03 December 2005

A life less ordinary

Bonjour à tous! First off, I'm sorry that the blog hasn't been very "Parisian" lately. As soon as I recovered from my cold, Didge got sick. Then, as soon as Didge recovered, Colin's cold took a turn for the worse. So, here I sit, munching on baguette and cheese while my husband languishes on the couch in the other room. (Don't worry, Tom and Sue, he's not dying! It's just a cold.)

Actually, the cheese is quite lovely, so I hate to sound whiny about my "predicament." It's a soft cow cheese, mixed with garlic and rolled up in finely chopped herbs. It goes onto the slices of baguette like a creamy spread. Yum! Very tasty, indeed. You can see the snack, pre-masticulation, in the picture to the left.

Anyway, life this week has been very ... well, I was going to say "ordinary," but nothing about living in Paris can ever be completely ordinary for me. For the first part of the week, I kept a close eye on Didge's illness, which meant no real excursions outside of the apartment. (Since I just mentioned food, I'll spare you the gory details of his maladies.) I felt sorry for the little guy, but at the same time, I wish that he had chosen more convenient locations in the apartment to get sick. I've gone through a bottle of carpet cleaner this week by scrubbing such fabulous places as the space beneath the desk and the far left corner under the bed.

Fortunately, I got out long enough to check out some new movies and books from the American Library. I'm currently reading Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. It's a collection of essays that he wrote for the New York Post while living in Paris, and as you can imagine, it was recommended to me a lot before I left the states.

So far, it's a good little read. One of my favorite quotes is the great analogy he gives regarding the use of a second language: "We breathe in our first language, and swim in our second" (Gopnik 98). Brilliant! I can completely relate to this. And, to apply his idea to my life this week, you could say that I swam gracefully at the post office, doggie paddled in the pharmacy, and drowned in my neighbor's apartment while babysitting.

First, the good part. I never have a problem at the post office. The workers there are easy to understand, I know exactly what I'm asking for, and (gasp) they are actually friendly from time to time! One worker even assumed that I would want "un beau timbre" (a pretty stamp) for my letter to the US. (Joe and Kate, make sure you notice!)

The pharmacy has gone slightly less smoothly, though that's largely because I'm asking for a conversation instead of getting a request filled. Thank goodness for chapitre 12 in Mais Oui! (my French textbook) -- the vocabulary on common illnesses and treatments came in quite handy. Amazingly, I remembered most of what I needed without having to look it up. My moment of glory this week came when I went to get Colin something stronger than cough drops for his sore throat, and had to alter my preset questions once I got there. The woman at the counter understood me perfectly - without any need for repetition - and I got exactly what I wanted! (For the record, ibuprofen exists in Paris, contrary to what I had heard from a few people before I left. It's under the brand name Intralgis. Please don't ask me to pronounce that brand, however.)

The pharmacy is a funny place anyway because you actually have to get over the counter drugs over the counter. They don't put aspirin or cough syrup in every aisle of the grocery store like the US -- instead, you have to go up to the counter and ask for something specific. This is a bit disadvantageous for those of us who like to read all of the packages and pick out exactly what we want. Plus, the first time I went in to get something, I felt like I was going to have to prove that I really needed medicine! I felt like I was lying when I told the lady at the counter, "Je tousse," (I am coughing), even though I had a nasty chest cough. Regardless of my bizarre sense of guilt, she didn't question me, and I left with a bottle of Drill in a matter of minutes.

, by the way, is the French version of Robitussin. It comes with its own uniquely foul taste. The company tried to flavor it with caramel, I think, but it's really vile stuff. I'm just glad that it worked so that I don't need more.

Then, there was babysitting. *sigh* On Thursday, my neighbor asked if I could watch the kids from 7:30-11 pm-ish on Friday. After I agreed, she told me that there would be a third child: a 2 1/2 year old female cousin. So, I managed to agree to put three children under the age of 10 to bed. Yeah, right. Colin came along for language support, since I have enough trouble communicating with patient adults.

Things went quite well at first. All three of the children are just darling, including 2 1/2 year old cousin Clara. Seriously, they are really cute kids -- I'll have to post a picture some time. Colin played Memory with Charlotte and Francois, and I basically kept Clara from hurting herself as she explored the apartment and continually asked who I was.

