this.

I walked into the dr's office, I sat down in a chair in front of his desk. Behind me was an examination room, no door. There was a secretary out at the front desk, and that's where she stayed the whole time I was there.

Dr asked me what the problem was, I told him. He asked me to get undressed and so he could examine me. I stood up, he stood up and we both waited. For what seemed like a really long time. He was waiting for me to get undressed and I was waiting for him to leave the room, obviously. Finally he said, "Would you undress please?" Of course, I said. Another pause. Eventually he said, "Um, now?" Oh. Ok. So I got undressed in front of the dr. Which should be no big deal, he was going to see me in my underwear and bra anyway, so why the hesitation?

Well, I guess it's because the act of undressing seemed more intimate and revealing than the being in my underwear in front of the guy. So that first time, I felt like a bad stripper on her first day at work. Uptight and unsure.

Since then, I've gotten used to the system here - undressing as soon as we finish talking, getting pelvic exams with no sheet, breast exams with no gown. Maybe a little bit too used to it.

The last time I was in Seattle, I had to see a dr. He and an intern came in, we talked, they asked me to get undressed and they would examine me. As soon as I heard the word undressed, up and nearly nude I got, before they had a chance to leave. They looked like it was their first time in a strip bar. Uptight and unsure.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Moments of Truth, Tome 2

I have a sister I've never met. Technically, she's my half-sister. But I'm sure if I met her I wouldn't be able to identify which half was my sister and which half wasn't, so I think of her simply as my sister. It's too long of a long story to tell and really, it's not my story to tell. Anyway, the story isn't the point. The point is that I have a sister I've never met.

I was told of her existence when I was 19. But the information about who she was and where she lived and all that didn't come until I was in my mid-20's. Integrating that information into my life did not happen immediately. At 19, it was just sort of a fact on an index card kind of thing that didn't seem to change anything. Then, when I was given additional information, she became less of a fact and more of a picture of a person, but still stuck on that index card.

Then, one day last year I phoned my mother at work. A secretary answered and, after I asked to speak with my mother, she asked who was calling. I said,"Tell her it's her only daughter...who lives in France." You see those three dots? Those three dots mark the spot where I had a moment of truth. I paused and it clicked. That's where the knowledge that I had a sister jumped off the index card and made it's way into my life. And so I finished the sentence truthfully. Which was, no doubt, the first time ever.

Looking back (I know, hindsight and all that, but still), I think I always knew she was there. I think she had a place in our family constellation, despite the silence. And I think her soulprint has been in my heart since the day I was born, the sister I will one day know.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I spy with my mind's eye

A dear friend I haven't seen for a very long time sent me an email recently. In it, he wrote that in his mind's eye, I would always be 22. Sounds about right to me, although, as I told him, my crow's feet tell a different story. I'm actually 36 but I certainly don't feel 36, whatever 36 is supposed to feel like. I assume it's the same for all of us, no age is really what we imagined it would be when we were 15 years younger.

Life in France is helping me keep up the illusion of my eternal youth, or at least certain things I associate with (relative) youth. When I left the States 9 years ago, there were very few stylish moms around. (Lorraine, you have been, pre, during, and post the Child, an admirable exception to this rule. Thank you, though, for giving the Mennonite housewife clothes the bag.) The majority of them looked like REI moms. Fanny packs and comfortable multi-sport shoes and form-eliminating tops and bottoms. Yuck. Maybe it's because I was living in Seattle, REI-land. Anyway, it seemed like that when you became a mother you ceased to be sexy. I suppose that current telelvision programming and whatever else has changed some of that, but when I left there were almost no hot mamas.

But in France, there are hot mamas all over the place. And they're not even all botoxed and boob-jobbed out, there just naturally hot. Pushing babies in strollers and looking stylish - not fashion vicitmish - and hot. I love that. There's no line here, no age where you have to give it up because it isn't appropriate anymore. When I talk to French women about this they look at me like I'm crazy. Why on earth should becoming a mother change who you are as a woman except to add a certain je ne sais quoi you didn't have before, they ask me. Right on.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My liver's probably in crisis

Crise de foie. Literally translates as liver crisis. What's that? I looked it up in the French-English dictionary and I found bilious attack. Oh, yeah, that's better.

I've heard about bilious attacks for a while now, they're fairly common here. Not sure what they are, exactly. No one can really tell me specifically. They all just say things like, "You know, when you eat too much rich food and you're not bien." So, what, like a stomach-ache? But see, a stomach ache I understand because there's an ache in your stomach. And I'm quite certain I've never felt anything in my liver, ever, despite my indulgences in rich food and resulting stomach aches. That said, every acupunturist and osteopath and homeopath I've ever seen has told me my liver was congested or stagnated, so maybe that's why I don't feel it when it's in crisis. (No snide comments about alternative medicine please, I see you coming from an ocean away.)

None of this really mattered to me anyway until recently, while eating some chocolat (another shocker), a passerby (I was at the park with the boys) said, "Careful of your liver." Now, not only do I have to worry about the calories in chocolate and my inability to eat it in small quantities, I've apparently also got to add my liver's well-being to the list.

I should also note that foi also means faith. Le foie is liver and la foi is faith. But when you say crisis of faith, (crise de foi) it sounds exactly like liver crisis. So, my question is, how close is a crisis of faith to a bilious attack?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

French Civilization

A few weeks ago, I attended a friend's birthday party. There were about 30 of us. K lives very far away and gets back home rarely and it was a big deal birthday so her mother threw her a very nice bash. I was only able to stay a little while - the babysitter called at 9:30 with a child emergency and I had to leave. But while I was there I was introduced to a lot of people. In attendance at the party (at K's mother's lovely, bourgeois apartment - she plays the harp for heaven's sake) were K's father, accompanied by the woman he left K's mother for and their now grown love-child, and K's ex-stepfather, accompanied by the woman he left K's mother for and their now adolescent love- child. I thought that was quite a bit of leaving and loving in one room.

