petite anglaise

October 26, 2005

pictures

Filed under: parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 12:49 pm

Last night I finally got around to sticking pictures from our holiday in Corsica into the photo album. Tadpole, Mr Frog and I spent a week there in April 2004, when our daughter was at her not-quite-walking stage. Cue lots of pictures of a swollen cheeked, bald creature cruising around the furniture in our holiday flat, and of us walking her, with varying degrees of patience, up and down a number of beaches, holding her outstretched arms.

Sifting through the memories was a bitter sweet way to spend an evening. As I turned the pages, it occurred to me that our pictures plotted the evolution of our relationship with eerie accuracy. In the first flush of romance, Mr Frog and I took many portrait shots of each other. Of ourselves in our first flat, of our friends. Mr Frog’s particular speciality was the arm’s length shot, spurning the timer function built into the camera for something a little more rough and ready, and often endearingly badly framed. These pictures are suffused with a warmth, with a feeling of togetherness. Looking at them filled me with nostalgia.

After a year or two, the portraits gradually give way to impersonal, picture postcard type holiday photos, and shots of other people’s weddings, from which we tend to be conspicuously absent. No longer caught in the glare of the flash, but hiding behind the camera. Our focus had shifted from each other to the outside world, the places we visited, the people we saw.

From Tadpole’s birth in June 2003 onwards, the spotlight naturally shifted to our daughter. There are pages and pages of near identical pictures of the apple of our eye. Sleeping. Yawning. Smiling. Crawling. Walking. At the time, I sincerely believed that every picture of her was a minor miracle, and coudn’t bear to discard a single one. Every sneeze was documented. Now, with hindsight, I see that really she just looked like a baby, and we definitely got carried away. In the nicest possible way.

Occasionally Tadpole is pictured in her daddy’s arms. As for me, I wasn’t over enamoured of my post-partum silhouette, and tended to take refuge behind the lens to avoid being caught on film. I sometimes joke, ruefully, that because of my misplaced vanity, Tadpole will look at these albums one day and wonder whether I was ever there.

The stream of photos slows to a mere trickle from ages one to two. Not because we tired of photographing our daughter’s every move, but simply because Tadpole was now a moving target. Not to mention an unwilling one. Her first instinct on seeing the glint of the camera is to dash towards it at top speed and attempt to grab it, making her almost impossible to capture on film.

Shortly before Mr Frog moved out, on Tadpole’s second birthday, he took one last arm’s length photo, of the three of us together. Ironically, it is the only picture of our little family in existence. Last night I stuck it in the album, ceremoniously, on the very last page.

Today I’ll buy a new album. Let the next chapter begin.

October 24, 2005

evil stepmother

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 4:06 pm

The pre-teen girl was previously an unknown quantity to me.

Being the parent of a toddler means that I have some insight into the contrary nature of the beast known as the two year old, and have not inconsiderable experience in the dark art of heading off/dealing with temper tantrums. I also vaguely remember what one year olds are about: an unsteady gait, an extremely limited vocabulary and the tell-tale rosy cheeks of teething. However, my memories of the first twelve months of Tadpole’s life are fast receding. If someone were to hand me a newborn, I’d be just as reluctant to hold it as I was pre-Tadpole. I seem to have forgotten how. Then there are the things I have blocked out of my mind for a reason, a form of selective amnesia, like the thrice daily expressing sessions I spent hidden in the work toilets. (If you don’t know what I mean by “expressing”, trust me, ignorance is bliss).

Children any older than Tadpole are far beyond the limits of my comprehension. I see Tadpole’s future through a fog of apprehension about coping with a potentially upsetting Barbie obsession, or an unfortunate addiction to the colour pink. So, when I met my lover from Rennes, father of two pre-teen girls who come to stay on alternate weekends, I was understandably nervous. What would they be like? How would I be expected to behave (by both him and by them)? Would they warm to me, and to Tadpole, or resent us for getting in the way on their precious weekends with dad? Seen through their eyes, was I young and cool? Or distressingly old and hopelessly out of touch? How on earth does one talk to an eight or ten year old?

Six months down the line, having spent several weekends in the company of my potential stepdaughters, both with and without Tadpole, I have to say that thankfully my initial fears proved to be groundless.

