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.

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.)

Pregnancy During Coronavirus

There are a lot of articles out about pregnancy during the coronavirus crisis, and I’ve gotten one or two sympathetic comments from friends about how it must be hard, and seen a few comments on Facebook about how relieved people are their pregnancy was not during this time.

… I don’t feel that way, and I’m guessing most pregnant women don’t feel that way, which is probably not really a surprise. It’s probably different being that this is my second pregnancy, so we did get to do everything normally the first time. Anyway here’s what it has been like for us.

Late December: Positive pregnancy test after strong suspicions that I was pregnant due to familiar symptoms. At this point everything was normal and there was no sign of the coronavirus.

December to March: Absolute exhaustion and just a constant sick-like feeling. Spent most weekends in bed. Again, nothing coronavirus-specific. First ultrasound in mid-February, so a friend came to watch Littlest and we both went.

March: Miraculously, my parents managed to come and spend a week with us the first week of March and left a week before France announced school closures and lockdown. Still we didn’t really know what we were in for.

Mid-March: Maternity wards started sometimes forbidding any accompanying person from the hospital. Most backtracked to allowing the partner or other parent to be there for labor and two hours after the birth, but then not allowing them to remain for the hospital stay. A typical hospital stay in France lasts 72 hours after the birth if all goes well, and there’s no C-section. Hospitals started letting mothers out as soon as they reasonably could.

I did freak out in a minor way about the thought of J not being there with me during labor, mostly because this time I do not want an epidural, and I was skeptical about the amount of support available from over-worked hospital staff in order to help me achieve that goal. I eventually calmed down about it, but also, hospitals seemed to be loosening that rule as soon as they could.

Late April: Second ultrasound. J had to stay home with Littlest as no accompanying people were allowed at the midwife’s office (so far I have been doing everything at midwife’s offices and not at the hospital). So I found out that it was a baby boy by myself. Then once the midwife had checked everything out (well almost, since baby was particularly uncooperative and I actually had to go back yesterday), we video called J and Littlest to tell them the news and show them the ultrasound screen. Emotionally this was all fine. Again, it’s our second time. And going to the ultrasound alone seemed so much less terrible than doing the birth alone.

So here we are today. I am still so grateful we got pregnant when we did, because I was so ready for this baby and didn’t want long months of trying and being disappointed. It has been strange that no one has seen be become more and more visibly pregnant. I sent a picture to my colleagues the other day. I didn’t even have time to tell everyone at work that I was expecting before vacation and then lockdown hit! I’ve told the few colleagues I had video conferences with for the union, but that’s only 15 out of over 100 people.

I’m not focusing for now on the unknowns around the delivery, birth, and return home. My plan was (is?) for my mom to come. I wanted her to be here before there was much risk of the baby arriving, because I’m worried he’ll come faster than Littlest in the middle of the night, which means no time to waste. We’ll have to find a back-up plan. I’m worried about having to rely on my in-laws if my mom can’t come for the first few weeks, but I do think some focused communication efforts could make that work. I’m a little sad that Littlest probably won’t be able to come to the hospital to meet his little brother and will have to wait till we come home—but that does seem minor, since that is something some families have always done.

So there have been small losses, but nothing so far that compares to the excitement of expecting someone new in the family. I do worry about the post-partum phase, because that was hard last time. But hopefully it won’t last long and I will know more what kind of help I need and how to ask directly for it. (It’s just, you know, no one compares to your mom, at least mine who was very good at anticipating needs).

Hello from Deconfinement

We deconfined in France last Monday and it has been actually really nice, even though I still spend most of my time at home and have seen like six more people than usual. Here’s how things are going for each of us:

J: He went back to work last Monday since companies are finally opening for the inspections he does. He was home for lunch on Monday, Thursday, and Friday which was nice. He gets masks for work that he has trouble wearing because of his glasses.

Littlest: Littlest went back to school yesterday, after spending two nights at his grandparents’ as well which he loved. His school wrote to us about two weeks ago asking if we wanted to send him back because it’s nationally on a voluntary basis. I said yes for lots of reasons:

  1. I love his school and was really hoping he would be able to go back before the end of this school year, his first.
  2. He no longer wanted to do much of anything with us during lockdown. Of all the fantastic activities his teacher e-mailed us, we managed to do half of one or two per week. And then he started not even wanting to go out in the yard, or follow us down to the basement. It was like all stimulation was emptying from his life.
  3. Work with him around was very limited. Even when J was home, I could only really work during nap time. And with J going back to work, any skipped nap would be stressful.

I was nervous about sending him back given the frankly age-inappropriate, strict health protocol for schools: no sharing toys, staying 1 meter away from everyone, no touching classmates or the teachers or caregivers…

But I compared it to how I felt back in August, when the entire French pre-school culture was brand new to me and I felt nervous about all of it. Littlest adapted great then and this seems to be the same. There are a tiny number of them in his group. He was only accepted back because I’m a teacher—spots are very limited. He’s alternating between the PS teacher (his) and the MS teacher (probably his teacher next year) and they are both lovely. It has been almost joyful seeing him back at the school, smiling and talking to people who aren’t me, even if they are generally 1 meter apart and their slide in the recess yard is marked off limits (and parents stand waiting at the gate, distanced by markers on the ground). Things are really different at the school—he has his own table with his own pile of toys and books and puzzles. But they seem to be still making things wonderful. (I just hope they aren’t feeling overworked.)

