Universality

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My belly at 5 1/2 months pregnant

There’s one change in my life that has come about with the birth of Littlest that I haven’t yet written about. It’s taken a few months to be come clear in my mind.

It started when I became visibly pregnant—I started noticing other pregnant women, other women with young children, and thinking, “We’ve all done this in some way or other.” I felt a secret connection with all these women as I was waiting, regardless of their situation. The universality of bringing life into the world especially struck me as I spent a good three weeks in South Africa during my pregnancy.

These days as I cart Littlest around in his stroller—for example, today, as we went to the “popular” area of Poitiers to request his French passport—I feel it even more so. People love babies, be it in the supermarket, in a cafe, and, I’m hoping, on airplanes. Littlest is usually ready with a smile after a little bit of cajoling and I’m happy to share our joy with others. Recently I answered the door for a delivery with him in my arms, and the delivery man talked about his 9-month-old baby girl, and how important it was to enjoy this time because it goes by so fast. I love these moments. They crack the French façade of stand-offish-ness, which is something I’ve been trying to do more since I came back from Ireland where everyone is so nice to everyone. The feeling of connection reminds me of what we all have in common in the most essential parts of us.

Of course, there’s another side to it. I’m reminded many days of the luck that Littlest has been born into: white, male, middle-class, wanted, prepared for. He’ll have chances in life that lots of other little babies won’t have, and he’s no more deserving than them. I don’t know what to do about that except to tell him, even though he’s still too little to understand, that the most important thing is always to be kind to himself and others.

Le Pen au 2e Tour (and no it’s not 2002)

Today I voted in my first French non-primary election as a French citizen. Hurray! I mean, right? Sort of? I did vote in both the Républicains and Parti Socialiste primaries, because after the clusterf*ck of the US election, I was taking no chances. The catastrophical heartbreak of US election 2016 changed a few things for me politically.

I became a pure pragmatist, at least for this election. The candidate I voted for was not the one I believed in, or really wanted to be president. But he’s one I could live with, and one I hoped could beat Le Pen in the secound round.

After almost five months of Trump, any sort of moderation in governing seems welcome, though I will always be a leftist at heart.

I hope French voters can “faire la part des choses” on May 7th and vote a second Le Pen out of history.

The Past Week

Well I am now on the last vacation of the year. Littlest is as cute as ever and has cut his first tooth, which I noticed first when he stuck my finger in his mouth. It’s not incredibly visible yet but you definitely feel it when he chomps down on your finger. He’s also eating solids and making hilarious faces every time he discovers a new vegetable. So far, cauliflower seems to have been the funniest though I wasn’t present for asparagus.

The French elections are this weekend and I am in denial as I am with most politics these days. I haven’t yet decided whom I’m voting for in my first election as a French citizen, and I’m finding this two-round system pretty annoying in that it seems you don’t ever really get to vote for the person you believe in, because you have to worry about the second round and ending up with a potential Le Pen-Fillon nightmare. I would make some joke about fleeing back to the States but we all know that’s a huge clusterf*ck now.

So, like I said, denial.

Only two things this week, NOT ABOUT POLITICS:

From WaPo: From “Girls” to “I Love Lucy”: How realistic are New York apartments on TV shows?

And I usually hate viral videos, but this one of mom and baby keeps making me laugh: This is what true love looks like

Traveling without Baby, at Five Months

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Ducky with Littlest’s gift from Ireland, a sheep apparently named Daisy

Back when I was pregnant with Littlest, my colleague told me he was planning a trip to Ireland this year, including Northern Ireland and its Giant’s Causeway. I love Ireland, as I may have mentioned, and have been dying to go to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway for a few years. There were also some students I really love going on this trip. When I told J it was basically the trip of my dreams, he told me to go.

Of course when I said yes back in September to going, I hadn’t really thought out a couple of things. Number one: breastfeeding. Number two: How hard it would be to leave Littlest behind after carrying him in my tummy for nine months and then leaving his side only for work and the occasional coffee or rehearsal for five months.

1 As for breastfeeding, I tried to build up a stock of frozen breastmilk once I went back to work, by giving the nanny one less bag per day than I could have, and replacing that with formula. By the time I left, I had about thirty bags of milk in our downstairs freezer. Now, thirty bags of milk did not mean thirty full bottles, especially since he had upped his intake to about 200 ml/bottle the week I left. So he was drinking half and half. But J and I were both surprised that there was still milk left when I got home.

Unfortunately, some of it suffered from this weird lipase souring effect from the freezing, and Littlest (understandably) didn’t like the taste. So some of it went down the drain.

