A note to my daughter as she goes to bed

Each night as I lay you down to sleep I wish out loud, softly, for my beautiful girl to have beautiful dreams. This is how I fall asleep, too; thinking of beauty. But I have noticed over time that the beautiful places and times I picture in my own head to accompany me to my dreams have gotten closer to home.

delight

Faraway tropical beaches have turned into the trees on our street in early spring, drenched in delicate white blossoms.

Peaceful waves on pale sand have become the bold green of our trees and grass during a summer morning thunderstorm.

The imagined warmth of the sun on my back as I rest by the ocean is replaced by the day’s real memory of your uncontrolled giggles when we “surprised” ourselves in the mirror, over and over and over.

lol

The picture I have in my head of a magnificent Hawaiian sunset over a tranquil inlet fades and drifts away, replaced by the blazing colors of our day, our life.

 

major lol

The beautiful dreams I wish for you may take these exotic forms. For me, beautiful dreams are much closer to home now. They are home. And each night when I wish you beautiful dreams and I am touching your sweet cheek and listening to you breathe easy in your sleep, I am giddy with excitement over what beauty we will fall into tomorrow, here, together. Beauty I can take with me to my own dreams as I send you off with a kiss to yours.

sleepy

 

 

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Red, white, and nouveau: What we’re keeping, what we’ve tossed

If you’re even a tepid follower of this blog, you’ll recall that we have approached parenting with a French twist (har har) and I was going to detail our experiences along the way. My point in doing so was to see if those who have experienced French parenting firsthand–expats, spouses of French people, families who have lived in France but aren’t French–and lived to write about it could create second-generation French parenting disciples: People who are only going on what others have written and done to guide them toward a similar outcome. People like us.

And then you’ll notice that after a few posts about eating and bedtimes, I haven’t written anything else about the Red, white, and nouveau experiment. Here’s why: Very quickly we realized that “French parenting” is just a label that sums up “how we would do things anyway” so our Red, white and nouveau experiment has turned out not to be so much an experiment as daily life. And who blogs about that? 😉

Allow me then to answer the “is it possible to create French parenting disciples?” question: Yes.

Allow me next to outline a few of the high points of French parenting that we have found to be particularly resonant in our lives and a few aspects of the French frame of mind (le frame du mind?) that we have willingly tossed:

1. KEEP: Variety in food exposure.
The little oyster eats just about anything you put in front of her (or the dog…) She’s always happy to try new foods and that’s the point of food exposure, giving things a fair shake. She’ll try anything, most things please her, and I get misty with pride every time. If she never meets a kids’ menu, I’ll consider my work here done.

2. TOSS: Expecting small people to behave like large people.
The French emphasis on training children to fit into an adult world is a worthy one. But let’s get real: The impulse control on little kids is nil and we can either pretend they are mini-adults and treat them as such to universal frustration, or we can realize that they are small people who are still developing and cut them some slack. This is her home, too, and it’s not fair to make her feel like a guest or a criminal when she’s living life the way she knows how. No sense in making everyone sad and miserable when an heirloom shatters in the name of unfair expectations.

3. KEEP: Sleep expectations.
The oyster is a great sleeper. Sleep is a skill. Skills must be taught. We taught her this skill. The oyster is a great sleeper.

4. TOSS: Conformity.
I’d love it if my daughter was the cool kid who was also the nice kid who was also the talented kid who was also the smart kid. Who can sing folk. The French system is focused on building–or, if we’re being cynical, wrestling into submission–good citizens. Fine for them. But that’s not the American way and this is one of those times I’ll beat the drum of the American way. I don’t know yet what my daughter is good at or what her interests are but I’m not about to cut her off at the knees before she can find out. No state-based preschools for us, thanks, and if my child prefers to do her art project with finger paint and some dental floss instead of a neat-and-tidy glue stick and paint brush, so be it.