Me: FREEDOM! No, I’m kidding. In between running Littlest back and forth from school—including lunchtime these past two days—I’ve been able to dedicate myself more to teaching online. AND I found out I’m admissible for the agrégation externe—the upper-level competitive exam for the public school system. Since the interne orals have been pushed to September or October when I will have mini-me number 2 in my arms, I’m going to give the public exam my all (these orals are still supposed to happen this summer). So this study time is precious. I’ve been more in touch with my school since I’m a substitute union representative and the 6th and 7th graders are starting back next week, so we’re monitoring the conditions of their return. But all national decisions for lycée students have been pushed to the end of May, so I am skeptical that we will actually go back for classes.

I will technically be in the third trimester of pregnancy at the beginning of June, which puts me on the official list of vulnerable people. However I still feel like, if our students come back in some way, I’d like to be there. Obviously health protocol and possibly my doctor’s advice could weigh in if that decision has to be made.

Also, we found out that Littlest will be having a little brother. The nursery is pretty much finished and Littlest likes visiting it. He talks about becoming a big brother and other baby things and it is very cute.

On a side note, one positive of this time during lockdown is that I noticed Littlest’s English changing. He’s started attempting and making sentences, and choosing to say things in English when he also knows the word in French, or even saying it in English after saying it in French.

He retains complex explanations that I figured were going in one ear and out the other when I gave them. He has a little Playmobil 123 cow that has an udder, so I explained to him once that the milk we drink comes out of it, though the milk for the baby will come out of me. He didn’t say anything back at the time but gave his dad the equivalent explanation in French a few days later!

His French has gotten better too which is also interesting though less life-affirming for me. The other morning we were all sitting in the living room when he turned to his dad and out of the blue told him he hadn’t yet cut his beard. (It was true.)

I remember thinking before J went back to work last Sunday night that this strange but also special time, just the three of us, was over. I wondered how that would feel. So far it feels good but I do thing some remarkable things happened during it.

Easter in Confinement

Hello from confinement! Littlest is getting to the age where he actually notices what’s going on, so given there would be no invitations to see family for Easter, I decided to actually do things our way at home.

It was a little half-baked of course given we can’t spend time wandering around multiple stores for the things we want. So last night I put real grass in a tiny basket we had from last year, along with chocolate and M&M eggs, and Julien set it in his room while he was sleeping, along with a chocolate rabbit. We watched a video of a guy reading a book about Easter yesterday, and colored an Easter bunny picture (well, Littlest drew red circles around it), and I tried to explain that he would probably find a goodie in his room this morning.

So that made for a sweet discovery with him this morning that he seemed to love. After eating some chocolate and getting dressed we went outside to hunt for chocolate eggs. When we came back in we dyed eggs the American way–though of course they were brown eggs, which I was lucky to even find last weekend when stores were running out of eggs. J was very skeptical about the whole thing but actually got pretty into it. Of course they aren’t actually very pretty but I think next year, with time to plan ahead, if I can find white eggs and a white crayon, we can make them prettier.

(Also, I left them on the counter overnight so we can’t actually eat them….)

As for the rest of our lives, I am waiting for news on the agrégations Tuesday to see whether they are pushing the orals to September (which would be highly problematic for me). Baby #2 is doing a lot of jumping around which is nice. Teaching online is still weird and I can only get things done during nap time, though thanks to J being home I can answer some e-mails sometimes in the morning. We all need haircuts. Littlest is off pants. I’ve been in leggings for weeks (though I blame that on the pregnancy). We’re doing fine but a lot of things are up in the air.

Hello from Confinement

Well there have actually been things going on here that are of note, but I’ve held off writing about them for one reason or another. Now we are confined and I’m trying to juggle online teaching with taking care of my pre-schooler (NOT simple let’s be honest). He has been very sweet and his dad was home today, and probably will be other days, so maybe things will be just fine inside the house as long as I don’t put too much pressure on myself—or there’s not too much external pressure—to be super-active for my students. I am a little worried because J’s company has not put him on partial unemployment; they insist on keeping everyone working as much as possible in spite of their jobs’ hardly being essential. Fortunately for us right now there is no work to do since he exercised his droit de retrait at his current assignment for safety reasons. So he is waiting for news.

There are two pieces of good news of varying degree that I can share:

  1. My efforts at the agrégation interne have paid off for now, and I am admissible for the orals which will be who-knows-when, now. (I also took the agreg externe written exams a week or so ago when my parents were visiting to watch Littlest since it was during the winter vacation—and those results are scheduled for May 6th though who knows now?) Crossing my fingers the orals will be before August when I will be less mobile because…
  2. We are expecting baby number two in early September (or late August if he/she comes on the same timeline as Littlest did—unlikely though). I think I have made it out of the first trimester trenches. After the excitement and joy of finding out I was pregnant, things hit hard and it has been rough these past few months. Littlest has been hanging out a lot more with his dad which has strengthened their bond. It has been very weird, not nausea like with Littlest but a sort of achy flu-like feeling that makes me curl up in bed. I don’t want to complain though, we are very happy and lucky and I have been feeling better now that I’ve passed 16 weeks. We have almost finished renovating our third bedroom and Littlest is starting to grasp better that a baby is coming since I told him it will be the baby’s room.

There are a lot of unknowns but for now I feel very fortunate that we had no major travel, no major life events planned for these coming weeks, and that baby is not due till the end of the summer (though obviously babies are still being born right now). We are going to try to call Julien’s grandmother fairly often since she lives alone, and I would like it to make it through this without getting sick. But I don’t know what the chances of that are. The agreg has been a lot of work and I would hate for it to go down the drain but maybe I will be admissible also for the externe and then one or the other of the orals will take place when I’m in reasonable shape to go.

Maybe I will look back on this in five months and feel foolish—obviously what matters is everybody’s health. Sincerely hoping for the best for anyone reading this.