petite anglaise

October 8, 2006


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:48 pm

“I’ve got a 45 minute window of opportunity this weekend,” I write, “so I’ll be at the café on the corner of the Square Bolivar from 3:30, and if I see you there, great, if I don’t, no worries.”

It is my weekend with Tadpole, so, as a rule, I only see friends with children Tadpole’s age, or occasionally a girlfriend, for lunch or a stroll in the park. The only respite comes during her scheduled Music Appreciation Class, which takes place on Saturday afternoons at a nearby Centre de Loisirs. Even that might not actually happen, as there is something not quite right with Tadpole at the moment: a temperature which flares up every few days without any other discernible symptoms, troubled sleep, frequent nightmares and odd mood swings. But when the time comes, Little Miss Stubborn insists she wants to go. I am rather relieved.

By 4 p.m. I’ve given up on seeing him, engrossed in my book, an empty coffee cup by my side. A man at a neighbouring table hurls unwanted ice cubes from his empty glass towards the gutter and misses, hitting a parked car with a clatter, much to my amusement. The culprit catches my eye; I see panic flicker across his face, momentarily.

Ce n’est pas votre voiture, j’espère?” he says, gesturing towards the car with his bottle of juice.

Non, non. Vous en faites pas…” I reply with a grin.

As I return nose to book, I’m vaguely conscious of a stocky figure crossing my line of vision and glance sideways in surprise, wondering what would possess a stranger to choose the seat directly next to mine when there are so few customers this afternoon. But it is my friend, trying to make me jump out of my skin, and I set my book down with a smile.

The page was turned long ago, but I still feel a rush of affection. I’m drawn to his wit, his mannerisms; it’s hard to resist the temptation to touch his glossy dark hair. Often, when I see someone I once cared about, I can no longer see that magic thing which made them, fleetingly, so attractive, causing me to seriously question the wisdom of my judgements. But in this case I still feel an irresistible pull, a fact I find reassuring. Setting my foot on my chair, I clasp my arms around my bent knee in a pose which is meant to be nonchalant, casual, but is probably textbook defensive body language.

Tadpole’s music class is already drawing to a close, so I decide to fetch my daughter and bring her back to the café for a few minutes, praying she will behave. Approaching, my hand in hers, I suddenly feel confused about how to act. Being with someone who is unaccustomed to seeing me as a mother has thrown me. I’m used to keeping the two spheres of my life completely separate; leading a compartmentalised life. When the two overlap, I suddenly find I no longer know how to behave. I regain my seat, self-consciously; Tadpole positions herself opposite, doodling in my diary with a pencil.

It soon becomes clear that any semblance of adult conversation is now futile: Tadpole’s charm offensive has begun. Mis-hearing my friend’s name, and oblivious to our corrections, she calls him “Angel”. And she will not leave poor Angel alone. First come the questions. A barrage of. Next, she jumps down from her seat and sidles up to him, purposefully, flashing her brightest smile. Not one to beat around the bush, moments later she begs him for a hug (duly administered, albeit a little stiffly), a kiss (less successful) and on the walk home she insists on holding his hand. The icing on the cake, when he pops in to inspect my new flat, is my daughter using him as a climbing frame (foot almost, but not quite, connecting with family jewels), and counters our protests by crying “but my daddy lets me do that?!”

I feel painfully awkward on “Angel’s” behalf, wondering what he is thinking. Either he is wondering how to extricate himself from the situation, but too polite to make his excuses and slip away, or he is genuinely enjoying Tadpole’s attentions. I have no idea which.

As for the “daddy” comment, is it inevitable that every man Tadpole meets in my company will be seen by her as a surrogate father? The thought saddens, but also terrifies me.

When he leaves, a departure I have engineered on the pretext of a errand we need to run before dinner time,Tadpole howls her disappointment, but I feel only relief.

Finally I can shrug off the self-consciousness and get back to the business of just being a mother.


  1. It’s bound to take time, Petite, try not to worry, it sounds to me as if you’re doing just fine. Music Appreciation Class…what a wonderful idea for children of Tadpole’s age, I wish they’d been around when my children were little.

    Comment by Susannah — October 8, 2006 @ 10:05 pm

  2. really great post petite

    Comment by magik — October 8, 2006 @ 10:05 pm

  3. Were you jealous of the relation that Tadpole was trying to build withh “Angel” ?


    Comment by François Granger — October 8, 2006 @ 10:24 pm

  4. A “Music Appreciation Class” for a three-year old kid? What will those Parisien bobos think of next? Does she prefer Beethoven or Brahms with her milk and cookies?