Reassured by my lover that it would not be a big deal, I decided the best way to play it was to just be myself (albeit with slightly less freedom in my choice of expletives) and let them take me or leave me. Talk to them as young adults, without condescension. Avoid resorting to bribery or bombarding them with questions. Trust in the fact that what we do have in common – love for their father – would prove to be sufficient common ground for us to forge some sort of relationship.

So, on weekends where we all find ourselves in Rennes, the girls do their thing (drawing pictures of ponies, their obsession, performing dance routines to Christina Aguilera songs, making Scoubidou bracelets or watching programmes about animals in danger on Sky TV) and I do mine (grabbing their dad’s bottom sneakily when just out of eyeshot, reading a book in the next room, surfing the internet, or lazing around drinking tea). We co-exist, at ease with one another’s presence, none of us feeling the need to populate our silences with unnecessary nervous chatter. I’d be lying if I said I don’t look forward to the time when they will be tucked up in bed and I can spend some time alone with my lover. But all good things are improved by having to wait.

And so it came to pass that this Tadpoleless Rennes weekend was mostly spent watching a Lemony Snicket film (highly recommended) and playing board games (Cranium Cadoo).

And finding, almost in spite of myself, that it was really quite enjoyable.

October 21, 2005

burnt fingers

Filed under: parting ways, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 12:30 pm

I arrive at the park, the stresses of the office and rush hour metro suddenly falling away as I catch sight of Tadpole sitting with her playmates on the grass. I cut across the lawn, my kitten heels sinking deep into the damp soil. The childminder points, “regarde qui est là !”, and Tadpole turns around with an expectant smile. I am already grinning from ear to ear. When I see her after spending a day or more apart, my heart never fails to skip a beat.

Suddenly, Tadpole’s face falls.

“No! I want papa!” she cries, stubbornly. And turns her back to me, arms folded.

I bite my lip but continue smiling, determined not to take her reaction to heart, even if it does smart, like a slap in the face.

Mr Frog had picked Tadpole up the previous evening, and dropped her off this morning. That she might have got her wires crossed about who was coming to collect her this evening is perfectly understandable.

I manage to coax Tadpole into the pushchair, using the effective combination of the sternest voice I can muster and the promise of chocolate at some unspecified time in the future if she complies, and we make our way home.

Half an hour later, I am pottering in the kitchen, making fish finger sandwiches with tomato ketchup (for myself) and soft cheese sandwiches (for Tadpole), when I hear footsteps in the hallway. My daughter appears. She has managed to put her shoes back on, albeit on the wrong feet, and has slung her miffy bag (containing a book, her water cup, two cars and a plastic harmonica) over her shoulder.

“Bye bye mummy, I ready to go to daddy’s house,” she says, with a wave. She motions to the locked front door: “ouvre mummy! Faut ouvrir maintenant!”

I sigh and shake my head, reaching for the telephone. After recounting the evening’s events to Mr Frog, who is tickled pink to be so popular with his little daddy’s girl, I pass Tadpole the receiver. A short, stilted conversation ensues, in which she describes the contents of her bag (still convinced, apparently, that the person at the other end of the line can see as well as hear), then she hands the phone back with a cheerful “à demain, daddy!”

An acrid smell assails my nostrils and I realise that in the process of placating my daughter, I have burnt my dinner.

The sacrifices one must make for one’s children are seemingly boundless.

October 18, 2005

locked out

Filed under: parting ways, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 9:25 pm

As we crossed the park, Tadpole singing “Bla Bla Black Sheep” at the top of her lungs, I brought the pushchair to an abrupt halt, struck with the sudden realisation that my keys were in the pocket of my jacket. The very same jacket which was hanging in the cupboard at work, blissfully unaware of my predicament.

Merde.

For once, my little-used mobile phone was charged. I hastily called Mr Frog, who is in possession of a spare set of keys to our former home. He answered on the first ring.

“J’ai fait une énorme connerie,” I wailed. “My boss was stressing me out when I left work, and I’ve gone and left my jacket at the office with my keys in. Is there any way you could come and let us in with your set?”

The alternative would have been a forty minute round trip to where I work on the métro, or in a taxi, with Tadpole, the pushchair, and the bulky bags of shopping I was carrying. Possible in theory, but braving rush hour with a child is not for the faint hearted.

Thankfully, Mr Frog was able to ride valiantly to our rescue on his gleaming white Vespa. I thanked him profusely, and cast around for ideas. How best to entertain Tadpole for the forty minutes prior to his arrival? It was a mild evening, so we could have idled in the park for a while, but we had already left the play area far behind us, and I was mindful of the fact that it would be awkward to keep an eye on both Tadpole and my bags.

