Thursday, September 28, 2006

How long are your sleeves?

Husband and I bickered this morning. Over, believe it or not, the weather. Well, actually, over weather-appropriate clothing. Which is silly because we'll never agree on the subject and we know that already. I guess it was just a booster shot kind of thing to confirm that perceptions had not changed.

Basically, Husband and I live in different weather systems. Strange, I know, given the fact that we live in the same place. And yet. On a day like today, where the temperature is about 66-68° F (so 20°c or something like that), I'm wearing short sleeves and Husband is wearing long sleeves. To a certain extent this could be attributed to physical activity - my days are filled with moving around quite a bit (dropping off the kids, going to get the kids, cleaning, walking to the coffee shop up the street, working not at a desk) and his are spent at a desk or sitting in a courtroom or perhaps driving somewhere to do one of the above. It is also probably attributed to the women who raised us. Husband's mother, who is a wonderful mother-in-law by the way, is nearly always cold. She's forever adjusting collars and suggesting scarves and zipping things all the way to choke level, particularly on her grandchildren. I have come to expect this and pay little attention. She has a sharp phobia of drafts and cool breezes and car air conditioners, believing fervently that they all lead to colds, sore throats, and coughs. My mother, on the other hand, likes a good draft, enjoys cool breezes and frequently uses her air conditioner. Then there's also the cultural thing - the French are very anti-draft in general and are often telling me to put on a scarf or a heavier coat. Americans tend to put on shorts as soon as possible and nearly everyone, except in moderate weathered places like Seattle, has an air conditioner and yet, Americans are no more subject to upper respiritory afflictions than the French.

Anyway, none of this should really cause any problems, and didn't, until we had kids. Now, during interseasonal weather like today's, we rarely agree on what the boys should be wearing. So, as a result of this morning's scene, they went to school with a short-sleeved shirt, topped with a cotton sweater, and a raincoat. Needless to say, when I picked them up for lunch, the raincoats were stuffed in my bag and the sweaters were around their waists. No harm done, but I do like to have the last word.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coin this

Bilingual kids say funny stuff sometimes. They try to import /export expressions or vocabulary or even syntax from one language to the other. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes they come up with some really great words.

When Husband came home yesterday evening, Boy1 greeted him at the door with a hug and, "Papa, j'ai déjà fait mes devoirs. Je n'ai pas procrastiné ce soir." Papa, I've already done my homework. I didn't procrastinate tonight.

Great, except that procrastinate doesn't exist in French. You have to say something like put something off until later. There's no one word solution for it and I understand Boy1's frustration, I've often wanted to coin the verb in French myself. But I have never dared. Call me a linguistic chicken if you like.

The following is an excerpt from this afternoon's homework session.

Boy1, who is learning to read, was stuck on a syllable. I offered what I thought was subtle and unintrusive help. Boy1 didn't see things that way and he said, "Hush Mama, you're deconcentrating me."

Don't you hate it when people deconcentrate you?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why I haven't been posting much...

I'm in a terrible funk and, as everyone knows, unfunking one's self is not easily done.

It might be because I can never be the chef de famille. But I doubt it. Or it might be because the house deal fell through. But I really don't think so. It could be because my house is a disaster area and I can't seem to get motivated to change that. Or it could be because I'm imagining Christmas without my mom here with us in France - for the first time in 7 years. She's doing fine and the operation went well, but I'm sure transatlantic travel would not be wise this year. And the idea of Christmas without my American family is hard to look at.

Having said that, I realize I have many things to be grateful for. Mom is recovering. Work is going to be fine. The kids are doing well in school. Boy1 has made a new friend at his new school - the first - Inès, who has taken him under her wing and I love her already for that. Since the house deal fell through, Husband's freaky stress level has dropped dramatically. I spoke to my father last night and I felt good afterwards. Husband and I are planning a trip home for next summer, July most likely. (So please come to Illinois to see us if you can.)

