Monday, June 26, 2006

Living with long last names: a poll among the readers

I have recently posted about a new law which allows French mums to transmit their last names too to their progeny. I have been thinking about adding my last name to Milo, and consequently to his coming brother. As the deadline for presenting the papers approaches (June 30), discussions have intensified with the Belgianite, who declares himself in agreement with the principle but is very skeptical on the fact that we both happen to bear pretty long last names, and is convinced we are condemning our kids to a series of impracticalities which will make they bureaucratic life a nightmare.

I can’t make my mind up: am I being too selfish? The main reason to add my last name is to give my children the option to pass it on the day they will have children, especially if they will choose to live in Italy. It is not about a narcissistic need to see my last name associated to their names daily: I’d be happy with them using the father’s last name in everyday life, however, a city hall officer confirmed that they will have to use both last names in every official documentation (from school registration to the bank, and so on).
The Belgianite flashed me a credit card, a social security card, a passport and said: “Look! There isn’t even enough space for our two last names!” (which, together, account for 20 letters). I suspect that his cold and rational approach do hid an emotional reason, somewhere in his unconscious…
Objectively, I think we are not going to be the only ones in this situation and the administrations will have to adapt their forms accordingly, if they haven’t already; also, as previously noted, in France the double last name is a custom already present among the old aristocracy, so we are certainly not the first ones with long and complex names; finally, technology is constantly evolving, by the time my boys will be 18 they won’t probably circulate with passports and ID cards anymore but all our data will be retrieved by the iris of our eye or a chip in-planted in our index, or via fingerprints.
The only painful view from the future that such a decision brings me is when I imagine the kids in elementary school, learning how to write their names and spending hours to spell out their full last names…
So, I ask my readers to manifest themselves with their opinion, especially the ones who have a long last name, those to happen to have a double one or know someone who do, and let me know if it has been really an handicap for them or not and to what extent it has been a pain in the neck (if anything) in their lives! Help me make the right choice!!!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

All by myself

Milo has been talking more and more, there is a peaking learning curve taking place, pretty harmoniously in French, Italian and Dutch simultaneously. He does feel the arrival of his brother imminent, he has noticed the changes in his room ( the cot has misteriously reappeared!), and we talk to him daily about it! He alternates stretches of anxiety in which he's glued to me, he behaves like a baby demanding milk bottles and pretending he is hurt all the time, to other phases in which he's proud to claim his independence: yesterday he managed to put his little sandals on by himself, I had not even realized he was trying, when I heard him saying: "Guarda mamma! Scarpine da solo!" ( Look, mum, shoes by myself!).

One of his character traits that is becoming pretty evident is his persistency: once he has something in mind, he does not let go (see the Mujita entry). This morning at the park he was running on the grass while I was sitting on a bench nearby. He lost one of his sandals, and he immediately called for me from across the field:
"Mammaaaaaa! Mammaaaaaa!"
I look at him and cannot see anything wrong, am not alarmed, I decide to wait for him to come to me. He stands still and screams louder:
"Mammaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Mammaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Guarda!!!!"
I can't think what could be wrong, as I am not the most agile of mums these days with my ready to explode belly, I keep on my bench and reply:
"What is it, my love? What happened?"
"Aletti! Mammaaaaa! Aletti!" (Aletti=sandaletti, that is little sandals)
I still don't feel too motivated to run over and hope he will simply come to me with his lost sandal...he looks at me as if I did not understand and so he screams:
"Scarpine!!! Mamma, scarpine cadute!!!!" (the shoes fell off)
He made it pretty damn clear for me! How could I not get it now!! We ended up meeting midway...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Numbers have a soul

The Belgianite has been consistenly teaching Milo the numbers, since he was a fetus in the belly! First by simply counting up to five, then by showing him the equivalent fingers on the hand. About 3 months ago we bought a series of magnet numbers that adhere to the metal cover of the fireplace in the living room, and Milo has been loving playing with them and putting them in sequence. By now he recognizes them and knows their names in Italian, French and Dutch.