When I saw K and her mother the following day I asked if X and Y were, in fact, who I thought they were. There were. I said, "Aren't you all civilized?"

K's mother wisely replied, "That's the only way to be."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Qui suis-je?

Are we the same in a second language?

Husband and I met in 1995 in France. As my French was better than his English at the time, and as we were in France, we spoke French together. We were friends and then we were other and now we're married and all that in French. Enter children.

According to research and even logic (mine, at any rate), the most effective way to raise children bilingually is the one person-one language program. Each parent speaks his/her native language to the kids. Some people try the in/out of the house thing - as in Language 1 (the minority language) at home and Language 2 (the language of the country) everywhere else but that only works if everyone can speak both languages and it usually breaks down when the kids get to that Age. You know, that Age where they want to be cool and, for a while at least (hopefully), being cool means being like everyone else. So, monolingual. When the Age comes, they start speaking only in L2, regardless of the language in which they were addressed. The other problem with speaking a language other than our native language to kids is that mistakes we make (inevitably) and the accent we have (unavoidable) undermine the image of the quintessential parent we want them to have of us for as long as possible.

So, I speak English to the kids always, no exceptions ever. And husband speaks French to them. And we still speak French to each other. And this has worked just fine for the most part. Boy2 started speaking English first and it is still, by far, his dominant language. Which is normal, he spends most of his time with me. This will all change when he goes to preschool next year. My congé parental is up and I've got to go back to work. I don't want to talk about it. Anyway, Boy1 started speaking both languages quite well very early. He mixed them up a bit until we spent two weeks in the US when he was 2 1/2. Since then, no more mix ups. Until now. Remember the huit/wheat conversation? (See Weird conversations post in April.) He's not at the Age yet but he's very aware of the fact that I can speak French. And the huit/wheat thing scared me. It's not an isolated incident. It's becoming a pattern. I, of course, went on a rampage. Cartoons only in English, cassettes and dvds only in English. No using French words. Ask me if you don't know the English word and I'll provide it. I ranted to husband; he needs to hear more English. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

I suggested we start speaking English together, husband and I, when the kids are around. Husband is much too lazy for that. Oh but ma chérie, your French is so good; bébé, I'm too tired to speak English after work; mon amour, I'll speak English when your family comes to visit. Sweet talking Frenchman. Whatever. Ok, so I would speak English and he would respond in French. We've tried this for a week and it doesn't work. Because I'm not the same person in French that I am in English. Seriously. It was weird. Our conversations were stilted, he didn't laugh when I was funny and he laughed when I was serious. And his English is quite good - it's not because he didn't understand what I was saying. It's because he doesn't get me in English, as a person. Isn't that strange? And does that mean I'm a different me in French? So many questions and still no sign from Mary.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Moments of Truth, Tome 1

While we were away several truths were revealed to me.

The first is that in the fight against dirty laundry, I will never win.

The laundry and I have a tacit agreement. I do some most days and it doesn't pile up. I iron button-down shirts and bed/kitchen linens once a week. I never get cocky and say things like, "Ha! No clothes in any of the laundry baskets. I'm all caught up." Before leaving for our long weekend, I did ALL the laundry. While we were away FOR 4 DAYS, I did two loads. When I returned, I had two loads to do. How is that possible?

The second is that I am either far too predictable or I drink too much coffee.

Friday afternoon my husband took the boys off to play. Just before leaving, Boy2 said, "Mama come too?"

I replied, "No, I'm going to stay here. Just you guys and Papa are going."

Boy2 gave me a knowing look and said, "Ah. Mama cup coffee."

Monday, May 01, 2006


Sweet Lorraine tagged me. ( I must tell 6 neurotic things about myself. Given the whole Mary thing, you will understand how easy this is for me.

1. The sun. I like that it's out there, I just don't like it on me. Anywhere. Well, actually on my feet is ok. But that's it. I will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being directly in the sun. When I cannot, I get cranky. No vampire comments, please.

2. My smile. I show too much gum when I smile. I've been neurotic about it since 4th grade when Susan Marlowe (thanks again, Sue) pointed out that my smile revealed more gum space than average. (She didn't say it so nicely.) When I try to limit gum exposure, I look fake. A dentist explained the details about variations in gum exposure to me. While fascinating, it didn't solve my problem and the drawings kind of freaked me out.

3. My skin. I'm always trying new face creams (none of which really do what they say they will - but I keep buying because there must be one out there that does) to keep it from becoming whatever. I also use sunscreen made for people who've had laser work done (so spf of like 1000) to avoid getting freckles. I have a few freckles, which I HATE, but you can barely see them anymore due to #1 and to the sunscreen.

4. The perfect black cardigan sweater. I've never found it. It has to be just right and it never is. I have bought many, many sweaters looking for it. I have exactly 5 very imperfect black cardigans in a variety of fabrics and cuts in my closet right now. I wear them, just not happily.

5. The traces childbearing left behind. No comment.

6. The THING. It's the thing that's going to change my life (from what or why or into what, I'm not sure). So I've got books and books and herbs and programs and plans and soul medicine and remedies and meditations and reflections and accessories to all of those. I think all of them work, I guess I was just hoping for the change to be like a champagne cork popping out and it's more like the bubbles in the glass of champagne - one little change at a time.