    Comment by SW France — October 8, 2006 @ 10:47 pm

  5. Petite

    If you are anxious at times like this I figure Tadpole will pick up on the situation and respond to it in one way or another. If you can chill and let things be what will, she will make her own sense of the situation. If you can’t I guess it’s OK to disclose that you are concerned.

    If ‘Angel’ is uncomfortable, ditto, and it says something about the man.

    Kids are smart and with nurturing / support can work things out for themselves.

    PS It’s nice to leave the last post behind!

    Comment by Paul — October 8, 2006 @ 10:48 pm

  6. Hmm, it’s called “Eveil Musical” which is more like “Musical Awakening” (!!!)

    But basically it seems to involve singing songs, learning to clap to the rhythm or play a triangle or a block of wood with a beater. Very tame, and she seems to love it.

    NB I am NOT one of those mums who wants her little darling to learn fifty languages and origami by the age of 5, it’s just finding ways to keep her occupied, especially in the winter months when the park will be a less attractive option…

    Comment by petite — October 8, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  7. When it is right, it will feel right. I know it seems so simple in writing, but we all know it is not. Trust to your heart and to your instinct. Thank you, for I very much enjoy your writing.

    Comment by Mat — October 8, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  8. I’m trying to muster the courage to re-enter the dating scene after more years away than I care to admit. And I don’t even have a “Tadpole”. I give you full credit for how well you seem to be juggling the situation. I guess when you’re a single mother who dates, you really do need to compartmentalize your life until you get to know a guy well enough that you can safely have them meet your child(ren). Otherwise they probably do risk getting attached to people who might not be around long.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — October 8, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  9. Bonjour Petite,
    Great post. The Daddy comment was most likely to let Angel now that he was being measured. Any man will have to live up to what Daddy does.

    Comment by Mad William — October 9, 2006 @ 12:27 am

  10. Don’t you love the agonizing ambiguity of a potential new relationship? We want to hide parts of ourselves to protect them from the transient or the careless, but it’s hard to not be swept away in that feeling of not being in control.

    Comment by Sam — October 9, 2006 @ 12:32 am

  11. Good luck with all the combining of relationships.

    Hey – petite — check out my blog: i’m older but stil experiencing some of the same things in Paris – though my kids are teens, so more to deal with.

    keep in touch! I feel as though I was there so short a time ago.

    Comment by Wog — October 9, 2006 @ 12:41 am

  12. Nice entry, you captured the freedom of Paris-cafe-stranger interaction-ice cube chap-and your mother daughter other man exchanges. Good one. Can you help me though, what does ‘vous en faites pas’ mean. As for the guy if your desrciption is accurate he was either feeling awkward(not kissing your little nipper) or he has un(e) coeur froid. Again, nice entry.

    Comment by Craig — October 9, 2006 @ 1:00 am

  13. This post really resonates with me. I often cannot find the charm I once saw and it does make you question your judgement. It is reassuring when you can at least still see the magic, if not succumb to it.

    Also, finding partners who accept your child(ren) is difficult. If he was this uncomfortable with Tadpole, it’s probably just as well that the page has been turned.

    But I am so tired of having to turn the pages.

    Comment by Dawn — October 9, 2006 @ 4:39 am

  14. Eveil Musical is not that much of a specially parisian thing really. We have this here (Toronto suburb) as well. My own tadpoles love it, and they even learn things too. I don’t think the purpose is to get them on a fast track to the Berliner Philharmoniker, but mostly to have fun. If they end up a little less tone-deaf than their father, that’ll be a bonus!

    Comment by ontario frog — October 9, 2006 @ 5:19 am

  15. Petite you deleted my post, pourquoi? I must have hit a nerve. Still good entry, anyway what would I know I’m a redneck antipodean right.

    Comment by Craig — October 9, 2006 @ 7:23 am

  16. Apologies, computer malfunction-desolee etc

    Comment by Craig — October 9, 2006 @ 7:24 am

  17. Craig? I don’t intentionally delete anything – although if you mention “cialis” or “phentermine” or other spam key words then you will automatically get zapped…

    Comment by petite — October 9, 2006 @ 8:06 am

  18. You should not link to your old texts. I followed the link and here we go, two hours spent on reading all your archives again. I quite forgot about what I was doing before. I just remember it was supposed to be a five minutes coffee break. Annoying :)

    I think this “eveil musical” is a nice idea. Young children gain a lot by being exposed to new sounds, languages, images, ideas. It may sound a bit clinical, but I’m pretty sure that it expands their neural connections and improve their cognitive abilities when they become adults. For example, I’ve noticed that bilingual children seem to be much more able to learn a new language later on.

