Monday, March 29, 2010

Sliced apples

Certain parenting moves have become second nature to me. Things like bending down to do up shoes, or saying "keep your chin up" while I take on the perilous challenge of fastening a bike helmet, then kissing that beautiful, trusting upturned face, or squatting down and saying, "step in" while I hold a tiny pair of underwear in my hands.

I've tried to let Isla put on her own underwear but she often emerges from the task saying, "My undies aren't workin', which usually means she has put one of her legs through the waist band again, leaving a too tight leg band around her waist.

And anyways, I like doing it for her. It makes me feel maternal, reliable, giving. Especially when she grabs hold of my ears to keep her balance.

Motherhood is repetitive.

I repeat phrases, like, "don't forget to brush your teeth," or "drink your water," or "Actually, I don't think that's such a great idea," all day long.

But I also repeat actions. Actions like raking my fingers through my girls' tangled, wet hair, or tucking that stubborn strand behind an ear, and getting a spoon from the drawer, or pouring cereal into a bowl, or stirring cocoa powder into the mug of warm milk, or slicing and peeling apples.

The other day while I was slicing and peeling yet another apple and assembling the pieces, on a plate with cheese, for my "snacky" children, it occurred to me that I had been in that exact pose so many times before. It was deja vu without the spooky part, because I know where I've seen it before. I've lived it, again and again.

I have sliced and peeled so many apples for my kids, I don't think I'm even conscious of doing it anymore. And I definitely don't think I've ever stopped to notice just how perfect, beautiful even, an apple is. I am an apple peeling machine. I am a mother.

Could this go in the special- skills section of a resum矇?

  • Can fasten bike helmets, nine times out of ten, without pinching skin under chin.
  • Can make bad undies work again.
  • Can slice apples with finesse.
What repetitive rhythms are on your resum矇?

Some more repetitive parenting topics are being discussed over here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Not a juice box in sight

Isla has an unrelenting hatred of the cantine, the lunch room, at her school. I can't blame her really, because it is obvious they want her palate and they want it now, while it's still young and pliable.

But seriously, when I try to get to the bottom of it, I ask her in my most non-threatening voice, why, why, why she complains so much about the cantine, she says:

"Because they always give me yucky food there."

Granted, I have never eaten at Isla's school cantine, but I am having trouble believing her.

One obvious reason for doubting my dear daughter is because she is a bit of a liar.

Another is because, what the French don't know is that Isla already has a very discriminating palate. And by discriminating, I don't mean distinguished. Her palate essentially discriminates against anything that doesn't taste, smell, or look like chocolate, doesn't consist of at least 50 percent sugar, or isn't French fries. All other food is it is basically stupid, poopy, yucky food.

"Ca c'est pas bon! Je n'aime pas!"

In essence, it might be too late for her. She might just be too far gone, too far off keel, despite all that wheat germ I put in her Yo baby yogurts, and all that spinach I still sneak into her pesto, to be righted. Yet, just when I'm starting to fear scurvy or some other sign of grave nutritional deficiency, she turns up at the dinner table and starts shoving broccoli, or Saag Paneer (curried spinach) into her cake hole with fervor.

French schools are known for their, how do I say, superior culinary offerings. Lunch is not so much a vehicle for sustenance as it is an opportunity to learn about the finer things in life. Short of wine with their meal, French school lunches are sophisticated affairs.

The French do not treat children like uncivilized babies whose digestive systems, and imaginations, can't handle anything more savory than tater tots and chicken fingers. Instead, they see children as deliciously -blank slates on whom to test their most daring culinary concoctions, including these:

Among them, at least the things I can kind of translate: lentils, beef curry, celery root remoulade, red cabbage viniagrette, carrots with parsely, steamed leeks with fines herbs, beets and corn, spinach in cream sauce, oriental fish, lamb...

This, for example, tray of moules frites (mussels and fries), artichoke, plain yogurt, none of that neon crap here, and flan, is not something you see being served to four year old's everywhere.

But I've got a feeling Isla's problem with lunch has more to do with the company than it does with food.

"But I don't like being away from Sofie," she says, when pressed. Sofie is her teacher.

"Why can't Sofie come with me to lunch?"

"The same reason I like you to eat lunch at school, sometimes, Isla, Sofie needs a break." (Sofie has 29 four and five-year-olds in her class.)

