petite anglaise

January 27, 2006


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:11 pm

Last weekend, I felt so blissfully happy that I said so, out loud, at least three times. In the space of one hour. There I was, in England with my Lover, both childless, shopping in (ahem) Primark and looking forward to a hearty pub lunch. My figurative cup was brimming over.

I should have known, from experience, that when I scale such a dizzy, euphoric peak, there is often a corresponding trough lurking just around the corner, for me to fall into. A trough, or perhaps a canyon. Sure enough, as the weekend drew to a close, a despondent mood crept stealthily over me. What I initially mistook for that Sunday evening, school-tomorrow-but-haven’t-done-my-homework feeling, coupled with vague apprehension about the late flight home and the likely effect it would have on my Tadpole – worn out from an energetic weekend with the grandparents – was actually the onset of something more sinister.

From the moment I opened my eyes on Monday morning, the world seemed utterly bleak. Where once there had been glorious technicolour, a warm, fuzzy glow of light-heartedness and optimism, now everything was shaded grey or black, my gaiety had drained away, giving way to mild paranoia, crippling exhaustion and relentless negativity. Black thoughts whirled inside my head, and an extreme effort of will was required to do the simplest things.

Lover, in England still, seemed remote, inaccessible. July, and all the plans I had spent the weekend going over, gleefully, seemed to slip from my grasp and recede far, far away. I could find not one thing to look forward to, to feel good about. Tadpole was being unpredictable, in turn an angel, then a demon, her demonic behaviour culminating with a “go away mummy!” and a slammed door when I arrived at the childminder’s house last night. It was all I could do not to curl up in a ball outside the door and sob.

And in my irrational, destructive state of mind, even though I knew full well that he was the one who could help me the most, I pushed Lover away. Held petty things against him. Twisted his words. Tested his limits. And, when, sensibly, he took a step back, waiting for the storm to pass, I hated him for leaving me alone. Willed the silent phone to ring.

My rational self looked on, knowing all along that this was madness, stupidity; it would pass, given a few days. It was no match for this other me though, who preferred to wallow in self-pity and pick at my insecurities, like a small child who can’t leave a scab alone.

Today, finally, I feel like I have found firm, level ground to walk on, and the world is slowly, cautiously becoming suffused with colour again. Please, oh please let it last.

Somebody stop the rollercoaster, I want to get off.

January 24, 2006


Filed under: parting ways, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:28 pm

I have arranged to meet Mr Frog outside the front door of our my apartment building at 08.45 am, and Tadpole shrieks with delight as soon as she catches sight of the familiar figure striding towards us, Vespa helmet swinging from his left hand.

After one rapturous greeting (Mr Frog, Tadpole) and one slightly more awkward one (Mr Frog, me), we set off towards our common goal. Today we are meeting Madame D, directrice of one of the two local maternelles in our catchment area. Judging by the rasp of her voice on the telephone, I suspect Madame D has long nurtured a forty-a-day Gaulloise habit, and until she helpfully mentioned that her name was Brigitte, I wouldn’t have been able to assert with confidence whether I was conversing with a male or a female.

Of the two schools on the fiche de préinscription obtained at the town hall just before Christmas, I have opted to visit this school first, largely for the simple reason that the other school, a mere 100 m away, currently has a large poster stuck on its front door, proclaiming:


Alongside a cartoon depiction of some head lice executing a merry dance. That, along with the fact that the building the other school is housed in is a rather less attractive brick structure dating from the 1970’s, was research enough for me.

We climb the stairs to the headmistress’s office, passing a row of pegs where a rainbow tangle of coats and scarves hang under pictures bearing the names of their owners. The most popular names would still appear to be Léa (for girls, pronounced like the Star Wars princess) and Lucas (for boys, with a silent ‘s’). Through an open classroom door, I spy a group of children seated on the floor, listening intently to a story, remarkably well-behaved. In a larger room on the ground floor, children not much older than Tadpole teeter on makeshift stilts, fashioned from upturned buckets on strings.