One more thing. There is no word in French for funk. How strange.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chef de famille

I could've also called this post You've got to be kidding me, Tome Whatever.

I had to go to city hall to buy some tickets. The tickets are used for municipally sponsored activities and services, like the cafeteria at school, which, while a private school, serves meals prepared by the municipal cafeteria service. Anyway.

I have made a horrifying discovery. Thanks to city hall.

My value is variable. It depends, it would appear, on whether or not A MAN is around. And I'm not even kidding. Now, there are those of you who might say this is another case of Nicole willfully misunderstanding. And, who knows, you might be right.

So, I went to city hall. I asked for some tickets. I was asked to fill out a small piece of paper with some questions on it. Name, address, family equation (another post will explain this morsel of blah), and then the killer question. Who is the chef de famille. The head of the household. I asked the city hall worker person what on earth that was supposed to mean. Why, head of household, of course. You mean like who wears the pants? I asked in a slightly sarcastic tone. (Shocking, I know.) No, the real head of the household. I replied that we tended to run the family life as a team so I didn't really feel comfortable naming a chief. Ha! Not possible. A chief must be named on the ohsoimportant slip of paper. Fine, then, put me. Husband won't care. Oh, you're married? Yes, I replied. Well then, of course, it's your husband, she stated with finality. Let me type that again for you.

Well then, of course, it's your husband.

And if I were a single mother?

Then it would be you, madame.

So, let me summarize, I said to CHWP, if there's no man around, I can be the chief, but if there's a man around, he's automatically the chief.

Oui, madame.

I could take some comfort in the fact that being classified as family chief at city hall has absolutely no effect on anything anywhere. It's a meaningless classification of no legal value, as Husband was quick to assure me when I ranted told the story.

You've got to be kidding me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Une superstition juridique

This morning husband and I went to sign some something or other for the house we successfully bid on this week. Mr. Real Estate Agent Man read us the whole thing, explaining as he went various real estatey kind of information, including that we agree to buy the house in it's current state knowing that it may indeed have some hidden vices. Des vices cachées. Do you think it smokes or drinks or has too much sex?

Anyway, after having listening ohsoattentively to MREAM do his job, he asked us to sign the long document. And he asked us to write, to the left of our signature, lu et approuvé - bon pour accord. Which literally means, 'read and approuved - good for agreement'.

I am a lawyer's wife. I've learned a few things about the law over the years. One of the things I've learned is that the above formula has absolutely no legal value. The document is valid because of the signature and that's it. I mentioned this fact to MREAM and Husband confirmed what Miss Smarty Pants (that's me, in case you're not following) had said. And then Husband gave it's name. It's called superstition juridique. A judicial superstition. No legal value but apparently a lot of effect on the psychological state of involved parties.

Let me illustrate.

At the CCI (one of the places I'll be working - by the way, I managed to keep a few hours and good graces despite it all), I have to sign a work contract for each client's account. This week I had two new 20 hour contracts to sign. Which I did. On each is the request to precede signatures with the aforementioned formula. Which I did not do, because, why waste the ink. And it's a lot of words for nothing. No one on site noticed and the contracts were sent to HQ. And were sent back. Because I didn't put the good for agreement bs on there. The HQ administrators are evidently a psychologically fragile bunch. So I scribbled 'bite me, losers' to the left of my signature and gave them back. Superstitions graciously respected, they were accepted, of course.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No matter how you slice it

Some things are still heartbreaking.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, the boys ate at the cafeteria. I picked Boy2 up at 1:00 and he came home for a nap. It was too late to bring Boy1 home, class starts at 1:30. While we were waiting for the bell to ring after school at 4:30, I talked to another mom. She told me that Boy1 was a little sad when she saw him on his way to the cafeteria. The bell rang and he walked out of his classroom. And when he spotted me, he had tears in his eyes that just stayed there and didn't fall. I hugged him and told him how happy I was to see him. I asked about the cafeteria. He said it was ok. He said he cried a little, because he had never been before and didn't know what to expect and was sad that he wouldn't see us all day long. I asked about the unshed tears in his eyes when he saw us. He said, "I was just so happy to see you. I couldn't believe how much I missed you."