5. KEEP: Our marriage as our priority.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard about a couple having a kid and the mom turning into a she-beast to the point that her husband sleeps in another room because Junior is now her main, only, and all-consuming priority, I would have bought the domain for this blog by now. The husband and I made vows to one another, not to our children, and we have decided that our marriage comes first. When our marriage is the priority, everyone in the house benefits.

6. TOSS: Curtailed praise.
This is kind of a gray area for us. While I totally agree and practice the French bent toward not throwing a party when your kid uses a fork (for the fortieth time), I do find that cheering her on while she’s learning something new and while she’s  getting used to using a new skill doesn’t cost me anything, helps her out, and no, I don’t think it will make her a “praise addict” in the future. Plus, if you’ve seen the length of my daughter’s legs, you’d know that stepping up stairs is no mean feat and worthy of some cheering.

7. KEEP: The cold shoulder.
Actually I don’t think this is what the French call it, but it’s the same principle. Now and then the little oyster will shriek obnoxiously about something for no good reason and I ignore her, especially if we’re at home. Why? Because she doesn’t need anything from me and learning early that attention can and should be gained in other ways is priceless.

Kids are kids and as such shouldn’t rule the world or our lives but as such, can’t be reasonably expected to act like grown ups with any amount of success. One job of a parent is to prepare another person for the adult world, and we are finding that the best way to do that is by helping her develop skills she’s ready for now and can use always.

And so we end our Red, white and nouveau parenting experiment. Like I said, this is pretty much how we’re doing it anyway, but calling it French parenting every now and then lets me recommend with gusto one of my favorite books, Bringing Up Bebe. Read it, enjoy it, and then raise your kids in a way that jives with your personalities and household. But seriously, try eschewing the kids’ menu next time you’re out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

Special occasions: Why we roll with it

sleepy baby

The little oyster’s first 4th of July was last week. Not only was it her first external celebration of her nation’s birthday, but we had friends in town! And then we had even more friends over for dinner! It was an independencepalooza!

Sorry.

But it was a special occasion and the husband and I have talked, even before the oyster was born, about how we want to handle special occasions in our family, as far as sleeping, eating, traveling, and discipline go. Conveniently, what we decided in theory is remarkably French in practice so we already had our game plan in place when our guests arrived, the fireworks went off around the neighborhood, and the festive all-American fare appeared on paper plates.

To wit: It’s a special occasion, chill out.

The little oyster is a good sleeper. A lot of baby sleep books talk about sleep training (not The Sleep Training where you let them cry it out, but more generally, training a new human being in the art of falling and staying asleep) and one book I appreciate is Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. The oldest sister lent her copy to me and I keep a bookmark in whatever stage the little oyster is in. Some of Dr. Weissbluth’s wisdom we hold to unequivocally. First, never wake a sleeping baby. A baby will never starve herself by sleeping through meals and a baby who is sleeping needs to be. Second, sleep begets sleep.  Long naps during the day mean good sleep at night. We have found that to be absolutely true.

We part ways with Dr. W’s philosophy right around the part where he advocates carving a sleep schedule in stone and sticking to it come hell or high water, or risk the wrath of an imbalanced child who can’t succeed in school and will probably have crooked teeth and a criminal record. Ok I added the last two but he’s about allowing the child’s sleep schedule to determine the rest of the family’s day. To that I say, meh.

The little oyster needs her sleep and she gets it. But the 4th of July is a special occasion and we had special guests who don’t see her often. Putting the oyster in her bed at the typical 7:30 bedtime was impractical and, we determined, since she is such a reliable sleeper, unnecessary. She got to stay up late and play with our company. At 9:30 we carried her around the room to say her goodnights and I laid her in her bed. She fell asleep right away I assume (we don’t hold her until she’s asleep unless she is extremely distressed about something) and she woke up at her normal wake up time of 7-ish the next morning. She took longer naps to make up for her late night.

Chronically keeping kids up late and cutting into their sleep on a regular basis is definitely bad for kids and their development and for parents and their sanity. But we have found that being rigid is also bad for our sanity, so we’re not. Special occasions are a good way to test out our theory that a balanced child growing up in a balanced household can handle a little trip off the routine path. On the 4th, we were right.