These numbers are also beginning to take a substantial shape in his imagination: one night we were chatting in the living room and he was playing with them by himself, when we noticed he had piled them up in a toy boat and was taking them for a ride…he called our attention to the fact that the numbers were leaving("Mamma, Papa: numi partiti!" that is, the numbers have left), so we waved good-bye and he also waved back on their behalf! Later on he asked us to be quiet because number 2 was going to sleep (“Shhhh! Due dodo!”)

Yesterday we were drawing together, me with the red marker and him with his inseparable light blue. I started jotting numbers here and there and he would paint them in blue, saying that they were taking a shower (“Mamma, numi doccia”).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A love & hate relationship

Yesteday I ranted about Paris, today I want to render justice to the people and the things we love here: there ARE sympathetic shop keepers indeed, the pharmacist and the boulanger in our neighborhood are extremely friendly; our neighbours in our building have also been very nice, and they all have spontaneusly offered at one point to look after Milo should the birth occur at night; I have made some tue friends among my French colleagues at work...I have to be objective!

Last night it was the Fete de la Musique: like every year on June 21, France celebrates the summer solstice allowing musicians to perform in the streets of all its towns! The performances in Paris range from pop concerts with over 25 artists at La Defense to a little band performing at the brasserie around the corner. The athmosphere is just irresistible! We took a small tour around the neighborhood (can't walk much these days, unfortunately! We are at - 20 days to the due date and although I haven't gained much, a mere 10 kg, I have a limited distance range!) and enjoyed the small band at the brasserie...Milo was enthusiastic, and, for one night, like him several other toddlers were out and about with their parents...the city was envelopped in a sort of village-festival type of aura! On days like this, we love Paris!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

“Put the dust back where you found it!” or, the surreality of Parisian manners.

Regardless of the four years already spent in the land of the frogs, I experience culture shock daily, especially in my interaction with the shop keepers or public officials. I have come to a realization that Paris is a galaxy of its own, and not representative of the rest of the country, yet it’s easy to sum up my daily experiences under the stereotype classification of French rudeness.
The notion of customer care in France is a pure euphemism; coming from the US of A, where for the mere fact that you might spend you’re greeted with red carpets, it is quite a shock for any foreigner to set foot in any French bank and daring to ask information about opening an account with them! The impression you have, is that THEY are the client, and YOU have to win them over. This attitude ranges from a mere gestual, body language level to some pretty absurd verbal exchanges which often degenerate in altercations. I have had my share, and it is in France that I learnt the art of screaming in public, something I would have never imagined I was even capable of.

Some silly episodes follow to illustrate my point:
  • I enter a travel agency and, after waiting duly for my turn, I ask the agent some information about a trip they advertise in their window; I ask the availability within a month time frame. Reaction: the lady rolls the eyes, begins emitting one of those typical French puffs, and without saying a word, she types nervously on the computer. She suddenly turns around, looks at me straight in the eyes and blunts: “No, it’s not available.” Period. I wait a few seconds, expecting her to probe and find another date or proposing another solution, but nothing, she just stares at me, with an obviously unfriendly attitude…I ask the questions myself, then. She looks at me definitely bothered by my presence, she looks at her watch and then she vomits me the following sentence with the same lucidity of an assassin: “Look, lady, in 10 minutes it’s my lunch break and I have no intention of missing it.” She just failed to add Get Lost!
  • Rude waiters are legendary in Paris, from slamming the food on the table to ignoring patrons etc. The best I had was late on a summer night, out in the center, in a chic but deserted terrace of a trendy cafe; my beau and I sat next to one another. The waiter came as fast as an hawk, not to take our order but to harass us to seat in front of one another, because we were occupying too much space!!! So we left.
  • My favorite moment of negative karma is the weekly cold treatment I get from the cleaners where I drop off my boyfriend’s shirts. They have a subscription system where you can get a discount if you buy a certain number of slots of services. The thing is, they give you these paying vouchers which group the shirts by two. As a result, you should drop off and pick up shirts always in an even number, if not their system collapses and the cleaners’ people go nuts. Needless to say that there are 5 working days in a week…So the first time I went to pick up the 5 shirts I had dropped off, the lady literally screamed at me that it was nonsense and that I should have known better. I tried to argue and find an easy solution, she just kept getting angrier and angrier at me. I was in disbelief, I looked for sympathy in the eyes of other patrons present at the scene, and everyone looked away! Ever since, despite my efforts to keep the drop-off items in even numbers and be as polite as I can force myself to be when I enter the shop, that lady barely says hi or thank you, just handles the transaction as fast as she can without making eye contact. I sent my beau once and apparently she was very nice to him! I know what you wonder, why don’t I simply change venue. Price and location are still two good reasons to suck it up and take their rudeness.
  • Some musea in Paris are very child friendly and even organize children happening and art intro activities (Georges Pompidou, Gare D’Orsay, Palais de Tokyo to name a few), but some others are simply a kid-busting party-pooper venue (and I will mention them: Jacquemart André on top of the list, followed only by the Museum of Modern Art and the Grand Palais). Although these institutions do not mention anywhere in their website or publicity literature that small children are not accepted (it would be too easy), they make children and parents visits a hellish souvenir. The strollers are not allowed in, so you have to check them in and carry your 15-20 kilos of joy all the way. Guards in every room are ready to scold the kids before they even think of approaching the fire extinguisher (currently Milo’s passion) or if they dare climbing on the seats/couches with their shoes on. If kids dare expressing their appreciation of the art verbally (Milo is not shy about screaming “Ooooh, wow !” in front of bright colored canvases), it’s the parents that get dirty and insisting looks, together with a nasty ”Shhhhh!”…and if you think of keeping your toddler calmer by supplying him with a snack or fruit while visiting the galleries, forget about it: "No, No, No!" screams the guard, running toward you alarmed as if you just leaned against a Modigliani!