Which, of course, brought tears to my eyes. Which, of course, were shed.

On the homefront, literally, we appear to have made an acceptable offer on the house without a guesthouse. Interesting.

On the workfront, I've been offered more hours at one place and am going to have to, consequently, burn some bridges at another place. Troubling.

Monday, September 11, 2006

La Cantine

Today was the first day the boys had to eat at the cafeteria. Boy2 cried a bit, but I don't think it was because of the food.

Today's menu was as follows:

First course - grated carrots with lemon vinaigrette
Second course - shepard's pie
Cheese course - a wedge of tome de savoie with baguette
Dessert - a plum and a pot de crème à la vanille

Not bad for a cafeteria meal.

Interestingly, it's la semaine du goût this week. Which I never really notice other than to hear it spoken of on the radio. I guess it's supposed to be a week where we are to be reminded to not fall into a food rut, to try new things, to strive for excellence in the foods we prepare, and appreciate quality. All of which are noble things to do.

Even more interesting, flavor week is ended (this weekend - because here the week starts on monday, not on sunday), by les journées du patrimoine. Two days a year, castles and manors and private parks (that are not open to the public) open for all to see and admire.

A week of delicate feasting for the palate and stomach followed by two days of historical eye candy. What a perfect dessert.

Friday, September 08, 2006

La Vie Active

When I tell people here I'm going back to work, the most common response I get is about how nice it will be for me to get back into la vie active. Which makes me smirk because how is taking care of two kids not an active life? You might think I willfully misunderstand the remark. Which is possible.

I read a study once that quanitified total work hours (including childcare, food prep, errands, cleaning, chauffering, in addition to 'real' work) of women who fell into one of three categories. Worked outside the home part-time, worked outside the home full-time, had no job other than child and house care. The results showed that the worst possible situation for a woman to be in is part-time work.

As of this week, I am able to confirm this information.

When you work full-time, everyone says, oh you work full-time, let's help you out around the house, let's get a cleaning service, let's order dinner out tonight. When you are a stay-at-home-mom, you have a lot of work, it's true, and it's never-ending (at least that's what it seemed like to me), but your focus is in one spot. But when you work part-time, you really get the shaft. Everyone says, oh yeah, but you have time, you only work part-time. So you do everything you did when you weren't working outside the home and you do it in addition to the work you're now doing outside the home. And you can't even complain because you have the priviledge of not having to work full-time.

Active, schmative.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

L'école maternelle

Chose promise, chose dûe.

I don't really know if it's just glorified preschool or what. They all seem to think it's wonderful and so important to the development of kids. But I have my suspicions.

Homogeneity is so incredibly important here and I think the whole real school/preschool is really about getting them young. That sounds terrible and it's actually much more benign than that. Put simply, kids who do well in school here are kids who fit into the mold. Artistic, creative, and original thinkers CAN thrive, but the outlets for those qualities are not found at school. So if they get used to it starting at 3, the hope (I think) is that the fitting part will be easier.

I think it's also about l'égalité des chances. Like many, they haven't figured out that same doesn't mean equeal, but that's a whole other debate. Anyway, an institutionalized preschool, they say, helps to wipe out the differences between kids that may exist due to socioeconomic circumstances.

And mostly, I think it's about childcare solutions for families where both parents work. Although even in those families where there is a parent at home, all are anxious that their children start maternelle on schedule so they won't 'miss' anything.

Boy2's day goes something like this. At 8:30 Husband takes the boys to school. Boy2's class is large, 30 children, who are divided into 3 groups of 10, with one or two adults managing each group. The greeting activities are done together, then one group goes to the motricity room for physical play (balls, mats, etc.), another group goes to the art area (painting, drawing, etc) and another group stays in the classroom for music or storytelling or schoolish stuff. Then they all break at 10 for 20 minutes in the schoolyard for outside play with balls, bikes, and trees. Then they return inside and switch activities until Mama time at 11:30.

