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.

2020

The year that nature took over. We’ve taken so many walks outside this year, by the little park in our town, or in the woods nearby, looking for mushrooms and jumping in puddles. It’s really become our main activity.

Of course the only thing that held to its calendar this year was baby boy number 2. And I have to admit, because of that, the anti-2020 memes have really become a pet peeve of mine. That and feeling that it’s dumb to somehow believe that changing one digit in the date will somehow make all of our lives magically easier than they have been during this past pandemic-dominated year.

Babies thankfully don’t wait till the time is right to come and so my year was dominated by pregnancy and the arrival of our second little mister. Add to that the fact that beyond all odds, I also had some professional success, and it really feels like 2020 was good to us.

Things are weird right now: we see friends outside or with masks on, we can’t go to the movies or take Littlest to any cultural activities, and I’ll be teaching half by video and half to present students for the foreseeable future. When I think about all the things we were able to do last summer during the dip in coronavirus cases, it seems crazy. I’m so glad we had that time, though. The vaccine campaign in France so far seems like it has been planned to be absurdly slow, so who knows when our lives will return to some semblance of normal.

And normalcy for me won’t be achieved until my parents can finally come and meet our second special boy and play again with our first. I’m still grieving for the time I had expected to have with my mom and dad when Even Littler was born. We made do, but I had been really looking forward to having more help and more company this time, and it was really built into how I imagined my second maternity leave.

So since nothing changed at all since this time yesterday, here’s hoping that things change for the better in not too much longer.

The Past Weeks: More Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is near its end. I have one more week with Even Littler before I go back to work and before he stays at home for two weeks with just his papa. (All of that will be followed by a two week school vacation of all four of us at home.)

What do I have to show for myself after this longest shortest time? The unfair thing about both my maternity leaves is that they have both seemed to end right when baby and I have settled into a more predictable, enjoyable rhythm with more semblance of normalcy. Which is of course necessary if you’re going back to work, but still, it would be nice to be able to enjoy it a little longer.

I’ve binged on Netflix: caught up to season 10 of Modern Family, Grace and Frankie, Dix pour Cent, and this past week, season four of The Crown. I’ve watched a lot of La Maison des Maternelles. I’ve taken the same walk countless times, listening to bits of The Longest Shortest Time, This American Life, and Terry Gross’s interview of Barack Obama on Fresh Air.

I’ve done so, so, so much laundry.

I’ve contacted a lactation consultation by video, because there isn’t one in our area (=département). I’ll be taking Even Littler to see a chiropractor next week, and myself to see a psychologist, and also taking him to his 3 month check-up.

I’ve discovered the support services of the ADMR, a French association that helps people who are homebound or in need for a variety of different reasons. They’ll be continuing to clean our house once a week for the next three months since we are still allowed a discounted rate till then (the CAF picks up the rest of the tab).

I’ve read a lot of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and some of Le Monde, though with the election angst of the past month, it’s really been more of the first two.

I’ve done a lot of online shopping, though maybe not as much as during the first lockdown.

I have not spent any time at all lesson planning for my return to work, something I’ll have to dip into next week, at least for the first day back.

Here’s to enjoying this one last week!