petite anglaise

October 17, 2005

zoo

Filed under: city of light, Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 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 — bipolarinparis @ 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.

October 11, 2005

panic

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 2:56 pm

The journey to the airport had been stressful enough, but apparently the gods were not smiling on me last Saturday.

Tadpole, Lover and I were heading to England to visit my best friend and her family. I had been looking forward to this trip for months, my enthusiasm only slightly dampened by the fact that I had woken up that morning only to find that I had almost entirely lost my voice. When I opened my mouth, either a whisper or a squawk came forth. Thankfully, even if I did sound like a cross between Frank Butcher and Dot Cotton, I wasn’t in any pain. But it was hardly an ideal state of affairs, neither for catching up with a friend over a few beers, nor for keeping a willful two year old in check.

First, the bus which would ferry us to Gare du Nord was a long time coming. Second, the ticket vending machines at the station were all either out of order, or preceded by lengthy queues of tourists, many of whom didn’t seem to be able to get them to function, or who went through the whole transaction, only to find that their foreign credit card would not be accepted. Last, but not least, the airport bound RER train which we leapt into just as the doors slammed closed turned out to be a slow train, stopping at every single suburban town between Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport. I started to fear that we wouldn’t be going anywhere, wondering how I would break the news to my friend.

I had an epiphany on that train: on balance, a € 40 taxi fare is a small price to pay for the preservation of my sanity. Austerity budget or no.

We finally checked in just in the nick of time, cleared customs and joined the queue for the baggage scanners and metal detectors.

Now, I know that the people scanning luggage have an important job to do. What I don’t understand is why the French security staff are so much more difficult and unpleasant to deal with than their English counterparts.

I have not-so-fond memories of setting off the metal detector in France while heavily pregnant and being asked to remove my shoes.

“My shoes? I can’t even reach my shoes! It’s my belt buckle which set it off, can’t I just take the belt off?” I said, smiling persuasively. When it became apparent that I was now expected to remove both: “I don’t suppose you have a chair I could sit on?”

“Non.”

Not even a, “Non, je suis désolée Madame”. Just “no”.

Luckily, Mr Frog was on hand to perform the unzipping of the boots, whilst I leaned against a wall, indignantly.

When travelling with a small child and a pushchair, I have encountered similar unhelpfulness on French soil. In England, a member of staff pushes Tadpole through the detector, still wearing her coat and securely strapped in. My permission is sought to search the buggy, and someone half heartedly rummages around, while Tadpole chatters away, turning on the charm.

In France, on the other hand, a slightly less helpful policy is in operation. Tadpole must be released from the pushchair, her coat removed, and the pushchair folded and fed through the scanner along with my bag and coat. On those occasions where I have travelled alone with her, this has been horribly problematic. When Tadpole was too young to walk, I had to enlist the help of a surly and reluctant looking member of staff to hold my baby while I folded the pushchair. Since she learned how to walk (and indeed run), the challenge has always been to stop her absconding. Two hands is never enough.

Sure enough, on Saturday we got the works. No smiles, no help. Tadpole trotted gaily through the metal detector on her own, ahead of me, as instructed. No beep. Mummy and Lover went through immediately after her, and both beeped. I was asked to remove my belt (but thankfully not my trainers) and with a weary “ah là là “, I retraced my steps and went through again. Without beeping, this time. Assuming that a member of staff had been keeping an eye on my daughter.

I looked around.

BLIND PANIC.

WHERE WAS MY CHILD?

Tadpole’s life flashed before my eyes as a block of ice slid down my spine. I tried to call her name, but only managed a pathetic squeak. My eyes scanned the busy terminal building, not really processing what I saw, too panicked to be of any use to me. This was every mother’s worst nightmare. What had I done? How could I have taken my eyes off her, even for a second?

“Oh my god, where is my daughter?” I yelled. Unfortunately, the words came out as a stage whisper. Not even one head was turned.

Lover, who is considerably taller and more level-headed than I, scanned the building and pointed to tiny figure, receding into the distance, far away in the duty free shop.

That’s my daughter. Whenever she sees a window of opportunity, she takes it. And disappears. The lure of the gaudy colours in the brightly lit shop? Of cigarettes and alcohol? Who knows what goes through her tiny little head.

We bellowed her name (or rather Lover did, while I bleated) and Tadpole turned and started running towards me. He fetched our belongings as I dropped to my knees and held her close to me in a vice like grip.

As we made our way over to the gate, tears rolled down my cheeks. Just for a second, I had glimpsed what life without Tadpole would be like.

And it was indescribably bleak.

October 6, 2005

late

Filed under: parting ways, Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 4:44 pm

Despite the fact that I am experiencing an unpleasantly busy Friday afternoon at work, I still find time to type a hasty reply to Mr Frog’s innocent sounding email about arrangements for the weekend. I let him know where Tadpole’s overnight bag is, and add that yes, I will indeed be in Paris myself.

It doesn’t occur to me that something is amiss, and that his second question is, in fact, a loaded one.

A couple of hours later, the penny drops when I read his next email, in which he tells me that due to a meeting being rescheduled at the last minute, he will not be able to pick up Tadpole at 6.30pm at the childminder’s house. Can I please do it? He is not able to say at this stage what time he will be able to come by and pick her up. Or indeed whether he will make it before bedtime. He may even have to collect Tadpole the following morning instead.

I groan out loud, then look furtively around the office to see if anyone heard me. My first lie in since September 4th is in hanging in the balance. And instead of being able to adjourn to the bar with my colleagues for a beer, or do a spot of impromptu shopping, I will now have to race home, just as I do every other night of the week and collect our disappointed daughter. Field her questions about where daddy is. Cook her dinner. Bath her. Read stories and put her to bed. All the while looking at the clock and cursing Mr Frog under my breath, wondering whether at some point he will deign to phone, or to show up and take over.

We may not be together any more, but he still has the ability to back me into a corner and make me shake with that familiar mixture of anger and resentment.

I call him at work. What, I ask, would he have done had I been away? An embarrassed silence. I tell him that whether I am in Paris this weekend or not should be irrelevant: Tadpole is his responsibility on the days we have agreed. She is more important than any meeting. And I am not some sort of glorified babysitter who can take over at a moment’s notice whenever it suits him.

He won’t budge: “I can’t pick her up. I’m sorry. I need you to do this for me. We’ll talk about it later…”

I swear in a low voice, conscious that my boss’s door is ajar. “J’avais des projets pour ce soir. Tu es en train de chier dessus. Ton boulot passe avant tout. Rien n’a changé. Tu me deçois, mais pire encore, notre fille t’attends. Je lui dirai quoi?”

I’m so upset now that I can barely string two coherent words together. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t feel able to refuse him outright. How can I turn my back on my daughter and let Mr Frog trample all over our good relationship with the childminder (who doesn’t do overtime). He knows I’ll give in. What choice do I have?

“Next time, the answer will be no. And I don’t care what the question is,” I say, then slam down the receiver, noticing for the first time the rain falling heavily outside my window.

With a sinking feeling I remember that my waterproof poncho is at home, and not stashed in the basket under the pushchair as it usually is. I took it out this morning. I wasn’t supposed to need it.

I groan again, and this time, I don’t care who hears me.

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