Then, it was bedtime.

Charlotte and Francois are excellent at stalling, but they will obey you if you work on them a bit. Colin had wisely primed them by saying that they had to go to bed after the game was over, so they weren't very whiny when we headed for the bedroom. Now, I can take absolutely no credit for getting them to brush their teeth -- that was all Colin. Instead, I took on the task of getting Clara into her diaper and then into bed.

Now, before I explain Clara's reaction to my efforts, I have to say that I am sympathetic to her viewpoint. Let's say that you just met someone, and no more than one hour later, this person is asking you to take your pants off. Yeah right, lady! So, Clara cried .... and kicked ... and screamed ... and flailed ... and cried some more.

Then, Clara started asking for "Doo-Doo" and looking around. Doo-Doo, as it mercifully turned out, was not what she wanted to do without her diaper on, but the name of her favorite stuffed animal. The bad news was that she absolutely could not go to bed without him, and Doo-Doo was nowhere to be found. [See update below]

Finally, Charlotte saved the day by finding Doo-Doo, and Colin managed to distract Clara with him long enough for me to get her diaper and pants on. (Oh, did I mention that she was running around bottomless for a while because I got her pants off, but couldn't get her diaper on?)

I thought, "I have it made!" at that point, since I had a book to read to Clara while she nodded off. Colin finished getting Charlotte and Francois into bed while I read the book. Then, I told Clara that it was time to get in her sleeping bag and go to sleep.

Big mistake.

The waterworks started up again. Then, the screaming came back. This time, it took on verbal form: "Maman!" ("Mommy!") Wait, no, it was more like this: "MAAAAAAAAMAAAAAAAAAN!!!!"

Pretty soon, Clara was absolutely inconsolable, and my limited French vocabulary was of no comfort to her. Charlotte and Francois got up to see what was going on. I explained that Clara missed her mom, and Charlotte suggested calling her. "Ah! Good idea!" I said.

Except that Mom didn't answer her phone.

Charlotte and Francois headed back to bed, leaving Colin and I with the saddest little girl in the entire world. That was when we found out that she does, in fact, know a little bit of English: "I want my mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" So, we continue to console her (in French and English) while gently but forcefully tucking her in. Eventually, we got her into her sleeping bag and on to her mat on the floor, surrounded by Doo-Doo and three other stuffed animals. I have no idea how or why she stopped crying at that point, only that she did. Thank goodness!

[Colin adds: To make things worse, two of Clara's four stuffed animals were identical and were both named Doo-Doo. In addition, she referred to her matress (and maybe also her pillow and blanket) as Doo-Doo. Each time we discovered a new Doo-Doo, we were rewarded with an adorable smile. It was great to see the smile...except that it only lasted for about two seconds before the screaming started again and a search for a new Doo-Doo was begun.]

The parents got home around midnight and were very apologetic about how Clara had behaved. At that point, we learned two key facts: 1) Mom and Dad forgot to tell Clara that they would be gone all evening. If they had, she would not have been so worried about mom at bedtime. 2) Clara had a BIG nap in the middle of the afternoon and probably wasn't that tired anyway. Geez, no wonder she pitched a fit!

Anyway, we earned a little extra cash from the ordeal, and went back up to our apartment thoroughly pleased that we did not have children of our own. Not that we've sworn off having kids, mind you, but it really is quite nice to come home to nothing more than a wiggly, four-legged drool machine who knows that sleeping is a gift, not a punishment.

Update: Isabelle told me today that Dou-Dou (not Doo-Doo) is actually a term that children use for their favorite teddy bear. The implication is that it is VERY important (i.e. you can't go anywhere without it, can't sleep without it, etc.) So, it's not a name for her toy, but a common expression for French children.


At 13/12/05 22:19, Anonymous Frenchmama said...

The first time my 2yr old came home from garderie talking about her dou-dou, I kept putting her on the toilet and telling her to just do it! Found out later that she was referring to her stuffed cow that used to just be cow until she learned a new word at garderie. Did you know that a baby doll is called a poupee? May be handy your next time babysitting.


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