On Wednesday night I hosted my book club. I know better than to put the oyster in bed when these ladies are coming over so she stayed up until 9. You know what she did? She got passed around the room until we started eating and then she sat on the floor in her Bumbo seat and played quietly with a board book. At 9 she said her goodnights and went to bed. She slept until 7 then went down early for her afternoon nap, getting an extra hour of sleep at that point.

Special occasions are exactly that–special, and occasions. They aren’t routine and they aren’t regular and I think we’d all miss out if we pretended they were. We have nothing planned this week or next or the next, so the oyster’s sleep schedule will be back to normal. Her two special nights in the last two weeks aren’t the new norm and I don’t believe they have or will affect her adversely. How do I know? Like I said, she’s a balanced baby growing up in a balanced home and that means more than a later bedtime on a holiday. Also, she continues to wake up like this, regular night or special occasion notwithstanding:

happy sleeper

We could use a bit more sleep

Scene: The oyster lays on her changing table, kicking her legs and laughing at us. I fold clean laundry while the husband talks to the baby and changes her diaper.

The husband: She’s just so perfect.
Me: Yep.
The husband: Who does she look like right now?
Me: Right this instant? Naked, chubby, and white? Henry VIII. Who do you think?
The husband: No, I mean which one of us?
Me: Both of us, I think.
The husband: Wouldn’t it be so cool if she grows up to look like me, but she has a personality and sense of humor like you? Or if she is totally loud and musical like me but gets curly hair like you?
Me: You mean…
The husband: Like, if she looked like one of us but acted like the other one. She would be, like…
Me: I’ll wait for it…
The husband: …like…well, our kid.
Me: There it is.
The husband: I heard it as soon as I said it.

We need more sleep. Curse you, March Madness* and your games that go all night.

*I totally have $10 on my bracket at work. I will only curse March Madness if VCU loses to Akron tonight.

And away they go!

The maternity clothes, that is! All the way to the basement, to await their usefulness the next time we have a bun in the oven.

Ready for their new digs in storage.

With the maternity clothes (except for one pair of jeans and the belly band that lets me wear normal human pants without buttoning or zipping them) packed away, it’s the end of an era. Combined with the little oyster’s recent propensity for sleeping in four-hour blocks at night, I’m confident that sooner rather than later I’ll have the mental capacity and energy to blog on a semi-daily basis.

Just think of everything we have to talk about! An election, an evacuation, working from home, visitors galore, the latest in Martha news, fall in the commonwealth, an anniversary. Makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it. Oh wait, maybe that’s the new baby we’ve been living with.

Home stretch

Today makes the little oyster 38 weeks old! If I could sleep through the night before she arrives I would just love it. It would be a present for me (be)fore her birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, this week the family placed bets on when the oyster will arrive, how long she’ll be, and how much she’ll weigh. An interesting pattern was that the older sisters and their husbands–who are brothers–all guessed well over 8 lbs. for the little lady. Of course, the sisters have delivered all boys with similar genetic material. My favorite guess was the dad’s, at 6 lbs. 12 oz. I think she’ll be a little bigger than that but I’m counting on the husband’s genetics and the fact that the oyster is a girl to bring her in (out?) under the 8 lb. mark.

On Friday, I wore socks and running shoes to work, hoping that having tie shoes on would keep the swelling in my feet down. Unfortunately as soon as we got to work I realized that it just meant I had more weight to haul around on my bad self all day. I was disappointed in my choice before 9 a.m.

This week the House is back in session and has had votes every day. This means the days are long and Dietrich is at his sitter’s house each day and absolutely pooped when we get to pick him up. It also means I am pooped at the end of the day but too pregnant to sleep through the night. Alas.

Soon and very soon though! Yesterday I pointed out to the husband that we’ll have a baby before we have our next paychecks. (Federal employees are paid once a month, on the last day of the month. Yeah, be jealous. It’s “awesome.”)