    Some of these interactions are plain surreal; the best one occurred this week at the park: I was sitting on a bench with another mum and we were chatting away as out two sons were playing with a truck and a shovel not too far from us. The sand box was about 100 mts away from where we were sitting. A park guard came by and uttered: “Sorry Ladies, but the kids are not allowed to play with the dirt here.” We looked at him puzzled, not understanding what he meant…since when it’s forbidden to play with dirt in parks ? Also, the park was filled with kids everywhere… “They should play in the sand box, because we just re-landscape the park and they risk ruining it.” explained the park guard. We barely contained our laughter…I did not even bother arguing, such nonsense it was…but upon leaving we did ask the kids to put the grass back straight on the lawn and to pick up the leafs that had fallen from the tree and try to put them back on the branches!

    This one won the gold medal for the Parisian Negative Karma Aggressive Public Behavior, which I hold responsible for the generalized Parisian gloomy atmosphere and for the fact that Parisians are stereotyped as snoddy, rude and not much fun. As a foreigner it is hard to come to terms with that: either you succumb and start acting the same way, replying aggressively and living every single day some sort of confrontation, and entering this karma circle where you receive the negativity and you put it back into the environment; or you build an emotional iron curtain to protect yourself and decide to just laugh about it, which after a while it’s simply very hard and eventually the snoddyness simply gets to you and you find yourself rumbling and nagging most of the day ; either way, it wears you out after a while…unless you resort to irony:

Same park, two days later; an old lady joins me on the bench, with her book. She delves into it and reads. Milo and his friends are running back and forth from the bench to the slide, screaming and making a lot of noise, as the other 500 kids in the park at that hour. The lady turns around and snaps:

"Can you please make your kid to saty silent?"

"Why would I do that?! We take him to the park so he can play!" I reply, calmly.

"I come to the park to relax and read and it is very very hard!" snaps back the French lady, obiously oblivous of the surrounding!

"Well, in that case I advise you the library, it's a much better place!" I said smiling back.

I didn't even have to get mad!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pam at 'Blogher' digs MTK!

'The Tower of Babble ' is a bright entry from SF writer Pam, which delves into multilingualism from an American perspective. "Multilingualism opens doors to relationships that might not otherwise be possible" writes rightfully Pam. Thanks for checking us out!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mujita, maestro!

