petite anglaise

April 28, 2005

tadpole #2

Filed under: navel gazing, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 12:59 pm

I feel as though I should, by rights, be hankering after Tadpole #2 by now. The childminder certainly seems to think so: she never misses an opportunity to tell me how wonderful Tadpole is with baby Valentina, her six-month old playmate. Evidently Tadpole enjoys playing ‘mummy’, helping to administer bottles and stroking the baby’s face gently whenever she cries, cooing “qu’est-ce qui va pas, Ballon Tina?”

Very cute, I’m sure. But, for whatever reason, and despite the fact that I’ve always wanted two children, I find that I’m simply not ready.

I adored being pregnant, once the first three nauseous months were behind me. The happy hormones kicked in, and I floated through the next six on my own private MDMA cloud. Nothing could bring me down. Nobody could stress me out. Frogspawn and I were cocooned inside a cosy little bubble, insulated from the outside world, which could cease to turn, for all I cared, whenever he/she wriggled or kicked inside me.

It was a welcome change from my usual, bi-polar state, where the pendulum can swing without warning from one extreme to another, never giving Mr Frog time to run for cover.

As one of three daughters, even if I did fight tooth and nail with the sister who was closest to me in age, I do feel strongly about wanting to give Tadpole a brother or sister. Mr Frog, an only child, will never fully understand how much he has missed. Many of our recurring arguments stem from his inability to share, to put other people before himself. I don’t want Tadpole to grow up with that innate selfishness that comes of having no siblings.

But, although I am nostalgic for that blissed-out pregnant state, and do want Tadpole to have a brother or sister, I am putting it off. I can’t seem to make the leap from a vague ‘one day’ to a ‘soon’ or a ‘now’.

I can, when pressed, come up with a million convincing reasons to justify my hesitation. There’s the fact that we have to wait until next year when Tadpole starts pre-school, because we simply cannot afford full-time childcare for two children simultaneously. Giving up my job is not an option, financially speaking. Asking to work four-day weeks will already put a serious strain on our budget, if I exercise my right to do so when our second child is born.

I tell myself that I want to bide my time until Mr Frog has changed jobs (which is now hovering tantalisingly close on the horizon, due to a combination of fortuitous events) to see whether he will be on hand to help out more (or less). I cannot conceive of a life where I work full-time and also shoulder the full burden of responsibility for bringing up not one but two children. I have, unwisely, threatened Mr Frog in the past, saying that I flatly refuse to have another child until things change and I get more support from him. A pointless exercise in blackmail as it happens, as he’s in even less of a hurry than I am.

I think reasons like those could probably be more accurately described as excuses. The crux of the matter is actually that a selfish, self-centred part of me desperately wants to cling to what shreds of freedom and independence I still have left for a little longer.

I love Tadpole fiercely. But I also love the way that she can be ‘switched off’ at 8pm, leaving me time for myself, to read a book, write, surf the internet or watch a film. Even if going out is rarely an option. If I had a second, terrifyingly needy little being to tend to, that would all change for the foreseeable future. I imagine myself, exhausted, unwashed and cranky, collapsing in bed at 9pm, before Mr Frog has even shown his face, the apartment littered with dirty nappies, clothes and unwashed crockery. It’s not a very appealing scenario. It scares me. I don’t know if I can devote myself so selflessly to being a mother first, and a person, second.

What really doesn’t help, is that there is a hormonal time bomb ticking inside of me, muddling my thoughts even further, crying out that I can’t afford to wait too long. The risks to me and my hypothetical baby grow with every year that I procrastinate. But, while I would hate to look back one day, filled with regret that I did not conceive another child before it was too late, I don’t think that I should let this argument tip the balance either.

The only thing I know for certain right now is that I want Tadpole #2 to be just as desired as Tadpole #1 was. If that means biding my time, then the childminder and anyone else who has mentioned it to me will just have to hold their impatience in check.

It will happen if and when I’m good and ready.

April 27, 2005

empathy

Filed under: misc, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 12:51 pm

I am struggling to chase images of this out of my head. It has haunted me ever since I first read about it. When I told Mr Frog last night, I was fighting back tears as I spoke.

I know it makes universally distressing reading. But, quite apart from feeling sick to the pit of my stomach whenever I think about Abigail Witchalls’ ordeal, my brain insists on replaying images of how I imagine the attack, based on her own harrowing description. I strain to imagine how she must have felt. And what she is feeling now.