Of course the ironic fact of the matter is that Tadpole will probably not be attending either of these schools come September. If all my plans come to fruition, my daughter and I will be living in the centre of Rennes by then, and her local school will be a stone’s throw from Lover’s house, and the local park. However, as schools in my arrondissement of Paris are notoriously over-subscribed, just in case anything goes wrong, bets must be hedged, and Parisian directrices must be courted. Better to be safe than sorry.

Mr Frog still wanted to come along, even though we were only going through the motions. I’m not sure why. The stated reason was that he wanted to feel involved, and have a point of comparison when I describe the school in Rennes at some time in the future. There may also be some denial involved. Either way, it transformed a visit which should have been vaguely exciting into a rather tense affair, both of us skirting hesitantly around the real issues for fear of igniting a row or unintentionally causing pain.

Happily, Tadpole remained blissfully unaware of the undercurrents, saucer eyes taking in every detail of the school.

Something tells me I will be spending this evening threading string through buckets and listening to the clattering of makeshift stilts on my parquet floor.

January 19, 2006


Filed under: good time girl, mills & boon, missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:51 pm

This weekend, I will be meeting the “friends” referred to below. The very idea of this meeting has me in a turmoil.

extract from email from Lover, May 2005

“When I went back to England last month, I was moaning to my friends about Mad French Bird. As they are all nearing or indeed at 40 and in stable conventional relationships, none of them could see what on Earth my problem was with dating a mixed-up 22-year old. Eventually, I said “Look, the person that I REALLY like, the person that I feel completely compelled to, is someone I’ve never seen, who lives in Paris and has a partner and a child. I don’t know her name or what she looks like, but (…) I can’t get her out of my head.”

It is less than a year later, and by some bizarre twist of interweb fate we have been together for several months now. No twenty-two year old is any match for a petite anglaise with her glad rags on.

So, why the inner turmoil? So far, those of Lover’s friends I have met in France have all been lovely people, which bodes well. I do not doubt we will be in very good company.

What’s more, I am really looking forward to getting to know Lover better, as tongues do tend to be loosened by alcohol, and, with luck, some interesting stories about his schooldays in Sheffield will emerge over the course of the evening. And it’s always revealing to see a person in a new context. We all behave differently depending on who we are with, do we not? Among our oldest friends, we get back to the basics of who we really are.

The very Englishness of the weekend is also appealing, as curry and/or fish and chips and/or a full English breakfast are bound to be on the menu. An opportunity to worship at the altar of The Holy Grease. Not to be sniffed at.

But, despite all these positives, I appear to be rather nervous. This I know because when packing for a weekend away, I do not generally make a habit of trying on the entire contents of my wardrobe in front of a full-length mirror. It’s one thing being anxious about making a good impression (and striving to minimise the impression made by my disproportionately large rear, lest it steal all the limelight), but this level of panic (a code red alert) seems a little excessive, even to me.

I’ll admit to being slightly apprehensive that I won’t be able to take the pace (being woefully out of practice at drinking in pubs, all evening long, standing up) and a little uneasy at the prospect that, a few drinks into the evening, I might be an embarrassment, or a little too lairy.

But there are bigger issues here. Will I be a disappointment in some way? How do I compare with the ex-wife that they all knew so well, or the terrifyingly sexy girlfriend who helped him pick up the pieces, post-divorce? One of the most attractive things about an older man is that he knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin. The flipside of that coin is that he is bound to have some pretty weighty baggage; excess baggage, which in an airport would cost you dearly. And so I must deal with the ghosts of wives and girlfriends past.

Last, but not least, there is the small matter of the situation I was in when we met, as evidenced by the phrase: “who lives in Paris and has a partner and a child”. Our relationship was born out of the ruins of another. There was all kinds of fallout involved. I have taken my child away from her father, and plan to uproot us both next summer, in order to be with him. When I meet a friend of his for the first time, I sometimes wonder: are his friends simply happy for him, or do they feel slightly uncomfortable with how it all came about? Will they be judging me (as some of my commenters do)?

As usual, my mind is working overtime, creating problems, amplifying things out of all proportion.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I want to be cremated when that time comes, I think the phrase “petite anglaise – she thought too much” would have made a fitting epitaph.