There has been a heat wave in the last few days, shaking the semi-Siberian Parisian climate of May to a sub-equatorial one in June…last night the three of us were hanging out on the big bed enjoying the first evening breeze and fresh clean sheets, when a suddenly excited Milo looked at us as if he just had a great idea and begun asking:
“Mujita! Mujita!”
As it often happens, the Belgianite and I were clueless as to what he meant, and in which language he was speaking, but we tried our best to understand:
“What? What is mujita?”
An impatient Milo insisted: “Mujitaaaa, mujita, mujita, mamma!”, looking at me as if it was pretty obvious.
“…mu…jita? I don’t understand, Milo, what is it, show me.”
An increasingly frustrated Milo raised his voice, like adults do when speaking with foreigners, as if they were deaf!
“Mu-ji-ta!! Mujita!! Mujita, mujita, mujita, papá… (at least you should know this!)”
We were lost…we squeezed our brains, we tried our best, we looked around us, what in heaven was this kid asking for…he did not give up:
“Mujita, mujita, mujitaaaa…”
“Milo beetje moe?” asked the Belginite, concentrating on the sound (moe = ‘tired’ in Dutch)
“Ne, mujita mujita, mujita…” replied Milo, the expression on his face now clearly signifying 'these guys are useless'!
Somehow we both agreed that he must be using an Italian word, but I could not detect it, so the Belginite tried again:
“How does papa call that?”
“.. !?...and the nanny? How does she call it?”
“Mujita... (What do you think?!)”
By now Milo really thinks we are a pair of brain-dead morons…how can we not possibly get it?
Finally a neuron sparked in my heat and pregnancy deflated head:
“You mean…musica?”
“Siiiiiiiiiii!!! Mujita!!! mujita!!!”
Hope was restored in what was beginnign to be an unjust world!

He wanted his papa to play the piano and put on some music, the party boy!
And when he finally did, he looked at me joyfully a couple of times stressing:
“Mujita, mamma, mujita!”
Like saying “Isn’t this great?! Do you get it now?”

Monday, June 12, 2006

Almost there...birthday thoughts

- 28 days and the baby is definitely ready to be "launched"...I enjoyed a very warm and intense parisian weekend with a first wave of contractions which finally convinced me it's about time I stop running around and simply consacrate my time to lying down and doing nothing! The adreanline rush was pretty wild: I definitely need at least another couple of weeks, at least mentally! Today it's my birthday and I treated myself to a couple of books I wanted to read for a while (some recent Amelie Nothomb, some old Kundera and the latest Tabucchi), hopefully they'll keep me glued to the couch!

Milo feels the commotion that it's about to come...I keep telling him that one of these days his little brother will come home to live with us. He listens very carefully. The only item he retains is the gift that this brother is suppoed to bring him! He definitely got that!

This week English has taken a more active role in his linguistic development, to our amazement. We never address him directly in English, but he hears us all the time speaking it among one another. This weekend he wanted to hurry his dad to take him to the park and he yelled:
"Tome on, papa, tome on!" (for come on).

He also heard me replying "I don't know" to one question and he has replied so on a cuple of occasions, randomly.

At this time we don't hang out with any English speaking friends, and it's a shame because it could be a viable way to slowly build some bases for him...but then again I don't want to force too much on him, he has already his share with French, Italian and Dutch.

I also noticed that he is very talkative and chatty at home and among familiar people, while when we go to the park he turns a little shy. He is very tall for his age, although he's only two he's the size of a three year old, and kids are somehow puzzled by his lack of immediate verbal response. I caught several times older girls asking him impatiently is the toys he was playing with were his, and being frustrated at his lack of reply. I try to monitor him as much as possible and intervene if necessary, but he also needs to learn the playground rules...

On the other hand, now that he can communicate more, his carachter is softening- it's clear that he enjoys talking and expressing himself. And we don't miss his screaming! He's incredibly aware of words triple identity: without being asked, he often offers the three versions (IT, FR, DT) of any given item at hand!

It's gonna be a very quiet birthday, a little dinner tonight in a nearby restaurant, nothing wild...but with the best of presents on its way, what do you expect?!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The panacean effect of an Italian mum

My mum came to Paris last week, she arrived like a magic fairy with lots of positive energy and drive! For a week I just let her baby me, I think it did both of us good: I needed it badly and I know it makes her feel great, although I cannot imagine how mums can possibly fear that they ever loose the central role in their kids''s true, we grow, we build families of our own, but mums are such a point of reference always...