"Well that's stupid."

Tonight, in bed, she was going on, and on, about how much she hates the cantine and how she cries to Sofie whenever Sofie tells her she has to go, and she doesn't understand why Sofie doesn't just call me when she tells her she doesn't want to go to the Cantine and I said,

"Isla, that's not going to happen! You go to the cantine on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, three days a week, and that isn't going to change, so stop wishing it would be different."

Okay, Mummy," she said, kissing me. "That's very kind of you."

Not only does my girl have a discriminating palate, she's obviously got a rather discriminating ear as well.

For more insight into the psyche of my second- born, along with a story about the boy next door, click here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Fire cracker

As I helped Esther into her uber-cool, generic Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers, (Note to parents, these shoes can and will make you late for school) she unwrapped an OB tampon she found sitting on the kitchen table.

"Look," she said, making swirling motions with her hand as she clutched the tampon between her thumb and index finger, the string floating along behind. "It's a rocket."

"Yeah, a rocket," I said. "Now push your heel down."

"Does it hurt when you put this thing inside you?" she asked. (I liked it when she called them pompoms and didn't think to ask what they were for.)

"It doesn't feel nice," I said, struggling with her laces. "In fact, it makes me curse being a woman every time I do it."

She quietly flew her tampon rocket back and forth while I got her other shoe on. I threw her her coat and she didn't catch it. She was holding the tampon between her legs now.

"What if you lit the string on fire?" she asked. "Would it explode like a firecracker?"

"Now that would be exciting," I said. "Would you please get dressed. We're going to be late."

"I'm just going to put this away in my special bag," she said, running into her room.

If only I could muster such intrigue, such reverence, such awe, for all things feminine hygiene.

I am wondering how long it will take her before she digs through her special bag, where she holds all the little bits and pieces of life that have called out to her in some way or another--a marble, a special eraser from the Roald Dahl museum, an acorn from Vermont, a pebble from who knows where, an angel pendant--finds the frayed tampon and says,

"Hmm! I wonder why I saved this?"

When she reads this blog, she'll know.

Recent, earth-shattering BabyCenter posts can be found here and here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Art without borders

The circle is complete.

Close up

The antidote to our gray stone village in winter.

This is the kind of dog I want.

Isla's version of Klimt's The Kiss

Anne Shirley alone in her boat.

It's so much fun when Daddy joins in.

Tired flowers, pastel

Painting with mud, like the cavemen did.

How did Degas recreate sunlight through a window with pastel?

More Degasian inspiration from Musee d'Orsay

Dressing the part.

One more. Is this another Degas? Or is it Monet? Renoir? I don't know.

I see San Francisco, Esther sees turtles marching across the land.

At work.

I wrote a post over at BabyCenter about the dance of childhood, or any, friendship and how art just might have to be my daughter's best friend right now.

I think the culture shock of leaving behind our home and moving to France has stripped us all of a layer of our skin and exposed us to a level of sensation, sensitivity, awareness and humility that we've never experienced before.

It's the most evident in Esther, a sensitive soul to begin with. Sensitive with a competitive streak and high expectations of herself and others. Art has been her one constant throughout it all. She's good at it, she loves it, and it knows no borders. It knows no language barriers. It doesn't let her down.

If Esther is given time and space and quiet, usually meaning a good book on tape without any loud, grumbling grownup voices interrupting, her heart will come pouring out onto the blank page. And it gives me, mom, such a unique glimpse into her mind to see what she creates.

Her affinity for putting it all down in pictures has rubbed off on her sister. Isla sits down with Esther, delighting in the fleeting sense of unity with her big sister, and creates right along side of her. She moves so purposefully through the simple motions of getting a fresh piece of paper, putting it down on the table, choosing a color from the bouquet of markers in front of her, and moving her busy hands back and forth across a page.

And I take a strange delight, and sense of purpose, in seeing her, and her big sister, create things. Never are my children more self sufficient and content than when they are producing art.

Of course, Isla's favorite part of the whole drawing process comes at the end, when she gets to use scissors and tape and turn her pictures into a collage.

For Esther, every blank page is an opportunity for self expression. Sometimes it's fantasy that needs to come out. Other times it's reality. Usually, a beautiful melding mixture of both.

And I, of course, don't forget me?, envy their ability to escape, to create fantasy worlds, on paper. Somehow words seem confining in comparison.