Oh Punaise

It’s been months. Lots has happened and at the same time not much has happened, compared to last year anyway.

My parents came back at the end of July. We spent a few days in the north of the Dordogne and went to Lascaux where I tried to keep Littlest engaged (not too hard really) and Even Littler snuggled on his grandpa in the baby carrier. Then the four of us went down south for a rock-climbing trip with friends. Even Littler mastered his crawling skills on the uneven terrain at the bouldering sites (Targassonne). One of our friends commented that in 20 years Even Littler will probably be on Man versus Wild. It’s true that people tend to worry that he’ll hit his head on things or tumble when I know from experience that he’s pretty tough and been practicing not doing such things for months.

He turned one at the end of the summer and started walking a couple weeks after that. He’s slowly getting steadier and faster, going up or down a step without crawling. He likes to bring us a book and ask to look at it. I get the feeling though that he wants to see one specific thing in each book because he’s rarely interested in the whole story right now.

Littlest went back to school (Grand Section) and this year with both his teachers they are doing 30 minutes of English a day. I of course didn’t learn this until the parent meeting at the end of September. Apparently he loves it (says, again, the teacher—Littlest would never tell us such a thing…).

His American accent is perfect. His syntax is sometimes a little weird, copy-and-pasted from French or some invention of his own. Like when we take turns during a game, instead of saying, “It’s your turn,” he’ll say, “It’s at you.” And he hasn’t figured out questions: “Have you got can see me?” for example is pretty typical. So my little bilingual experiment number one is still giving me interesting data.

He turned five two days ago. We were going to take him to Paris today but the SNCF struck again (see what I did there?). Fortunately it was a surprise and we hadn’t even told him before we got the message that our train back was canceled, so we had to cancel the trip, for now at least.

In any case we are going to the US for Christmas, planning a couple days in NYC since my parents now live only two hours away. Littlest is looking forward to it. I’m hoping there won’t be any strikes to get in our way and that we won’t be too exhausted. But it’s high time we saw my parents’ new house and my nephew who was born in … January 2020… who I have yet to meet.

Retrouvailles

Looking at every flower on the walk home from school

I thought I’d give an update on our grandparent situation, since I’ve written about it here. My mom did successfully come to France for about 9 days, and go home. It wasn’t much trouble at all to get her an antigenic COVID test at a pharmacy two days before her flight, with a print-out of the results.

It felt so good I wasn’t even sad when she left, if that makes sense. Littlest was, though (sad). We had a really wonderful time with her getting to know our family routine again, and seeing how much he’d changed over the past 16 months. Things I’d forgotten about, yet that we’d worked on, like dressing himself.

She took care of Even Littler during the day and often went to get Littlest at school on foot. She noticed things about a baby that only a grandparent notices, like the way he plays with certain toys or raises his arms in the air.

Scheduling worked out such that I picked her up at the station, dropped her things off at home, and then we went to get Littlest at school at the end of the school day when their teacher brings them to the front gate (COVID rules) and calls them one by one. He was so happy to see her. (She’s not the only grandparent in that kind of situation—I chatted this past week with a couple other grandparents who were dropping their grandkid off at school for the first time this year.)

She’s supposed to come back with my dad and my aunt at the end of the month. Fingers crossed the Delta variant and the voluntarily non-vaccinated (WTF PEOPLE) mess with that trip as little as possible.

Littlest has now finished Moyenne Section and is on vacation for the summer, and very confused about timelines. He keeps saying that he’ll be in Grande Section tomorrow or the next day, or that we’re going to Nanna and Grandpa’s house this weekend (we’re going for Christmas). Or that his trip to the farm is this afternoon (it’s next Monday). It’s so different to be little.

Limbo

Things are opening up here in France in terms of lockdown and it’s revealing to me that we’ve been living in a kind of limbo. Not unbearable but not great either. In fact I think once things get back more to normal (see, I avoid saying “normal” because I’m starting to think it won’t ever really happen) it will be clear how many things were missing from our lives during this time…

J and I really tried hard to limit the number of people we saw through the second and third lockdowns, and even in between, since things never opened up all that much. We even wondered if we should really be seeing his parents at all, especially since they got COVID from a painter who was working un-masked at their house in February. J saw a few friends climbing outdoors. But I can’t recall us ever inviting anyone over to the house, besides some masked friends around Christmas time.