    Anyway. Enough pseudo-scientific rambling and back to work now.

    Comment by Guillermito — October 9, 2006 @ 8:12 am

  19. Your daughter sounds delicious!

    Comment by Maryam in Marrakech — October 9, 2006 @ 8:18 am

  20. Thanks Petite(I’m sorry I have only just started to appreciate your addits and don’t know your name)- it was an error of mine. I did say sorry and even desolee – admittedly without the accent. Again I must thank you for that Eurostar ad. I have forwarded the picture to all my brothers who still live in London (that’s right four brothers) and told them for goodness sake take their wives to Paris and get on the fun train. By the way you say Craig? Unfortunately we can’t meet at a rendezvous in Paris or I can’t jump on the Eurostar with my plate of merry beans and marvel at the bold egg because I’m in the land of the Eucalypt. Have you ever been? More gum trees than I bet you’ve had cafe au lait’s. Anyway since your altercation at work I have become interested and refreshed by your Parigi goings ons. Your writing can sometimes convey Paris – or at least you living in Paris – that well that I feel I’m sitting in a cafe in Paris once more even though I’m a few oceans away. Anyway a bientot, regards to your litte miss.

    Comment by Craig — October 9, 2006 @ 8:54 am

  21. i hate it when the two sets of people you’re communicating with are not in the same spheres of your life. my dad and i have a theory about bubbles. ahem.

    I imagined angel as angel clare from tess of the d’urbervilles (what can i say, I have an english degree). Great post!

    Comment by Billygean — October 9, 2006 @ 9:03 am

  22. Looked those words up – I can see where Little Miss Stubborn gets her mischievous streak from (I’m assuming she’s a healthy mischievous child)but you’ll be happy to know all’s in order you poor thing – I sigh now with all those oceans in the way – and on the other.. I suggest you tuck into a panier of croissants (au beurre of course) and a grande chocolat chaud-it’s breakfast there right.

    Comment by Craig — October 9, 2006 @ 9:10 am

  23. I think that the most poignant part of your post for me is the “surrogate father” part. Of course, we don’t know exactly what is going on in little Tadpole’s head, do we?

    I remember some years back when a four year old daughter of a “single mother” friend of mine called me “papa”. Being a gay man, I just about jumped out the window!

    Comment by Lost in France — October 9, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  24. You have managed to put into words what many of us have been through. It took me back thirty years or so and although I’ve rather given up hoping for a ‘happy ending’ – it’s more a question of making the best of my own bad choices – I can always see the bright side and so enjoy life to the full.
    As for music classes, what an excellent idea. Singing and movement are enjoyable ways to learn. Maybe we’ll hear some more of Tadpole’s renditions of nursery rhymes? Please!!

    Comment by Sablonneuse — October 9, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  25. ‘I feel painfully awkward on “Angel’s” behalf, wondering what he is thinking.’

    Don’t worry. He was loving it. Every man likes to have girls climbing all over him – regardless of their age. But interraction with family jewels, or sticky fingers, is better when they are older.


    Comment by Damian — October 9, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

  26. intro to music appreciation is also big in Norway. The little vikings love it as well.

    I’ve been calling my daughter Little Miss Stubborn ever since I stumbled upon that book in Paddington on a biz trip to London. Little Miss Contrary also works now that she’s six… That sentence made me laugh!

    Comment by nrg — October 9, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  27. Most times when I see someone I used to be attracted to, it’s a complete flip from the nights I kept my friends up pining on the phone to, “Hell, how in the world did you ever let me date this person?”

    Comment by Cosi Fan Tutte — October 9, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  28. A beautifully written piece capturing the bitter sweet nature of these things.

    Pity it’s not all as cut and dried as the PC v Mac stuff where the advice is more forthcoming!

    Comment by murphy — October 9, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  29. I suppose that if you feel self conscious at all then its a good thing the page was turned. Great post today, the parts about the ice cube man and the family jewels made me laugh out loud. One question though, does “vous en faites pas” mean “you didnt do it” or have I got that completely wrong?

    Comment by Whisper — October 9, 2006 @ 8:18 pm

  30. Having clever Tadpole cheerfully work him over is an excellent way to discover if someone has what’s needed to take things beyond the bedroom, if that’s what you were wondering. I suspect angel has no chance against the competition of a true professional. Children are a wonderful innocculation against stray men.

