Thursday, October 25, 2007

A red letter day

Actually, a red letter week if not a red letter year.

Nearly six years ago, feeling pressured to work outside of the home by my other half, I 'forced' the purchase of a new, more commodius house with a garden. Up to then, we had lived, relatively happily, in a house without a garden, but one that did have a garage.

I should point out that we have always lived in the center of town. Few things are more dispiriting than living in the suburbs in France. I mean, we are foreigners. (At least the adults in the house are...) We didn't come here to have a suburbian experience, let alone a lesser suburbian experience (no, 'starter castles' haven't made it to France... and commuting, well, let's not go there).

So we live in the center of town. We walk most places, or take our bikes. Sometimes we take, gasp, public transportation. In fact, they've just opened a second subway line, only about 3 blocks from our house. Hooray. It goes almost door to door from our house to the nice Montessori-like school daughter 1 goes to.

Another fabulous benefit about living here is the fruit and vegetable market that happens one block away from our front door, 6 days a week. I've gotten to know a few of the merchants, one of whom told me it is the largest daily market in Europe.

(You're probably wondering why I hate it here so much. I wonder too, sometimes. That's probably the subject of another blog, or perhaps 20 years of psychoanalysis.).

Anyway, we live in a nice spot. But the one problem with our neighborhood, being so close to town, is that it was hard to find a parking spot near our house (there is no on-street parking in front of our house, but about 1/4 of a block away). When we first moved here, (as I said nearly 6 years ago), finding a spot was tough. As the years have passed, it became nearly impossible. I, or my dh, would literally cruise the neighborhood for upwards of 45 minutes before parking 8 blocks away (that being the closest spot we could find).

The Mayor of town decided to put in resident parking in the main center of town neighborhoods, and started with neighborhoods that are less 'activist' than ours. Our neighborhood protested vehemently against resident parking. I guess the prevailing opinion was that it wasn't fair to make the residents pay for what ought to be theirs for free. Not only that, many of them probably knew that getting resident parking meant they would have to 'merit' it. By this I mean living in a legal apartment (one where you pay taxes for it) and also not have access to other parking.

Regardless, the Mayor didn't care and his evil plan got put into place, systematically, in all the neighborhoods, but ours (it was euphemistically said that ours would happen, eventually). It was a sort of chinese water torture of parking, because as each neighborhood was converted, people would migrate to those neighborhoods where parking was still free. So, the original fight against parking slowly converted into a fight for parking.

Parking was always easier in the summer and vacation periods, when the numerous students would escape the city, but this last summer it didn't improve. If anything, it seemed to worsen. In June, the Mayor announced that our neighborhood would finally have resident parking "Late August". I was thrilled, as was dh. The 'rules' were that we would get a special badge for the car, and a payment card that would permit us to buy tickets that allowed two full weeks of parking. I wondered why they couldn't issue some sort of yearly pass, but was so giddy at the idea of just being able to park I accepted the seemingly odd rules.

I dutifully filled out the forms and sent in the required papers (our resident tax paper, car registration paper, and recent electricity bill), and then I waited, anticipating with glee the day they would call for me to come get our parking badge.

I waited through August, into early September. I noticed no parking meters, so there was no system in place. I found out in early September that the date had been pushed back to October 22nd. The date seemed magical. Anytime it would come up for another reason, I would get a shiver of excitement, as though some amazing event were planned for that day.

Late September the Mayor's office called me, and we made an appointment for me to get the 'badge' on the 11th, at a pre-arranged time. I marked the date carefully into my pocket pc, and when the day came I loaded up dd2 in her stroller and insisted we move quickly to get there at the appointed time.

We arrived at the office and she issued us our badge and the special payment card to be charged up at the local bank. She showed me how to use it and informed me of the fines involved in losing the card. I asked her why there was only a two-week limit, and the question seemed to perplex her. I noted that many big cities had yearly passes for residents, and she smiled saying, "Ah, this wouldn't work. You see, the ink only lasts about two weeks on these tickets, then it fades." Ah, the folkloric and absurd response we so often expect, and get, in France. I guess it didn't occur to anyone that the badges for the cars could be printed up with a yearly expiration date.

So we left the office with our new toys. We pasted the badge on the car and charged up the card. As October 22nd neared, meters were installed and the words "Paid parking" were stencilled on the asphalt near the parking spots. As this happened, people slowly stopped parking here, wondering if it was pay parking, unsure, and moving on.

The morning of October 22nd, dh took the car to work (unusual but he had visitors) and with it the payment card. When I left on my bike a bit later, I noted that there were quite a number of available spots.

Later, when I returned, even more spots were available. I giggled as I pedalled up our street saying, "I just love this place" before I realized what I was saying.

So miracles do happen and red letter days do occur in France, after all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

She's not obedient

Another 'hate France' day.

Today, Wednesday, I try to spend with my children, since the bigger one usually has a half day off, but today she is off on a trip.

So, my little one and I are spending time together (mostly 'quality' except for right now where I am blogging). Abigail is two years old, and she plays her role quite well. To all questions her pat response is, "No" (with the possible exception of "Would like a cookie/ice cream?" to which she repeats the object of her desire while running madly for the kitchen.. "ICE CREAM"... so never a 'yes').