The other concern was keeping up my supply while traveling. I took my little handheld pump with me and pumped mostly in the bus toilets. It was NOT glamourous and often stank really bad. The good news is that your nose adjusts to bad smells pretty quickly. The other problem was being jerked around every time we went around a roundabout. All in all it will not have been my best pumping situation, and the hand pump took a long time. I also had to get up at 6:30 every morning to spend a half hour pumping. I’m still not sure my supply is as high as it was when I left, since pumping isn’t giving much this week—but I hope the coming weekend and vacation will set things right.

2 As for leaving Littlest, it was really hard. I wasn’t sad about it until the day before, which was my weekly day off with him. I took him on a new walk down by the village hall (where J and I got married), cuddled him lots, and sang him a new song about how he was sweet and giggly, which cracked him up. I got sadder and sadder as the evening went on. The following morning I had meant to keep him with me until I had to go to school at 9:30, but I ended up dropping him off at 9 because I realized I was just going to spend the whole time crying. I started to wonder if I was making the right choice, and had to remind myself that it was good for me to spend time without him, that J was a great dad, and that they would have a good time together bonding without me.

They did indeed have a good time bonding together without me, though I think J is happy I’m home, especially since Littlest has gone back to waking once most nights and the boob is way faster than the bottle. J said he spent a lot more time communicating and playing with Littlest than he does when all three of us are at home.

I got over the intense sadness within a day, though I continued to miss him all week and got really excited whenever J sent me a photo (at least twice a day). I bought Littlest some Ireland-themed onesies and a stuffed sheep (see photo). I pumped six times a day watching videos of him and dumped my hard-earned milk down the drain.

And then I came home. I’m not gonna lie, I was driving over the speed limit on my way home where I scooped him up in my arms and shed a few tears. He, on the other hand, was definitely mad and wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. I nursed him and put him to bed without getting a single smile!

The next morning things seemed slightly better, and by the time I picked him up to spend the afternoon with him, he was definitely thawing. By the end of the day I felt like I’d gotten my boy back, and I even feel a little reassured by his reaction, as though I know he felt my absence, the way I felt his.

I’ve noticed changes for him and J, as well, as though they’re closer now, and J likes to do things he didn’t usually insist on doing, like put him down for naps, and play with him while watching TV. So overall, I think it was good for us… and I’ll keep thinking that as long as my milk supply goes back up!

Ireland (with students)

I fulfilled a long-term wish of mine this past week and got to go back to Ireland. Traveling with students is always different from traveling on your own, though, and I don’t really feel like I got my fill, so I would really like to go back sometime in the not too distant future with my family.

Part of why I was so drawn to chaperoning this trip was that my colleague was taking us to Northern Ireland, where I had never been. In 2007 when I toured Ireland, Belfast wasn’t on my radar, but I heard good things about it. Since then I’ve started teaching about it to my tourism students so I’ve been dying to go.

I have to say it was pretty shocking. It’s probably naive, but what with the Good Friday Agreement and growing tourism in Northern Ireland, I just sort of figured things were sorting themselves out. We had a really excellent tour guide who took us out of the city center (where this stuff isn’t obvious) and into the segregated outskirts and basically explained that, no, things are NOT sorting themselves out, and in his opinion, won’t anytime soon. I am really glad I went and visited these places since I now feel much less ignorant on the matter, but it is a shame that they still exist.

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One of the murals seen through the bus window

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The gates that still close at night

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The peace wall, which keeps getting higher and higher

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Tourists write messages of peace all over it

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Our message

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In the Protestant area—imagine growing up with these images

We also spent an afternoon in Derry visiting the Bloody Sunday Museum, or, as it’s actually named, the Free Derry Museum, which was fascinating (one of our tour guides was the grandson of one of the men killed) and also made it clear that the wounds are still fresh.

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A mural near the Bloody Sunday Museum

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The iconic sign in Catholic Derry, which has been used to represent other civil rights movements (notably anti-apartheid, for example). This graffiti dated from the day before. Apparently the sign is often written on.

The Free Derry Museum is very moving, and it’s also growing and will be even more complete in the coming year.

We had some time for more un-controversional sightseeing too, including the Giant’s Causeway, and “down south” (as northerners seem to say), Glendalough.

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Glendalough

We ended the trip with a stop at the Dunbrody Project, which is a reconstruction of one of the “coffin ships” that took the Irish away from Ireland during the Potato Famine. This was especially touching for me since I know certain of my ancestors left Ireland at this time. The visit only takes about 45 minutes, but it gives a good idea of the desperate conditions on the ships and the extreme luck of those who survived to lead successful lives in the United States.

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Down below, in steerage (but the ships were so small, even first class was right nearby, and depressing)

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Hard to get the whole ship in one shot

It was a fascinating trip, full of new sights for me and a lot of insight into the current situation and the history of Ulster and Northern Ireland. But if I get the chance to go back anytime soon with J and Littlest, I’ll return to the southwest where I found Ireland to be at its most stunning and charming when I visited in 2007.