We spent a great time together! She helped me with a bunch of homey tasks such as getting the wardrobe ready for the baby, dishing out Milo's old outfits and picking the ones that can be reused, preparing the luggage for the clinic etc. (Digression: last time I was going crazy looking for nightgowns that would be opened in the front, hence comfortable for breast feeding: all models available were suited for some old ladies in retiring homes... this time, as I will give birth in July and I hope it will be warm, I shopped some fantastic pajamas with sleeveless tops! It's all about experience!).

She cooked for us every day some succulent dinners and the mere scent of her cooking transported me back at home and made me feel happy!

Milo adored having his Nonna around, who played a lot with him, read him stories, taught him some more vocabulay in Italian, and made him laugh! Quite a change from a disciplinary nanny and a mum who has often been jumpy and tense these past months...

We also took off just the two of us a few times, sightseeing around Paris (something I have the feeling I will not get to do for a while!). We took the batobus and cruised along the Seine one day. We saw some great exhibits at the Grand Palais ('Italia Nova' , a panoramic review of paintings in Italy between 1900 and 1950 and one on contemporary French art, very very forward!). We had great lunches at lebanese and other ethnic restaurants, sharing some great talks. I am always amazed at her positivity and capability to take life with serenity...while I seem to worry a lot more.

She also baby-sat for us two nights, on one evening we had the neighbour's party and on another the Belgianite and I enjoyed a real date, dressing up and going for a Japanese dinner and a great movie (Volver by Almodovar, fresh from the Cannes festival). We hadn's gone out just the two of us in at least 6 months! It felt like a major event!

She left and I really miss her already; I wonder if with my two boys it will be the same when they will be grown, if I'll be up to the task and capable to give so much...and since the kitchen is certainly not my reign, I wonder if my boys will experience the same sensorial and memory bliss I did while my mum cooked...! I guess I have still some time to learn how to cook at least one good dish!

A few intense weeks

I have diserted ‘blogosphere’ for a little while, busy with life around me…I missed blogging and I hope to post more regularly again, especially in the next month. We are at – 36 days to the big day (or ‘jour j’ as they say in French), that is the baby’s due date (July 10) and I feel at once that there is an eternity ahead of me and, at the same time I will never have enough time to have everything ready!

The greatest news is that I am finally on maternity leave! And it feels great! I am rather active and I like my professional life, but the stress was really getting to me, expressing itself with insomnia and palpitations, which have miraculously disappeared ever since I have been at home…

We have been busy trying to fix the apartment around, especially Milo’s room which had to be reorganized. I read on a French parenting magazine that 70% of parents wait until the last trimester of pregnancy to do this and purchase the necessary furniture and stuff; apparently it is recognized as the nest building syndrome! We meant getting a new bed for Milo this winter already, but we only got to it 2 weeks ago…the initial transition has been seamless, Milo felt rewarded to leave the ‘cage’, that is the bed with bars, and finally sleep in a normal bed. But it lasted too little. The problem now is simply convincing him to stay in it at sleeping time…it takes a loooooooong time to put him to sleep. He has never been a sleepy baby, but now that he can actually run away from the bed, evenings are rough.We try to stick to the ritual: bath, dinner, book reading, lullaby, lights off…but as soon as we’re gone he tiptoes to the living room a hundred times, and there is no argument, voice raising, scolding, sweet talking that works…He finally collapses around 11 pm, and so do we, after having spent the last two hours taking turns in chasing the rascal! In any case, at least he does sleep through the night, looking at the bright side! In a few weeks we will put his old bed back in his room, camouflaged with different draperies, ready for his little brother.

In the same week he also got his first haircut at the hairdresser! Up until now he got his hair cut only two or three times by his father; in fact, Milo’s hair was as long as that of a girl, which despite making him look very trendy and fashionable (AND a girl indeed), it was a pain the neck to wash and brush: it would tangle in rasta locks in his back and he’d refuse to have it combed. Every morning I had the impression to wake up a child version of Rod Stewart! So, after another first attempt by his father which resulted in the worse massacrating chop-work I have ever seen, the nanny and I took him on a rainy Monday morning to a tour of the neighborhood’s hairdressers, looking for the courageous one who would not be impressed with Milo’s screaming and fidgeting techniques and would go for the task. We found it shortly, and the experience was certainly not a gay one…no blood was shed, mission was accomplished but a lot of the other salon’s clients were troubled by his pulmonary capabilities (as in he screamed for dear life). The haircut completely changed his look and I still have a hard time recognizing him at the park…but bath time is much more fun now!