Days I work, he will eat at the cafeteria and I will pick him up at 1:15.

Amongst his classmates (gosh it's weird to call 3 year olds classmates), there are 16 who stay all day every day (although not wednesdays, as there is no school in pre or elementary), from 8:30 until 4:30. Amongst those 16, there are a few who arrive at 8 and don't leave until 6. That's a long-ass day.

By the way, I have a pounding headache and it's way too hot here again.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Etre Bilingue

I didn't respond to comments left on friday's post. But only because the topics deserve more time than a comment response. So today is about bilingualism and tomorrow about Maternelle.

Sarah, who has a very interesting blog about bilingualism and children (, asked about the boys'.

While in graduate school, I worked in a department where a woman from Quebec was a tenured professor. I saw an interview of her on tape, made to be used in basic level French classes during the francophonie unit. And I was very surprised by her attitude. Which was openly hostile (although in a very polite way) towards the 'omnipresence' of American culture. Up until then I had always thought of Quebec as sort of a happy francophone island. They wish. On an island it would be easier, perhaps, to manage the constant flow of all things anglophone. She actually used the word battle. How hard it was for francophone Canada to remain so.

I understand her attitude better now. Because I feel the same way. As I've mentioned before, when you're raising children in two cultures, you want them to feel at home where they live obviously. So Boy2 going to school earlier than I would like, in my ideal world, is fine, but spending too much time there, and therefore, in French, is not.

Yesterday, we went for a walk. Husband and a friend were walking futher ahead with the boys and I was trailing behind and talking with friend's wife. Boy1 ran back to see us and said, "Mama, Papa found some mûres!" "You mean blackberries? " I asked. "Yeah, Papa found some blackberries." Other than situations like that, where he's forgotten a word or never learned it, he never speaks French to me. He switches back and forth from one second to the next, depending on who he's talking to. When all four of us are together, the conversation is always in both, between the boys and me in English, between the boys and Husband in French and between Husband and me in French. Interestingly, the boys speak English to each other, which I am hoping will last. Boy2 is, for the time being, far more advanced in English than in French. He never uses French with me but he does use quite a bit of English with Husband. Which won't last - school will take care of that. They have three playmates who are native English speakers now, they don't live in Laval so we don't see them every week, but I try to arrange something a least once a month so they learn childhood English too, not just Mama English and Disney English. The goal being for them to be almost as comfortable in English as they are in French. Which is hard because French is omnipresent, obviously, on my little American island in Laval.

Friday, September 01, 2006

La Rentrée

Today was the Boys' first day of school. Boy1, who will be 6 in October, entered CP, the big deal grade where they learn to read. Boy2, who will be 3 this month, entered Petite Section, where they learn to be proper French citizens.

Just kidding.

No really though, they both did start school today. And Boy2, who is too little to be doing that kind of thing (according to moi), will be going as well. Because that's how it works here. When kids are three (and many of the kids in Boy2's class are barely 2 1/2) they go to school. Real school. Boy2's classroom is in the same establishment as Boy1's. Regular daycare is for children up to 3, at which point they all go to school.

I tried to do it my way with Boy1. I kept him at home until he was barely 3 1/2. I gave in for a couple of reasons. First, all the activites I had taken him to before were closed to kids over 3. Of course, because they're all in school. All the children his age he used to play with while I drank coffee and chatted and breastfed the new baby were, you guessed it, in school. He was the only child in Laval over three who was not in school. And people would go on and on about how he was missing out on all kinds of socialization and whatever. Which I really think is nonsense. But whatever. Let's just call it what it is, very cheap daycare (we will pay about $250 total this year - and it's a private school) in a scholastic setting. Although they do have a prettier name for it - La Maternelle.