 

Pumping at Work, as a Teacher

Back when I was pregnant I was very confused about how pumping at work could possibly go. I knew employers in France were required by law to give you an (unpaid) hour to pump or breastfeed (if there’s a company nursery for example), but as a teacher, that’s a joke. I mean where exactly in your schedule are they going to slide that hour?

When I got my schedule last summer I immediately calculated which times I would theoretically have enough time to pump, not knowing yet how long it would really take or where I would be doing it. My schedule this year works out pretty well, in that I never have more than three hours of class in a row without a long break.

Here is how pumping, as a teacher in a lycée in France, has turned out.

Supplies

I got a prescription from my midwife the first week of Littlest’s life for a Medela Symphony double pump that I rent from the pharmacy. It’s 100% paid for by the sécu so I pay nothing. I did have to buy what they call the “kit,” which is the reusable plastic bits that hook onto the expensive machine, including two 5-ounce bottles.

I bought two milk coolers from Amazon. They’re really convenient and quite compact, with ice packs that fit in built-in pockets. They’re supposed to stay at fridge temperature for up to 8 hours.

I’m currently putting the milk into Avent brand plastic bags. I go through them quickly at three or four per day, so I’m hoping after the Ireland trip (when I won’t be freezing them anymore) to use mostly bottles.

I also bought a little plastic caddy to carry the kit pieces around when they’re dirty.

Finally, I bought some dish soap and a sponge.

I leave the pump, caddy, bags, sponge, soap, and kit in the pumping room, along with a big plastic bag and a ball point pen (for marking the bags). I leave a tall tupperware container on the counter of the teachers lounge kitchen space.

I also have lots of cute pictures of Littlest on my iPhone that I look at toward the beginning of each pumping session, because they’re supposed to help with let-down. I don’t think I actually need them, but they make me smile.

Timing

I pump three times a day for now, for twenty-ish minutes, during my breaks. Up till this last vacation I had class twice a week from 1:35 to 4:20, which meant I didn’t really have time to fit in a third pumping session before going to get the baby at 5. Fortunately since last vacation my schedule has changed just enough that I now pump in the morning, at noon or 1, and at 3:30.

It does take up a significant amount of my work time—about an hour. Fortunately I’m good at time management, but it’s true that it takes dedication.

Location

I now pump in an empty office near the teacher’s lounge, and one of the secretaries put a schedule on the door for me, so it says it’s reserved at the times I’m typically in there. (If I’m there at a different time, I put a heavy box in front of the door just in case.)

I use the teachers lounge fridge. I’ve got a tall tupperware container marked “Please do not touch” that I put the filled bags in during the day, in the fridge. I put my ice packs in the freezer compartment and leave the empty cooler on the counter where other people leave lunch boxes.

After pumping, I throw all the used plastic bits into the caddy, put them into a plastic bag, and put it in the fridge along with the bag I’ve just filled with milk. I then wash the kit parts in the bathroom sink after my last pumping of the day and leave them to dry on some paper towels in the empty office.

To and From 

So in the morning I arrive with an empty cooler, and put the ice packs in the freezer compartment of the lounge fridge. In the afternoon I take all the filled bags out of the tupperware container in the fridge and put them in my cooler, which I then take to the nanny’s, unless J is picking him up that day, in which case they go to her the next morning (hence the need for two coolers).

I do carry bags of breast milk to and from the teachers lounge and the empty office. No one seems to notice.

I am thrilled with this system and so happy it’s working out. Despite the laws in place to help breastfeeding moms, I think this could have turned out much more difficult. I wouldn’t have been too excited about trucking the pump back and forth every day, for example.

Off to Ireland!

Despite being so attached to my Irish roots that I basically named my firstborn for them, I have only been to Ireland once. It was a fantastic trip and I’ve wanted to go back ever since, of course, but we have so many travel goals that with one thing or another, I haven’t made it back.

Back in 2008 when I went to Ireland, I didn’t make it up to Northern Ireland, and since then, I’ve started teaching a unit on it in my post-bac classes. Teaching about Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway has of course only increased my wanderlust.

I wasn’t supposed to take a school trip this year. But when my colleague started telling me about his trip with the 11th graders, and I told J that it was basically the trip of my dreams, J told me to go for it.

So tomorrow I’ll be leaving my little Paddy to go see lots of other paddies, helping my colleagues take 50 students across the water and to Belfast, the Antrim Coast, Derry, Dublin, and Wexford.

I am so excited, and I hope my little sweetie won’t forget me by the time I get back, with maybe some Irishness rubbed off on me.