So now we are finally able to eat out (we went to a restaurant patio twice already, since they opened first), go to the movies (I took Littlest to some animated shorts the first weekend theaters were back open), and have friends over for meals. Of course now that it’s nice out it’s actually possible to do that last one outside.

On top of that, I got my first Pfizer dose early May and am getting my second tomorrow. J finally got his first one a little over a month after me. Lots of people are suddenly getting vaccinated and it’s been that way for about a month.

Of course the most important thing is that my mom is coming to visit in less than ten days. It’s a little hard to believe for now, given all that’s happened over the past year. But soon she’ll be holding our special littles in her arms again! So I’m trying to get things whipped back into shape downstairs for her stay, since I let things fall into a bit of disrepair given how I felt about her not being able to come last year. We also have friends coming mid-July for New York with their little boy. And we’re planning to go to Philadelphia for Christmas. It’s a difficult mental exercise making plans for the future. We’re not used to it being possible. Like I said, limbo.

My Bilingual Child/Experiment Number 1: Age 4 1/2

Something wonderful has been happening lately. Littlest has been starting and maintaining conversations with me in English! He still speaks very often to me in French, but I’d go as far as to say it’s about half English these days. He even likes to speak English with his grandparents, cousins, and friends on Facetime.

He got very mad at me recently when I interpreted something he was saying wrong during one of these calls so I’ve decided to try hard to not interpret anything anymore. It’ll be a hard reflex to fight since I’ve been interpreting toddler talk for a couple of years now, and also I have a tendency/have had to interpret between family members for so long.

He’s definitely figured out who speaks English and who speaks French so I also won’t be telling him to speak English with certain people anymore.

It’s remarkable but it’s also clearly sensitive. I don’t want to discourage or embarrass him. Speech is so personal and so validating. He’s had to find his voice in two languages and he was a late talker in the first place.

As for Even Littler, he mostly just says “Wah.” He has 7 teeth and is crawling, pulling up, and climbing over things so I think he’s set to follow in Littlest’s footsteps of being more into gross motor skills than language.

Update

Nothing exciting is going on in our lives, really, because of COVID, of course. But life does continue and mostly, little boys do continue to grow and change.

Littlest has shown some more skills in English lately, saying a sentence here and there to me entirely in English. We never have a full conversation in English, but then, we rarely have actually full conversations period since he’s four and his brain wanders off in random directions when you ask him more than one question about his day. Most of the sentences he makes start with There’s (a)/It’s but recently he tried out I got and he even said to me once “My skin is dry.” Otherwise there’s a lot of mixing, like when he asks to go to the playground (“Je veux aller au playground Mama”) or narrates with his toy figurines (“Nous on est take a nap”). So my little bilingual experiment (=son) is still progressing.

As for Even Littler, he’s now mobile, not exactly crawling, but slithering and wiggling faster and faster across the floor. Littlest is getting a good hold on which toys he’s allowed to touch and which are dangerous and need to be taken away. He would be pretty good at watching him if he (Littlest) weren’t always so interested in following us around. Sometimes I wish he would just stay put playing next to him since I trust him to alert me to a major problem if I’m briefly in another room.

In the hopes that travel will be again possible in the not too too distant future (but who knows when), I’m applying for his French passport this week and we’re heading up to Paris to do his birth declaration and US passport next week. We had planned to do a little more than that but with the new lockdown it will just be a short trip.

We started this week on an upstairs renovation that we dreamt up during lockdown last year: a room in the attic above our living room. This part of our house is pretty old, so the attic is large and would make for a room you can easily stand up in. Unfortunately we haven’t found a contractor to do the work that we don’t want to do yet (=insulating, putting in a skylight) so J took things into his own hands this week and did the hole in the ceiling, which Littlest found VERY interested.

Otherwise I’ve starting poking around the agrégation subjects again and my plan to do the externe exam again next year is still holding. I’ll probably sign up for a distance course with the CNED like I did for the CAPES ten years ago, though I had mixed feelings about its quality. At least I’ll be able to work at my own pace.

Dashed Dreams

12 days old

I’m still so, so sad whenever I think about how my second post-partum period was supposed to be.

The first weeks with Littlest as a newborn were hard. They didn’t start out awful, but I did spiral into short-lived depression at around 6/7 weeks. It let up when he started sleeping better. But memories of that time haunted me whenever I thought about having a second baby, and I knew I wanted one. I wanted to do it all again with less anxiety, less stress, to be able to enjoy it more.