…I am pushing Tadpole along one of the more secluded country lanes near where my parents live. I hear the hum of an engine, and the crunch of wheels on loose road chippings as it passes me by slowly, time enough to make chilling eye contact with the driver. I know, instinctively, that this person means me harm…

I think of Abigail’s children. The unborn child that may or may not have survived, and her son, Joseph, just two months younger than Tadpole. I shudder to think what effect witnessing these events may have on this fledgling person. Feeling a strangers hands grabbing him from behind, holding a knife to his throat. Sensing his mother’s terror as she walked towards him, wide-eyed. Seeing the stranger hit his mummy with the knife, making her crumple to the floor. Tipped over, still strapped into his pushchair, left helpless by her side. The blood. Wondering why she was sleeping. Knowing that something must be badly wrong.

The articles I have read so far don’t tell me how they were found. I only hope that help wasn’t long in coming.

Joseph may be, mercifully, too young to actually remember the events of that day in years to come, but how can they fail to cast a long shadow over his life?

My powers of empathy fall short of imagining the anguish of waking up in a hospital bed with no feeling in my limbs. Robbed of the power of speech. Unable to hold my child to me and hug him fiercely, to sob noisily with relief that he is unharmed. Carrying a child in my belly that I may now never be able to hold. Whose name I may never be able to pronounce out loud.

I am at a loss to understand such a random act of cruelty. But I’m sure that no mother who has read about Abigail Witchalls will feel entirely safe taking their child along a quiet country road ever again.

April 26, 2005

wedding bells

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 11:36 am

SCENE 1

At the parental home, in Yorkshire, I am discussing the arrangements for my upcoming wedding with my mother over a cup of tea. The date we have opted for is June 9th. I realise with a jolt that I have forgotten to send out any invitations whatsoever. We haven’t even decided whether to tie the knot in a church or a registry office. Or indeed booked anything. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that it will be taking place in England though. An odd choice to have made, as I actually prefer the idea of a civil wedding in a mairie in France, me wearing a fabulous, but non-wedding like, frock, Mr Frog in a Hedi Slimane suit and Tadpole by our side, wearing flowers in amongst her curls.

Panic surges from my stomach to my chest and then flutters against my ribcage like a moth trapped in a lamp. OH MY GOD! It seemed such a long way off, and now, suddenly, the wedding is imminent. And NOTHING is ready!

SCENE 2

We are discussing wedding catering with a sour-faced lady dressed in a pink viscose suit. The poor woman is trapped in the eighties: her suit even has shoulder pads. You can see a dent between where her shoulders end and the padding begins.

The catalogue she is clutching between chipped fuchsia fingernails reads “Pamela Keates’ Wedding Treats”. She opens her ‘portfolio’ (as she calls it) to a page showing a photograph of cheese and pineapple cubes on cocktail sticks, ingeniously stuck into a grapefruit covered in tin-foil.

I am inwardly weighing up the pros and cons of having a break in the wedding proceedings so that people can go out and buy their own dinner and then return later for a party. I can’t afford to feed everyone, and if I can’t do it properly, I say firmly to my mother, who has reappeared looking at least twenty years younger, then I’d rather not do it at all. There will be no cheese and pineapple on sticks at any wedding of mine. Although I quite fancy one now, if the lady has any samples on her.

SCENE 3

I am sitting in a church wearing a horrible fluffy, meringue-like wedding dress in a cheap, white crinkly fabric. My legs itch. It looks like one I saw in a dodgy bargain shop I spied from a bus once at La Chapelle, where nylon wedding dresses and satellite dishes were sold side by side. A winning combination.

I can smell the familiar scent of my father’s pipe, so he must be around somewhere, waiting impatiently to give me away. The tobacco smell reminds me of car journeys when I was younger. I suffered from motion sickness, and the pipe smoke nauseated me even further. But it’s ten years since he’s touched that pipe, so he must be very stressed indeed today. Not a good sign.

From my vantage point seated in the choir stalls, I can see the vicar, who is motioning to me from inside the open vestry. I don’t understand what he is trying to tell me, so I smile and wave. I am feeling pleased because there are fellow bloggers in the congregation who have come to my weddding from afar and even agreed to do readings during the service. I do hope Anna won’t say “cunty” in front of my mum.

I resolve to get changed out of my dress as soon as the church part is over, mentally scouring my wardrobe for something suitable, but worried that the only nice things are probably in the washing basket or the ironing pile. As usual.

Suddenly I hear a jingle for the BNP bank playing over the speakers, with accompaniment from the church organist for added dramatic effect. I realise that the priest must have been trying to ask me whether I minded him playing ads over the PA system at the start and finish of his service. I cower behind my veil in shame and horror. I was under the impression that we had paid an extra fee so that there would be no commercial breaks.