    Comment by andrew — October 10, 2006 @ 1:22 am

  31. Dear Petite,

    Lovely. Your personal stories are very engaging. The only thing we’re all missing is what you aren’t telling us. Like how did the book deal come about, who walked away, how much did you struggle to make it happen, and so on . . . as someone who just got his first book out in the U.S. and doing the media tours, and now my agent is announcing the second one . . . it would be great to hear about someone else’s STRUGGLE. Or, maybe how easy it was! I’m sure your other readers agree. You can’t just NOT write about this and leave it up to press releases and other blogs: It’s drama and we’re dying to hear about it!


    Comment by Peter — October 10, 2006 @ 2:53 am

  32. What I like about Petite is she is so….Anglaise.

    The focus on the ordinary and everyday, the absence of personal heroics, her changing, unmapped boundaries. I enjoy these things.

    Perhaps Petite is the all-seeing cat that walks by itself in the darkling light.

    Comment by andrew — October 10, 2006 @ 8:50 pm

  33. Thank you, Pierre.

    I recognized “vous en faites pas” as an idiom, but like Whisper (aka #29) had trouble translating it into an English idiom, while at the same time, understanding the general meaning of “no problem.”

    I love this blog, this writer, and its commentators.

    Comment by PJ Carz — October 11, 2006 @ 1:16 am

  34. About number 29. “Vous en faites pas” equals “don’t worry”


    Comment by Pierre L — October 11, 2006 @ 5:12 am

  35. Hello Petite! I’ve been wondering for a while: I intend to buy your book when I can get my hands on it in Australia, but will I also need to purchace a French-English dictionary? Or will there perhaps be a glossary of French phrases for the uninitiated? I’ll purchase the book regardless, but it would be a thoughtful inclusion!

    Comment by Milk & 2 Sugars — October 11, 2006 @ 6:43 am

  36. Hey Petite, I promise I won’t mention V…ra or Phentiwhatsit or any of those other spam words. I’m an Australian living in Paris aussi. I have a 2 year old boy. His Mum is French. He’s talking French really well but his English isn’t so good….except for the swear words. Unfortunately he’s picked up my bad language and delights in walking around the apartment repeating the “F” word over and over. Also unfortunately, I find it funny. Should I be worried or will he grow out of it?
    You may be interested in this video series we’re doing – – about a bunch of Aussies trying to make a go of living in Paris.
    I love hanging out in Paris cafes but they can be expensive sometimes. The other day I got stung €18 for two small beers and a plate of “frites” in a cafe in Montmartre! And they didn’t even have a guy throwing ice-cubes at cars. BTW don’t you love the way they park here? Absolutely no respect for the other guys motor. Reverse in until you hit the car behind -“Crunch”. Go ahead until you smash the car in front “Crunch”. And if you’ve trapped somebody’s little 2CV or Smart car in – Hey! Who cares?

    Comment by Les Miserable — October 11, 2006 @ 9:46 am

  37. Maybe this is also relevant to your entry but this song is in my head anyway and I thought I would share it with you.. all of course.’The hardest part was letting go not taking par rrrt. It was the hardest parrrrrt,hmmmm,it was the hardest part.’
    Have a vous en faites pas day. (Can’t find accents on my computer).

    Comment by Craig — October 11, 2006 @ 10:11 am

  38. Bonjour,
    Je m’appelle Mathieu et avec des amis expatrié, nous mettons en place un planet, un site qui publie les article de tous les blogs de quebecois expatrié ou amoureux du québec.
    Pour toi, rien à faire si ce n’est donner ton accord et une photo portrait.
    Nous utilisons ton flux RSS et le tour est joué!
    Je te propose d’aller voir le site
    NB Ce site est en version de travail et ne concerne pas que les québecois en Europe le but est de créer une communauté de québécois ou de personnes aimant le Québec!
    Are you in?

    Comment by Mathieu — October 11, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

  39. “As for the “daddy” comment, is it inevitable that every man Tadpole meets in my company will be seen by her as a surrogate father?”
    Obviously, Tadpole is not the one looking for a father.
    I suppose she has the same behaviour when she mets one of her daddy’s (girl) friend. She is just very curious with new people and express herself (as all children do) in a very emotional way. She already has her mummy and her daddy, but is obliged to compare adults with them (kind of “benchmark”). (And every child dreams of a new –another- pair of parents, it’s a fantasy).
    While I was reading your writing, I had the strong feeling there were no difference between you and your daughter, that you were one being, and that she was, from the “odd mood swing” to the “howls” a kind of projection of you (desire). Sorry to be a bit analytical, it only means your daughter is your heart. And sometimes you may want to be the girl, benting knees on you, not the mummy.
    Well, Tadpole’s looking for a man, not a father, and a charming one. Overlap!