While at the hairdresser I was served my first “why does he not speak?” pep talk by an older French lady who was having her hair washed, and to whom Milo was explaining in Italian that the water was cold…she could not understand him and it frustrated her. When he finally uttered a comprehensible “pas chaud” to her, she looked at me and exclaimed “See! You can speak if you make an effort!” to which I could not resist replying:”Oh, but he does speak: in Italian, Dutch AND French!” The lady was simply amazed. (Alice docet!)

Last but not least I finally took Milo for a long due visit to yet another pediatrician, for a vaccination recall. In the last two years, I have consulted almost all of those in our neighborhood and I am coming to the conclusion that I am setting my expectations just too high each time. Every visit is simply diappointing. They always, inevitably prescribe heavy medications (antibiotics are as common as bread in France), they hardly explain what is wrong, and I simply cannot stand their lack of psychology and their indifference to Milo’s fear of them. This time I called the lady in advance to let her know about his sensitivity and asked her to be extra nice to him: she greeted him screaming to his face that no matter what, she would have visited him, that he could decide to cry, kick, whatever, it was not her problem: she WOULD have visited him, no matter what. Thanks a lot, bitch!!! If I hadn’t called in advance, would she have smacked us straight on the head?!As usual Milo cried during the visit and at the mere sight of the stetoscope, and really panicked when the shot was done; once it was all over he seemed ok. So I am back to the list of pediatricians…

Finally, we have had some doubts about the nanny. Milo and Antoine are now 2 and 2 and ½, an age which is certainly very peculiar, ‘the first adolescence’ as good old Fitzhugh Dodson defined it, and it seems she has reached her level of competences and has a very hard time handling them. She has been great as long as they have been babies, but boys are another affair: they need to be managed, anticipated, to be fed information, games, things to learn constantly, and she’s rather passively just making sure they don’t destroy the house too much and they don’t kill themselves. Milo has also started to express a certain independence, while Antoine starts being more and more physical and controlling. I have been thinking to sign up Milo in a local halte garderie (a part time day care) for a few mornings a week, as a start, to let him meet other kids and socialize and expand a little his social network. This garde partagé will end by December the latest anyway, and as we don’t have any family close by, I cannot imagine being home alone with a newborn and Milo at the same time, this summer. What depresses me is that I tried talking to the nanny about it, and while she recognizes herself that she’s a little lost with their capricious behaviour most of the time, she is not at all receptive to the numerous articles, books, activities I have presented her with and suggested. I am no expert, by no means, and I do understand her frustration, but I thought we could try to find, together, a strategy to get through this phase more harmoniously and for her it could have been a significant professional learning experience too. I am seriously considering getting a new one for the new baby, when the time will come.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Back on the blog, -38 days to the due date

I've been MIA for the last couple of weeks, finally on my maternity leave and taking care of gazillion of things...the due date for the baby is approaching fast and I feel we still need to prepare so many details! Apart from a coup of fatigue the last few weeks, I'm in good health and the adrenaline is flowing freely! I'll start blogging regularly again and I have a lot to write about!

Milo has been talking up a storm, growing each day more and more into his own little amazing person! It's such a pleasure to witness his bloom daily, now that I am not's a quick anectode for you from this week, during the visit of my mum, whom he calls 'Nonna' (grandma in Italian):

Coming back from the park with his Nonna, Milo craves for a milk bottle. As soon as they enter the apartment, he takes her by the hand and brings her to the kitchen:
"Vieni, Nonna, vieni..." (Come with me)
Once in the kitchen he declares his plan:
"Nonna, bibe, bibe latte!" (milk bottle)
As it is short before dinner time, she tries to discourage him by saying that she does not know how ta make a bibe...
Milo opens the fridge and pulls out his milk, gives it to his grandma with a very persuasive look and states:
"Latte, nonna!" (milk)
Nothing easier than making a milk bottle, isn't there?!?!?!

Have a lovely weekend!