January 16, 2006


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:25 pm

As I sat in the metro this morning, furtively prying strips of royal blue Play-Doh from under my fingernails to a soundtrack of LCD Soundsystem (“Tribulations” seemed apt), I felt an overwhelming wave of relief wash over me: the weekend was finally over.

Who would have thought that a couple of days of quality time with a two and a half year old could be so soul-destroying? But by five o’clock on Sunday afternoon, nerves pulled taut, head pounding, I found myself wondering whether I could use the excuse that it was already dark outside, in tandem with the fact that Tadpole has no grasp of the passage of time and cannot yet read a clock, to pretend it was bedtime and put us both out of our misery.

If I were to read one of the well-known books on the market about toddler taming, I imagine I would be told that this is a normal phase in the development of any child, one in which the toddler has become aware that she is a individual, and is experimenting with the level of control she can exert on her environment. Or in this case, over me. It is a battle that I have to win, if I am not to become one of those parents who is a slave to their own child, tyrannised in their own home. In short, prime Supernanny material.

The pattern of behaviour that Tadpole and I found ourselves locked into this weekend went something like this:

“Right, let’s get your shoes on, we are going for a walk,” I said brightly, looking forward to escaping out into the fresh air, as the white walls of my apartment were starting to close in on me.

“No!” whined Tadpole, stubbornly, her voice at that particular pitch which causes me to bristle, instantly.

“Okay then”, I forced myself to say in a soft, level voice, let’s stay in. “Never mind, I’m sure I’ve got something better to do than take you to play on the slide…”

I turn, start walking away.

“Noooo! I want to go!” she screams, at full volume, clawing at my legs. (Note to self: must cut her fingernails.)

“Well, let me put your shoes on then!” I say, slightly less calmly.

“Nooo!!!! Don’t want to put my shoes on!”

We had about twenty such futile “discussions” in the space of one weekend. Some ended in tears (hers, and mine). One with a smacked bottom (which I then spent the rest of the weekend beating myself up about). The same argument played out, over and over; ever decreasing circles of pointless conflict.

The lowest point of the weekend was Tadpole’s Sunday afternoon nap. We had just returned from a walk in the park and she was visibly tired when I zipped her into her sleeping bag and kissed her protesting cheek. I retreated to my room, pulling the door to, so as not to hear her inevitable whining, and watched a couple of episodes of The OC (current painkiller of choice) on my computer.

An hour and a half later, I heard the familiar woke-up call from Tadpole’s bedroom: “MummyMummyMummy! Mum-MY! MUMMY! I awake now!” I sighed, and pushed her door open. It seemed strangely heavy to my reluctant arms.

Once I had taken in the sorry sight before my eyes, I inadvertently whimpered.

In the dim light of the shuttered bedroom, I could make out Tadpole, cheeks flushed, eyes wild with self-induced sleep deprivation, kneeling on her bed, surrounded by the entire contents of her Mr Men boxed set. She must have pulled this down from its habitual home atop the fireplace by balancing precariously on the edge of her bed, swaying unsteadily in the confines of her sleeping bag, as I have repeatedly asked her not to do, for fear of injury. The books were strewn all around her on the bed, and spilled onto the floor in all directions.

But there was something else amiss here: a dusting of something white (snow? feathers?) covering Tadpole’s hair, clothes, bed and freshly hoovered rug, which I couldn’t, at first, identify. I took a couple of steps into the room, and saw exhibit A: one Miffy tissue box, discarded by the end of the bed. Empty.

So, instead of taking her nap, something had possessed my daughter to slowly, patiently, and very quietly shred an entire box of patterned tissues (a present from grandma) into a thousand tiny pink and white flakes. To sprinkle the resulting confetti all around her.

My shoulders slumped in defeat. I had no rage left in me, only despair. I fetched the waste paper basket from my bedroom, placed it quietly by her bed and staged a tactical withdrawal.

Some time later, I heard the pattering of little feet. Tadpole appeared, skinny legs protruding endearingly from her pull-up nappy. She was brandishing a favourite teddy.

“It’s for you mummy. Be smile!” she said, cautiously.

I managed a weak approximation of a smile, which doubtless looked more like a grimace, and went to fetch the hoover. Outmanoeuvred, once again.

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