Every so often I decide I'd like to be French.
I'm not entirely sure why.
It could be something about the romance of Paris, the chicness, the elegance, the culture and sophistication... anyway, every so often it hits me that I'd like to be French.
At the height of my if-I-were-french-I wouldn't-be wearing-ill-fitting-jeans-and-picking-up-a-hundred-million-apple-cores-a-day, but instead I'd be sitting in an office being Very Important while my little one were being carefully moulded into ideal citizens by brilliantly qualified child care professionals who fed them three course meals, I started on a reading binge.
I made my way through French Children Don't throw Food (Gail Druckerman), followed it up with French Women Don't Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons (Mireille Gulliano), and threw in 'Paris in Love' (Eloisa James) for good measure. And raced my way through a few more that I've forgotten, but will scroll through my kindle for and probably re-read.
The thing is, I actually lived in Paris for all of six weeks as an au pair. I dropped 'my' kid of at the maternelle, and wandered Paris's galleries with a babe strapped to my tummy. I was eighteen at the time and the little four year old I looked after would tearfully say 'I miss my mummy!' and I would blink back tears and struggle not to say 'I miss my mummy too.'
I'd run down the stairs from my room in the attic (with a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower) at about eight am, just as the children's mum was leaving, and then sometime about eight that night the dad would get back, and then sometime later the mum would get home. Of the five weekends I was there the mum was in another country for three of them, and I, or someone else, looked after the kids. I'm not sure what the dad was doing. The couple loved their kids, it just seemed... strange that they never saw them.
When I read French Children Don't throw Food, I was reminded of that time (just, the memories are hazy) as the author recounts what she's learnt about bringing up kids in Paris. And some of the ideas seem very sensible.
I like the idea of a three course meal for the kids that encourages them to sit at the table and talk with the family about what they're eating - the textures, the tastes. (I like even better that the three 'courses' are a quick salad, a pasta with a light sauce and some pureed fruit - often store brought… I can do that!)
I like the idea that children are expected to 'wait', to learn patience. All the studies say that instilling patience and an understanding of deferred gratification, is one of the most important things I can give my kids. At the moment they're looking pretty empty handed in that regard.
I've been wandering around the house going 'attend!' (wait) and the kids have been looking confused.
But waiting for me to explain.
We'll get there.
I had even less luck with 'It is I who is in command', when I tried it on my four year old.
"No! I am in command!"
"No, I am!"
"No, I am."
"Seriously, kid, this isn't how it went in the book."
'The pause', waiting, watching, regarding the child, starts early, in infancy. My Beloved went a little blue in the face when I read him the bit about French babies sleeping through the night within a couple of months, as he appears to think the guidelines say feeding on demand is best until later, for SIDS reasons and others, and if your baby doesn't wake to feed enough you should wake them. I never did. I figured a sleeping child was something almost sacred. But it makes a lot of sense that, before you pick up your baby in the night, you pause, wait, and see if it's a real waking or just a change of sleep cycle and the baby will self sooth if it's allowed.
I definitely enjoyed French Children Don't Throw Food, Druckerman's style is funny, self-deprecating, and of course I love the chance to sticky-beak at other cultures. But… I couldn't help thinking that even if it were possible (which it's not, Australian culture isn't set up for kids to go into state-funded, long-day care from 3 months old) I'd miss the kids.
I might not be bringing my kids up to know their cheeses, and they might not sit like little angels in restaurants, but I think it's good for them to have impromptu mud-dances, to climb trees, to fall out of trees, to get bored and decide to draw on the trampoline in chalk...
'It is I who is in command ...' feels quite nice on the tongue. Our semi-democracy is a bit free-wheeling and chaotic.
Maybe I'll try harder to be French. 'Attend! Attend!'
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