Plus, all I really wanted at that precise moment was a nice cold beer and a sit down.

Bad mummy.

Half an hour later, when Mr Frog arrived, Tadpole and I were seated outside our local café in a leafy, cobbled square. I was draining the dregs of my pression, while Tadpole applied herself to positioning stickers on the pages of a hastily purchased kiddy magazine, tongue protruding from between her milk teeth in concentration.

She looked up, and her expression changed from absorbed to overjoyed in the blink of an eye. The sticker book fell to the floor, forgotten.

“Daddy DA-ddy DADDY DADDY!” she cried, breaking into a fit of ecstatic giggles.

I looked from Tadpole to Mr Frog and back again, tears threatening to well up. For a moment I felt overwhelming remorse. What a cruel, heartless, selfish bitch I was to have left him, separating father and daughter. The feeling lasted only a second, because I know that Tadpole and Mr Frog are closer now than they ever were before, the result of long evenings and weekends spent en tête à tête since our separation.

Mr Frog chaperoned us home, explaining to Tadpole that he would pick her up on Wednesday from the childminder’s and take her back to “daddy’s house”. Tadpole nodded, apparently satisfied with this arrangement, and waved goodbye. Mr Frog kissed me gently on the cheek and went on his way.

Our family unit may have splintered apart, but I can’t help thinking we are in pretty good shape.

October 17, 2005

zoo

Filed under: city of light, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 11:58 am

I feel my hackles rising. Having paid € 21 in entrance fees for the bioparents and I to take Tadpole to the mini-zoo in the Jardin des Plantes, my ungrateful child is not paying the animals any attention whatsoever. And this after chanting “go see the animals!” at least seventy four times during the métro journey to Gare d’Austerlitz.

Granted, the antelopes and wallabies are not very inspiring, lolling listlessly in the grass, not even twitching so much as an ear in our direction. And there are only so many different breeds of owl that one can look at, silently roosting in their cages, without having to stifle a yawn.

Nonetheless it is galling to see that Tadpole is more interested in giving dolly (Tico l’Ecureuil) a ride in her pushchair.

“Look over there!” I cry, in the patronising, over enthusiastic tones of a children’s television presenter, attempting vainly to draw her gaze towards a couple of stampeding ostriches who have just been let back into their enclosure, after being mucked out. “What big birds! Aren’t they funny?”

“Non mummy! I pushing the pushchair!”

My shoulders sag. I decide it is futile to try and show or teach Tadpole anything, and instead we just stroll around the menagerie, enjoying the warm sunshine.

The reptile house is more entertaining, not least because we have to leave the pushchair outside the front door. Tadpole, Tico and I marvel at the snakes, baby lizards, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises. The giant tortoises are a resounding success, reminding Tadpole of the Miffy postcard on her bedroom door. I explain, patiently, that it won’t be possible to ride on the tortoise’s back, regardless of what Miffy gets up to in “Miffy at the zoo”, and I manage to head off a tearful temper tantrum by pulling a banana out of my bag to divert her attention.

Fed up of the animal kingdom, we head up to rue Mouffetard to grab some lunch. The sky is a unlikely shade of azure for the month of October, and as I push Tadpole along the cobbled street lined with stalls selling ripe cheeses and all manner of rustic looking farm produce, manoeuvering past a man and woman who are doing a slow dance in the street accompanied by guitar music outside the café where Juliette Binoche was filmed by Kieslowski in Three Colours Blue, I feel a little stirring of my long dormant love for this city I live in.

That night, I manage to cajole Tadpole into eating a few leaves of iceberg lettuce, “just like the tortoises”.

All in all, it wasn’t such a bad day.

October 13, 2005

slippery slope

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 10:00 am

Tadpole is having her bath. I am seated next to her, on the toilet, as there is really no where else to sit in our two and a half square metre bathroom.

“Mummy mummy mummy!” shouts Tadpole, excitedly. “Look mummy!”

I lower my copy of Heat and give her my full attention.

“What do you want to show me?” I enquire, feigning interest.

“Mummy. Regarde! Le bateau, il a chaviré!

Oh. My. God.

Just twenty eight months old and she is now using French words which I can only understand with the help of a dictionary.

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