I turn to Mr Frog to see if he is angry with me for allowing his profession to encroach on “our special day” ™, but actually the person sitting next to me is no longer Mr Frog, it is my first ever boyfriend. His skin hasn’t cleared up yet, so it must still be 1990. Which means that he must be seventeen, as must I. The church suddenly feels gloomier, the damp walls closing in. I am having trouble breathing.

* * * *

I wake up, to the sound of ambulance sirens in the street below and Tadpole chanting “Nee Naw Nee Naw Nee Naw” from her bedroom.

I turn to Mr Frog, still grappling to shake off the residual feeling of panic : “I had an awful nightmare.”

“What was it this time?” he murmurs, sleepily.

“I was getting married,” I say.

“Oh. Who to?”

April 25, 2005

relative motion

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 1:05 pm

Friday. There is a mysterious new billboard campaign in the metro. For now, only teaser images are on display: attractive men and women (pretend to) yawn in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, photographed in all-forgiving black and white. Not even the merest glimmer of a filling in the back of their wide-open mouths. It is very difficult, I note, to walk past these adverts without yawning back at them; regardless of the time of day.

I quiz Mr Frog to see if he knows what the campaign is for, being as he is an insider in this business, but he hasn’t the faintest idea.

* * * *

Sunday. We drive to Mailly Champagne in a borrowed car to visit Mr Frog’s cousin. If indeed ‘cousin’ is the right word to describe the relationship between Mr Frog and his father’s cousin’s daughter. Are they second cousins? First cousins once (or twice) removed? More complicated still, what exactly is Tadpole to this lady’s children?

To complicate matters further, Mr Frog’s grandparents, originally from Northern Italy, emigrated to France post WW2 with grandfather’s sister and grandmother’s brother, also married to one another. The brothers and sisters have lived in adjacent houses in a tiny village, an hour’s drive from Besançon, ever since. This tightly woven genetic heritage means that all their grandchildren were cousins to the power of two. A gang of assorted tanned children would spend idyllic summer holidays in the grandparents’ village, roaming wild in the fields around the (former farm)houses, playing hide and seek in haylofts and paddling in the village lavoir. Inevitably, as the second bottle of wine is uncorked, Mr Frog and his ‘cousin’ are overcome with nostalgia for their childhood escapades and I tend to tune out as familiar anecdotes are taken out and polished, and undoubtedly embellished, for the nth time.

But this was all yet to come. We had to actually get there first.

Mr Frog was instructed to print out directions to Mailly at work on Friday, as some time has elapsed since our last visit. I don’t bother with a printer at home, and as a no-car household we don’t even possess a road atlas. En route, hurtling along a rain-drenched Autoroute de l’Est, I examined Mr Frog’s itinerary, dismayed to see that all we had to work with, courtesy of Mappy, was:

quitter l’autoroute à la sortie n° 25
continuer sur la N51
entrer dans Reims
continuer sur la Route de Louvois (passer par un rond-point)
sortir de Reims et continuer sur la Route de Louvois
continuer sur la D9
prendre à gauche la D26

It was about as clear as our misted windscreen. Particularly without any sort of map to refer to (Mr Frog had omitted to print one), and given French road signs don’t generally indicate very clearly which ‘D’ or ‘N’ road you are driving along, or take it upon themselves to point out which road is referred to by the locals as la Route de Louvois. My boss’s mantra echoing in my head – “never assume anything” – I decided that it was the last time I would ask Mr Frog to take care of that kind of thing.

Suffice to say that we managed to add almost an hour onto our initial ninety minute journey, driving around in pointless loops, phoning relatives for garbled verbal directions and swearing not a little. On Tadpole duty, I had the pleasure of singing the theme tune to ‘Postman Pat’ approximately forty times, enthusiasm levels rapidly dwindling, to stave off an imminent toddler meltdown.

I think this may be my new definition of hell.

* * * *

On the way home to Paris, several hours later, after a very French afternoon spent entirely à table, feasting and knocking back champagne from cousin’s husband’s family vines, I plugged my trusty ipod into the car stereo and let it shuffle, only nudging it on a track if I judged the selection too chaotic or profanity filled for toddler’s ears. The car stereo was hardly top of the range, the road surface was noisy, and a piece of the rubber seal on Mr Frog’s window was coming away, the cumulative effect of which was a fearsome amount of background noise. I cranked the volume up one notch, then two, then three, straining to hear the lyrics. Tadpole was reading her books, seemingly in a world of her own.

