Traveling for Work and Building a Family


Skyping with a 19-month-old

For the past four years I’ve taught in the European section of my high school, to the seconde (=tenth graders), and I LOVE IT. I love these kids so much. I get to be a homeroom teacher (=professeur principal), and my class is actually only at most half Euro-section kids, but this mix is just magic, and the class is so great.

I jumped on the opportunity to teach this class when our Euro section grew to a class-and-a-half and we needed not only someone to take on the extra English hours, but also take them on an exchange trip.

When I took up this class, of course, I was living with J, not yet married though in the midst of wedding planning, and having kids was in the plans but very abstract—as it is for everyone, I think, until those kids arrive and change your life.

When we were trying to get pregnant, I had no idea how to manage these secret plans and also probably take my students on their exchange trip. I discretely checked out partner schools that were NOT a 27-hour bus ride away, and in the end, got to travel by plane since my group was so small. In the midst of mostly secret first-trimester fatigue and nausea, this trip somehow turned out to be one of my best. The kids were so sweet, the colleagues were so nice, and the country was so beautiful.

I got back home and announced my pregnancy and took organizing a school trip off the table for the following year. While colleagues seemed to haphazardly forget that I was not doing this trip and need reminding, everything worked out really well and I actually got to keep teaching and homeroom-ing this class, save for the four months I was on maternity leave.

And then my colleague told me he was taking the 11th graders to Ireland. So we all know how my “no trip” plans worked out. Again I got to go on a fantastic trip with sweet students and wonderful colleagues and, truthfully, visiting Northern Ireland was culturally really important to me and also blew my mind. But it was really hard leaving Littlest even then, when he was too small to really understand when I was and wasn’t there.

So this year I’ve jumped right back in the game renewing our exchange with our partner school in Warsaw. And this time I also hosted a Polish teacher and managed the week that the Polish students were here. And it was exhausting with a tiny man in the house—repeated evenings out are not my thing anymore, and Littlest was not sleeping great the week before our guests arrived.

For the time being I’ve firmly decided I won’t leave for any more than a week, which means traveling by plane, which is more comfortable for everyone anyway. A week is about as much time as J can take, I think, taking care of Littlest alone, but also as long as I can stand to leave them.

But I don’t know how moms who leave all the time do it!

Add to the equation that these aren’t trips that I can just back out of—sixty-plus people this year were counting on me to be there unless there was some sort of emergency. So how exactly do you juggle having and planning a family with this dynamic?


Involuntary Post-Pregnancy Weight Loss


8 months pregnant

Let me just preface this by saying a few things.

  1. In putting this out there (and I already have in other ways) I am by no means trying to throw any shade on anyone else’s pregnancy or post-pregnancy or motherhood weight gain. I’m very aware that what I’m going to talk about can be frustrating to hear for people for whom things have gone the other direction.
  2. I have, in the past, gained amounts of weight that I was unhappy with and then struggled to lose weight and deal with the shock of a new body image. That is an experience that I have also had.
  3. I know that weight is annoying and uncomfortable to talk about in general.

That said…

I’ve lost, to me, disquieting amounts of weight since Littlest was born. To start with, I felt underweight at the beginning of my pregnancy; I had just dealt with the flu, which involves a lot of not eating, and also was nauseous through most of my first trimester. On top of that I didn’t gain all that much weight during the pregnancy—about 8.5 kg (19 pounds) on top of my normal pre-flu and pre-morning sickness weight.

Add that all up and since Littlest was born I’ve lost 16.5 kg (36 pounds). I went back down to my regular, “ideal” weight and then kept slipping. For a while it was unalarming—and then it was more and more curious. At a few points I tried to make efforts that seemed fruitless: eating avocados, peanut butter, allowing myself “unhealthy” foods that I used to steer clear of. Since I kept losing, I sort of gave up. But in retrospect think those efforts were actually making a difference because the weight loss seems to have just accelerated since I gave up.

Here’s the thing: I was happy weighing 15 to 20 pounds more. We make lots of assumptions about losing weight being a positive thing, or some sort of judgment on other people’s NOT losing weight. It’s a hard thing to bring up, and I swear I try to bring it up less, but my whole body image is changing and I’m starting to wonder if this is just, once again, the new way that I look. (But also, will I stop losing weight?)

I know it’s not a medical problem, since I went to a “bilan de santé” a few weeks ago and my thyroid and iron levels are normal. So it’s a lifestyle/metabolism/breastfeeding thing. I asked Littlest’s doctor about it and she said that lots of new moms actually do lose weight after they become mothers, because their whole lifestyle—sleep, for example—has changed. So I’m not convinced it’s just a breastfeeding thing. Moreover, I would hate to stop breastfeeding in order to gain weight just to find that it actually wasn’t the driving reason behind it.

So, I guess I’m writing this just to say that yes, this is also something that happens to new moms, and it is confusing. It may not be as soul-crushing as weight gain can be, but it is preoccupying. Part of me doesn’t want to get comfortable in this new body because I’m wary that the previous one will come back and I’ll have forgotten how to love that one. I looked good twenty pounds heavier. There’s nothing inherently better about less.


Whose body is this?