At some point I became sure that one of the best ways to do that was to have my mom here, for as long as possible. I wanted someone to be able to hold him for me when he hadn’t slept all night (though actually, Even Littler never did that, unlike his big brother). Someone to empty the garbage and do a load of laundry for me so that I would have something to wear every day when he was spitting up regularly on my three post-partum outfits. Someone to play with Littlest when I was busy nursing. To make us dinner to give J a break.

When my parents were here last March (just before the pandemic hit), my dad touched up the paint in our downstairs laundry room. It’s what the French call a “summer kitchen” with a door out to the backyard. It has our washer and dryer, a freezer, and a sink, as well as a radiator that we never turned on. Once he had cleaned up the walls, we worked on the plumbing, replacing the old, dented sink, adding a mirror, putting curtains on the window into the garage, and hooking an insulating cushion to the bottom of the door. I bought bathroom storage baskets, hand soap, and a real garbage can. We laid down an old bamboo mat on the floor. I set up the furniture so that my mom would have somewhere to set her suitcase, and thought about dragging out an old chair so she’d have somewhere to sit in the evenings. A few weeks before Even Littler was born, I made a final list of the last few things to do: bring down an old nightstand, a hand towel, put a real mattress on the fold-out couch. Those things never happened. The bedside lamp I bought is currently sitting on the fold-out couch, still in its plastic wrap.

For all the laundry I do, I don’t linger too long downstairs. Every time I see the lamp, the couch, the mirror, I think about what was supposed to have been. How my mom was supposed to be able to sneak upstairs in the early morning to check on the baby, change his diaper, hold him while I took my shower. She was going to take care of Littlest, to take him to school, to wake him up and tell him baby brother was here and that he was going to the hospital to meet him. These images are mostly buried somewhere inside me, though I often broach the subject on its surface with colleagues because I am just so, so sad about it, and I don’t think I will get over it.

I know these things will happen one day. He just won’t be a newborn. He’ll be an older baby, a toddler, a child. He will love his Nanna as much as Littlest does (and Littlest does ask us every once in a while if Nanna and Grandpa are coming to our house). I try to remember that the pandemic didn’t take anyone away from us, that we will make up for lost time.

But regularly I find myself taking the time to remember these dreams I had, just a few seconds, not too long, and wondering at how the sadness persists.

(I also often feel bad about feeling too bad about this, since we haven’t lost anyone, and so many worse things are going on in other people’s lives. I know a girl who was separated from her family for 9 months. And I’m certain I’m romanticizing a time that would have been complex no matter what. But I’m actually hoping that writing about this will help me let go.)

Ski Vacation during a Pandemic

Off to Pious Pious

A few months ago we cautiously booked a rental apartment in the Massif Central for the second week of my winter (February) vacation. We told Littlest about it but were careful to not play it up too much since we didn’t know for sure until a few days prior that we were going to be able to go through with it.

Littlest has watched some ski competitions sort of idly on TV with his dad, and he was really excited when we told him we were going to go skiing. He kept thinking it was something would do on a random Saturday, not something a 4-hour drive away.

Ski stations now are pretty limited so I don’t know if it would be a fun vacation for adults honestly. It was great for us though. We signed Littlest up for the Ecole de Ski Française’s Piou Piou Club (they have them at every station), bought him a snow suit, helmet, and goggles, and dug up some hand-me down apres-skis. J did show him some videos of non-competition skiing so that he wouldn’t think he was about to learn to slalom.

This was my first experience with Piou Piou clubs and it was a bit assembly-line-like. The moniteurs seemed nice but everything was pretty automated, with not a whole lot of interaction. Nonetheless Littlest did seem to really like it and got his medal on the last day when they all leveled up.

Ski lifts were pretty much all off, and only a few moving walkways were on, open to two-hour blocks of reservations. J did that one afternoon, and he also did a day of cross-country skiing. Otherwise we did some snow-shoeing with and without Littlest, with Even Littler in the baby carrier, and built a lot of snowmen, and did a lot of sledding. We got some local cuisine as take-out and walked around one of the medieval villages. It was great. The Massif Central is only a 4-5 hour drive from here which is much more doable than the Alps for now with the littles, and even closer than the Pyrenees. It was just so nice to do something out of the ordinary during this time when it’s so hard to make any plans for the future.