I need to run errands. It is part of being a mom, even an expat mom. I can't complain about that, we live in the center of town and everything is a short walk. One amazing Abigail attribute is her ability to walk. Everywhere. If. she. wants. to.

Which brings us to this morning. Her initial enthusiasm for walking was great, (I know better than to ask "Will you go shopping with Mommy" and use the tried-and-true "Can you help Mommy do the shopping?" which always gets an enthusiastic response). But as we walked away from the house, she asked for us to buy watermelon, and I mentioned that we would likely not get any since it wasn't in season, so she thought a bit more, "Ice cream!" she suggested, which was a good idea two days ago when she and her sister had eaten us out of my favorite (mint chip) but unnecessary today since we are full up (we don't eat THAT much ice cream!).

So she continued to walk but with less enthusiasm. We turned a corner, and she balked. I said, "Either you walk or you go in the stroller" so she continued walking. A bit further on, she saw a cat. She wanted to go to the cat, but since cats aren't my favorite animal and I am not sure about how nice this one was, I didn't want to. I briefly explained this, and getting impatient, I wanted to move (my favorite bakery runs out of their amazing potato-rosemary bread quickly...). Again, I gave the standard close-ended two year-old choice: walk or stroller. But this time, she was having none of it. I warned her that if she didn't I would PUT her in the stroller, but she held firm. As I said, she plays her role well.

So a kicking and screaming Abigail got put in her stroller after two warnings. The postal lady was walking by and took the time to come by and say, rather reproachfully, "She is not an obedient girl!" with the tone of 'for shame' dripping all over.

I was stunned. I didn't respond, so the kind postal lady repeated herself in case I didn't understand. (Quite honestly, I think she was doing her best to 'help' me, being of a certain culture and generation, she wanted Abigail to know that she, too, would vote for her getting in the stroller... sort of a Mommy solidarity. But I still didn't like it, I am soooo hard to please.)

I continued to be stunned, but then responded, "Well, she is obedient sometimes, but I guess she doesn't want to do what I do today" and didn't really wait for a response. As I walked on with a screaming two year-old in a stroller, I realized: I DON'T WANT HER TO BE OBEDIENT! Being obedient has gotten me into more nasty situations than I could ever describe. Who would want their child to repeat such a horrible mistake???

And what's more, behind my postal lady's message of Abigail not being obedient was the reproach of, "You aren't too great of a parent". Well, it isn't the first time a French national has suggested this. And perhaps I am not, at least by their standards. I don't hit my children (which they do, regularly, and often in public). I don't belittle my chilren (again, which they do), or make fun of their 'childishness' (yes, they do that too... children are childish, can't get around that...), or make fun of their worries (you guessed it, they do that too...). So I am, all around, a pretty lousy parent by French standards. In fact, I guess you'd say... I'm not obedient. It has taken many years and many experiences to overcome being obedient, but I am well on my way.

Obedient is dumb, even the French know this because they are going to strike tomorrow in a full showing of civil disobedience (including our fair postal lady, I assure you!).

No, Abigail isn't 'obedient', hooray for her!!! She is willful and opinionated. She can be kind and helpful at times, and very sweet to boot, which is a nice balance to her strong and, at times difficult, spirit. At least I can still parent despite living in France.

Monday, October 15, 2007

VBAC? You'd have to get there, first...

So, I am part of this amazing organization, ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network There are about 1500 members on the yahoo support group list, the vast majority of whom have had a cesearean (or two, or three or more) and are looking for support.

They are looking for support to:
1) Deal with having had surgery to bring their child into the world
2) Dealing with other people who don't 'get' why #1 is so hard to deal with
3) Find a means to birth naturally, ie having a 'vbac' (vaginal birth after cesearean)
4) Lots of other reasons relating to 1, 2 and 3

So is it hard to 'deal' with a cesarean? Some women don't find this to be the case. I should mention, though, it is major abdominal surgery. It is necessary to cut at least a 10 cm incision in order to get the baby out (actually, it amazes me that it is this small... but our bodies are even amazing in this context... the skin stretches...). There aren't too many surgeries for which you need such a large incision, and this means that healing takes a bit longer. And it is painful. Yes, you might get some painkillers, but this doesn't really help since you are probably trying to stay alert for taking care of 1 or more children, would like to breastfeed and aren't sure whether the drugs are OK for that, and, well, just don't like the feeling of the drugs. Then there is the numbing feeling you have for weeks, months, perhaps years as the feeling struggles to return to that part of the body.

Most women won't admit they have difficulties with a cesearan. Shoot, most women won't admit they have trouble with anything having to do with birth or parenting. In my other life, I am a university researcher. I have looked at the psychological distress that women suffer after birth, traumatic or not, and I know that the one universal thing all women hear when they try to discuss their hurt is: "The most important thing is a healthy baby." Everyone says it. Nurses, midwives, doctors, healthcare assistants... husbands, lovers, mother-in-laws, mothers, sisters... everone. Perhaps I even said it once or twice in my life.