Fashion and Motherhood

Since Littlest was born I’ve had conflicted feelings about dressing myself.

To be clear, especially since arriving in France, I’ve gone through phases of loving clothes shopping, like my year in Reims, when I even wore jewelry almost every day. I used to be fascinated with the way (fashionable) French women dressed. Shoes have become a burden for me because of my feet, but that’s another story. As for make-up, I subscribed to Birchbox for the past two years and enjoyed testing out and ordering new things, including curly hair products.

When Littlest was a newborn and I was on maternity leave, I made a point of taking a shower every day but I scaled lots of things way back. I only put on moisturizer and foundation. I often let my hair dry on its own. I was jealous of my husband and how it took him 30 seconds to get dressed after a shower. It seemed entirely unfair so I tried to reduce my routine to get as close to his as possible.

When I went back to work I did start putting on a little more make-up, but only for work days. Breastfeeding has limited my wardrobe a bit—no thigh-long tunics for example—and over the past years I’ve thrown out anything that has holes in it (a surprising amount of things). So overall I feel like my wardrobe choices have gotten pretty drab.

There’s also a financial element. Money has been tighter this year (a complicated issue with maternity leave and being taxed on last year’s much higher earnings) and so spending money on clothes means no savings for the month. I put my Birchbox subscription on hold several times this year and finally ended it (though they were also sending me too many things I couldn’t use on my sensitive skin).

I miss taking pleasure in dressing myself, I miss elegance and novelty, and yet I also still yearn for the simplicity of male fashion that my husband gets to enjoy. In men’s fashion, clothing and shoes are comfortable and long-lasting. Even dressy women’s shirts and skirts are made so that you’re tugging at them throughout the day and I have no patience for that now. I feel like my body did something amazing, and I’d like my natural beauty to dominate rather than poking, prodding, and spending time on it, and yet…

I guess I’m wondering, am I the only one who resents and still sort of misses dressing fashionably?


I know, I know, I know I write a ton about my baby these days. I know babies and children aren’t for everyone and that is cool, like in the strong sense of the term, not as in the I’m cool with it sense of the term. Unfortunately I can’t stop myself.

Littlest’s first eight-weeks were typical newborn-level HARD. Like I didn’t know how I’d manage hard, in spite of the immediate cuteness of things like J holding him above his head, or pictures like these with my dad:


I mean come on



I wondered where the joy was and if I was really cut out for this—feelings, I assume, every mom has at some point or other.

But ever since he settled at around 8 weeks old I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like surely motherhood can’t be this good. I didn’t know I would love it this much. Colleagues have asked me frequently how things are going with the baby at home, and all I can say each time is “génial, il est trop mignon” (and get annoyed when they ask if he’s sleeping through the night, as if that’s all that counts).

I’ll keep crossing my fingers that the joy will continue, but I think maybe I can just conclude now that I love being a mom to this little boy, that motherhood has brought out something in me that I didn’t know was there.


Petit amour et moi


I’ve written a couple times about what’s changed for us, for me, since Littlest was born. About tears that come easily when watching movies, about looking at other women and parents differently, about having to look at any baby in any stroller that wanders past (okay maybe I hadn’t gotten to that one yet—it’s an obsession).

It took me a long time to find a good song to dance to with my dad at our wedding—every song about love seemed to be about romantic love, or really cheesy mainstream country-style paternalistic crap. I knew when I heard Louis Armstrong singing “Sunrise, Sunset” that it was the right one.

Now when I listen to songs on the radio, I’m intrigued by the rare ones people write for their children. Christophe Maé (Marcel), the Dixie Chicks (Godspeed), Atmosphere (Little Man), Beyoncé (Blue), and, of course, Renaud (Morgane de toi). There are songs that I want to be about children but that don’t necessarily seem quite to fit.

And then there are the songs that I think I always heard wrong, and am only hearing right for the first time.

Mon enfant nue sur les galets
Le vent dans tes cheveux défaits
Comme un printemps sur mon trajet
Un diamant tombé d’un coffret
Seule la lumière pourrait
Défaire nos repères secrets
Ou mes doigts pris sur tes poignets
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai
Et quoique tu fasses
L’amour est partout où tu regardes
Dans les moindres recoins de l’espace
Dans les moindres rêves où tu t’attardes
L’amour comme s’il en pleuvait
Nu sur les galets

Le ciel prétend qu’il te connaît
Il est si beau c’est sûrement vrai
Lui qui ne s’approche jamais
Je l’ai vu pris dans tes filets
Le monde a tellement de regrets
Tellement de choses qu’on promet
Une seule pour laquelle je suis fait
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai
Et quoique tu fasses
L’amour est partout où tu regardes
Dans les moindres recoins de l’espace
Dans les moindres rêves où tu t’attardes
L’amour comme s’il en pleuvait
Nu sur les galets

On s’envolera du même quai
Les yeux dans les mêmes reflets
Pour cette vie et celle d’après
Tu seras mon unique projet
Je m’en irai poser tes portraits
À tous les plafonds de tous les palais
Sur tous les murs que je trouverai
Et juste en dessous, j’écrirai
Que seule la lumière pourrait…
Et mes doigts pris sur tes poignets
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai



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.