    Comment by 4 roses — October 11, 2006 @ 4:58 pm

  40. Hi Petite

    I’m new to this blog scene, but I’m loving yours.

    As for the ‘daddy’ comment, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’m a stepmum to 8 and 9 yr old girls and the number of times I get called mummy is incredible. It often happens when they get themselves really excited or are distracted – their brains get scrambled and they just blab out the first thing that comes to mind. When it first happened to me I was quite shocked, but now it goes over my head.

    Musical Appreciation sounds like something Surrey mothers would dream up – do you have many people drop their kids off in BMW and Lexus 4×4’s?


    Comment by RDgal — October 11, 2006 @ 8:07 pm

  41. Bonjour Petite,

    I think you have a pretty good filter in tadpole! You could pre-program her with specific questions :-)

    A plus tard,

    Comment by DavidR — October 11, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

  42. Discomfort. Trying to look comfortable and feeling all the more self-conscious for it. I empathise, Petite. Hope you’re doing well. xxx, e

    Comment by ellie — October 11, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  43. I have been 2 weeks in the Australian desert with Jim. Its a tough country Australia. We did not see a vehicle for over 2 days..and the tracks we are on are covered in rocks, destroying tyres and suspension… Now I am home for a day or two to fuel up, have a shower, and continue the journey.

    I miss my kids ( geez do i!)… never miss a chance to hold tadpoles hand Petite and never deny her dad either.. even on “those’ days… :o)

    Comment by simon — October 12, 2006 @ 7:47 am

  44. Oi Petite!! It has been 4 days!! Where is our post??


    Comment by David In London — October 12, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

  45. My sister has been staying, I do apologise, but I thought it rude to neglect her. I promise to update soon.

    Comment by petite — October 12, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

  46. David, I thought exactly the same thing! And then I thought, that no longer makes this a blog, right? If you, Petite, feel that you have a duty to your readership to enter posts, then it’s really no longer a personal thing….not that I’m complaining – far from it! Just a sign of how much things have changed for you, I guess…here’s something I often wonder: do you ever think about starting another blog under another nom de plume that would be just for you (or as much as it can be on the Net)?

    Hugs to you!

    Comment by Lucy-Jane — October 12, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

  47. Quite right not to neglect a sib. Not just a matter of manners but self-interest too!

    So many claims on you – and so few of you…

    Comment by andrew — October 12, 2006 @ 9:32 pm

  48. My sons are 24, 21 and 18 and I still can’t figure out how to “date” in front of them, so I just don’t. I know it’s ridiculous, but it just is. *sigh*

    Another lovely post.

    Comment by Sophmom — October 12, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

  49. I hope you’re not serious, Sophmom, surely any son who had their mothers interests at heart wouldn’t mind them dating. After my marriage broke up when my sons were in their late teens and early twenties my sons loved it when I got a boyfriend because they could see how happy it made me. Are you sure it’s not just you who has reservations…life is for living, go get some!

    Comment by Lucy — October 13, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  50. I think it’s always difficult to mix personalities. I am sure I am a slightly different person at work, with my friends and with my children. When you are in a group where they overlap, it’s difficult to know who exactly to be.

    My teenage daughter brought her boyfriend to visit and since I knew they were sleeping together, I put them in the same room. She then said it was weird being treated like a long established couple, which in fact they were, after 5 years. I don’t know what she expected — that I treat her like a five year old.

    Comment by varske — October 13, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

  51. Thanks, Lucy. I’m quite sure it is just me, and that I wouldn’t know how to begin! I stay very busy and have many friends, but the notion of romance seems very foreign and somehow impossible. *sigh* Thanks for the kind words.

    Comment by Sophmom — October 13, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  52. Sorry that’s a short story.
    I used to know two sisters in my teen-age who had around two years of interval, physically alike, with two opposite natures: one (the older) was rather a high class, elegant person, and her sister more attracted by self-destruction (I hardly caricature). Both had a lot of charm, equaly. (There may be is a relationship between high society and destruction, and charm).
    I knew the first one for ages because she practiced the same hobby in the same club in which I was. The little sister appeared one day in my class. It took me a long time though to learn they were from the same family, maybe because they belonged to two apart worlds of my life. And later, as the younger one was at home, the eldest rang the doorbell, to come and fetch her sister. I opened the door and… whouaaa!!!!
    I felt strange, stupid, split in two, tiny and captivated. Both because they looked alike and had so different characters. It was impossible for me to bring together two “incompossible” worlds. I just couldn’t, and they laughed a lot (the mermaids!).
    Someone said: “we just live in people’s eyes”.

    Comment by 4 roses — October 14, 2006 @ 9:36 am

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