Well, actually, a healthy baby is a very nice thing. And it is important. But it isn't the 'most important thing'. Nothing is the 'most important' thing.

If you want to shut up a new mom, however, tell her that. Then she won't tell you how she feels, and you can just assume she is OK. I mean, she isn't saying she isn't, right??? (But then if she did, someone would tell her she's wrong... kind of a vicious circle, dontcha think?)

If it isn't hard enough to deal with these people, think of all the others who don't get that birth is really, really screwed up in the world (a lot of my ICAN friends think that the USA has the corner on the market for crappy birth experiences, but France can hold its own... they can't win a rugby game, but they sure as heck can ruin birth). Read books by Henci Goer, or Penny Armstrong if you don't understand what I mean. For reasons that are beyond me, women have tacitly agreed to allow medical professionals to 'rule' over what should be a very personal, private series of decisions. And then they thank them for it (oops, I forgot, if we complain we are told we are wrong).

I have glossed over so much to get to the point of this entry. Dealing with finding someone/someplace you can have a vbac. Well... you'd have to get there first. What I mean is that not only is birth being taken away from women, but so is conception. We are told we can 'control' when we have babies, through waiting, contraception, etc... then when we want them, we get more expert help (vitamins, medical treatments). It is all part of the big package, because who wouldn't want to be guarenteed a healthy baby, long before they conceive? I mean, if you need 'help' conceiving (which a shocking number of my friends are indicating these days) and some magnificent medpro helps with that, then of course you are going to trust whatever s/he says about birth. And the odds are that s/he will encourage surgical extraction of your baby, 'just to be sure'.

The medpro won't tell you that you and your baby have a much higher chance of dying from this procedure. They won't tell you that you have pretty much damned yourself to having a cesarean for the rest of your pregnancies, because no medpro in their 'right mind' would allow a vbac, except under circumstances so constrained that no one can fulfill them.

So, you want a vbac? You'd have to get there first. And by that, I mean that you'd not only have to find yourself a situation where you could, physically, have a vbac, but you have to forego the rest of the package that you 'bought' when you got into the whole birth system. How can you buy a car and then say, 'No thanks, I don't want that option'... not easy. Try telling a dr that you want his/her prenatal care, but not all the tests s/he suggests and certainly not that warped idea of birth that s/he has. They are worse than car salesmen, and can be a darn sight more compelling, because, after all, you want a healthy baby, right...?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pete and Repeat...

So as mother of bilingual children, I find myself thinking in terms of what things sound like to someone who isn't patently mono-lingual. I guess I am bilingual. I say "I guess" because I don't feel like it. I don't feel completely 'at home' in French. I function well in the language, and most of my students understand me (those that don't get the benefit of nice power-point back-up presentations for my classes). My dh doesn't speak French well, and sees no point in it being part of the scientific elite.
So last week I was folding laundry and chatting with my nearly 7 year-old daughter. We were telling jokes, being silly... the sort of fun that used to send me into paroxysms of giggles when I was pregnant, for no apparent reason, other than the giddy anticipation of having a daughter.
I told her the "Pete and repeat" joke. "Pete and Repeat went over the bridge. Who went second?" To which my wonderful straight-girl daughter said, "Repeat", which I dutifully did.
She thought it was hysterical. Hooray for old dumb jokes! But then as I was driving her blissfully crazy I was thinking ahead to myself, "How does this sound in French? Can she tell this to her French friends?" And at once I knew the answer, in French it is an even better joke to a 7 year-old.
So I primed her, "You going to tell your friends at school?" and she started to think about how she would translate it, and burst out laughing. So I will share it with those of you who are not able to think in both languages: If you translate the joke, the word "Repeat" works... the French use the same word, the infinitive of which is 'repeter'; the goofy part is "Pete" which does not have a French equivalent. So you can say "Pete" but pronounce in "pet" (which would rhyme with 'repete'... so far so good) yet this is where it gets a bit dicey. "Pete", pronounced 'pet', in French is "fart"... ah, to be 7 years old again!
So she thought it was funny, but in the end it is a dopey private joke, pretty much just for her and me. Poor dh didn't 'get' it.
Then there are the words that mean something else in our language, or the names that mean something... there is a doctor at the psychiatric unit in the hospital where I teach, who is called "Dr. Gentile"... well... so much there! In English I would be thinking religion. In French, his name means "nice". How perfect for a doctor who works with children! "Dr. Nice will see you now!"
I live in this private world, where things mean one thing in one language, another in my maternal tongue, and then when they get translated between the two can mean something completely different. And my daughter's mastery of both languages isn't without moments of startle, like last night when she said, "Well, normally, it doesn't work that way" when she was describing something. In English we would have said "actually" but if she said "actuellement" in French it wouldn't mean the right thing (ie 'basically'), it would mean "right now"... sigh. So I explained it to her, but I realized that it was only the beginning of hearing more and more Franglish, and perhaps a slight division between her and me in communication.
I guess the wild goofy intimacy of our "Pete and repeat" joke, and others like it, will counter-balance the fact that she won't speak perfect American like myself.