We embarked on a magical musical tour: Suede chasing Electronic, hot on the heels of Duran Duran and Goldfrapp. I eased the volume up progressively. Tadpole still didn’t react. I only realised an hour later, when I clambered into the back of the car, that there were actually more speakers back there. Just behind her head. We spent the rest of the journey in a guilty silence, traumatised that instead of giving Tadpole an eclectic musical education, we might instead have robbed her of the faculty of hearing altogether.

* * * *

Monday. Feeling drained and listless after protracted car journey and champagne abuse. The posters in the metro still feature beautiful people yawning. Only now there is a tagline plastered over the top. “Re-Vittelisez-vous!”

I feel rather cheated that it is nothing more exciting than yet another incitement to drink bottled water.

I suspect it will take more than water to perk me up today, unless it is boiled and poured over powdered caffeine. With a crystal meth chaser.

April 22, 2005

redirect

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 11:36 am

Would you think it terribly rude if I sent you here again today?

Feel free to post any comments here at the mother ship – they may subsequently find their way onto the expatica site.

April 20, 2005

the snowman upstairs

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 11:30 pm

I bring Tadpole’s gourmet dinner – sweetcorn (canned), green beans (frozen), mini pasta shapes and a slice of cheese – through to the living room and set it down on her little table. Pulling out her chair, I swiftly flip over the flower seat cushion with its week old yoghurt stain. Ni vu, ni connu. Anything to reduce the lengthening list of Things Which Need Doing around the apartment. I am also pathetically grateful to whoever took it upon themselves to invent reversible clothing for small children.

Tadople is sitting on the sofa, her magic drawing pad laid across her knees. This toy is another life-saving invention, as a toddler left unchaperoned with coloured crayons can, and will, wreak untold havoc. And I fear our white walls might prove to be a very inviting canvas.

Magic pen poised in the air, Tadpole’s head is cocked to one side. She appears to be listening to something, fierce concentration etched into her wrinkled brow. I know that expression. It’s my thinking face. The one which Mr Frog always tries to smooth flat with his forefinger.

“What’s the matter, baby girl? What is it?” I enquire, noting that she is dribbling again. Which means she probably won’t eat her painstakingly prepared meal, because she never does when she’s teething. Only biscuits, fruit and chocolat will do.

“Noises.”

I listen. I can hear traffic in the street, five stories below. The hum of the video recording Eastenders for later. A dog barking in the park, as its owner takes it for a bowel-relieving walk. Nothing else.

“What noises? Mummy can’t hear anything.”

“Noman, ” she says earnestly, turning towards me, motioning towards the ceiling with her free hand. “Up dere. Noman. Shoes on. Noisy!”

A noman, in Tadpolese, is what you and I would refer to as a snowman. Similarly a snake is a ‘nake, a snail is a ‘nail (or sometimes a ‘cargot tout chaud’). But quite what Tadpole thinks a snowman would be doing in a sixth floor apartment on a mild April day, I cannot imagine.

“There’s no snowman upstairs. What are you talking about, silly?” I venture cautiously, somewhat perplexed.

I recall my well-intentioned explanations of the sounds we hear every day from the surrounding apartments, which Tadpole has recently become ultra sensitive to, not to say a little afraid of. I did explain that a man lived upstairs (we even went upstairs and I showed her his front door to help get my point across), and I told Tadpole that when the man walked on his wooden floor with shoes on, it made a “TAP TAP TAP” noise. Just like her own shoes when she sprints giddy lengths of our corridor, or when she tries on mummy’s shoes and clatters periously across the parquet. (Sincerest apologies to our downstairs neighbour, whose patience must be wearing thin.)

The following day, she had talked about the noisy man. He wasn’t actually home at the time – he keeps very unsociable hours indeed, not heard for days, only to arrive with what sounds like an entire harem of stiletto clad females at 5am on a weekday. He even caused me to knock on our ceiling with a spare curtain rail (stashed under our bed), in the manner of a cantakerous old maid, on one occasion.

“There’s no man up there right now. I can’t hear anything.” I must have replied.

So despite my best intentions, Tadpole evidently now thinks the abominable snowman lives upstairs. And listens out for him, fearfully. So much for my powers of explanation.

“It’s not a snowman, sweetie, it’s just a man. A MAN. Like daddy.”

“NO! ‘NOMAN, ” Tadpole replies stubbornly.

I know better than to argue when my daughter adopts that tone. I pick up her magic pen and we draw a picture of a very friendly and approachable snowman. With big shoes on (artistic licence). Walking on a wooden floor.

Artist’s note: snail, butterfly and bumblebee added under duress. Parisian apartments do not, in my experience, harbour a variety of insects and molluscs.

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