petite anglaise

January 22, 2007

mirror mirror

Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:20 pm

I frown at my face in the mirror. Make-up still looks good in the right light, but increasingly these days I find that foundation accentuates the fine lines around my eyes instead of concealing them. I prefer myself with my glasses on, because actually they hide a multitude of tell-tale signs. The days when I dreamt of laser surgery are long behind me.

Digging out a selection of eye-shadow colours, I proceed by a process of elimination. The dark brown one I should really throw away, it’s too severe, too ageing. The pearly pale colours are too “teenaged”. Which only leaves a nondescript matt beige and a dusky pink. I choose the former, applying it lightly with a brush. Less is more. The last thing I want is to look like I’m trying too hard. My lips, full and pouty, if slightly chapped, respond well to a coating of lip gloss.

I survey the finished product. Not bad, but not quite me either. My mother used to say she felt the same inside at forty as she did when she was eighteen. I don’t feel the same exactly, but whenever I look in the mirror I think I always half hope to see my eighteen-year-old self looking back at me, and can’t help but feel disappointed that she is never there.

Padding into Tadpole’s room in stockinged feet I open the wardrobe and deliberate about what to wear. I have always been what I would call “pear-shaped”, often with as much as two sizes difference between the top and bottom halves of my body. Despite my New Year’s resolutions and recent gym membership, there are few visible improvements as yet. Now, the party I am getting ready for called for “something red” in the invitation. Hmm… A raspberry-coloured dress bought years earlier, which drapes in a forgiving way around my curves is the only red item in the wardrobe which strikes me as appropriate for a party. I might feel a little overdressed, and if I get cold my nipples will definitely show, but I don’t have time to agonise further. The babysitter will be arriving any minute.

Tadpole looks up from her book and smiles. “Mummy looks like a princess,” she says. And means it. I give her a grateful hug. Thank god for unconditional love.

Later, at the party my friend and I joke about the fact that we are actually several years older than most of the other guests present (understandable, as the hosts are in their mid-twenties).

“You can tell we’re older, because all these younger girls are playing it cool, dressing down, and here we are with our grown-up dresses and our faint whiff of desperation,” comments my friend, wryly.

“Oh god, don’t, my confidence is hanging by a thread as it is,” I reply, and proceed to enlighten her as to the meaning of the wonderful British expression “mutton dressed as lamb”, before helping myself to another glass of red punch.

I’m thirty-four years old, and until now, most people didn’t believe me when I told them my age, or gasped when I told them I had a three-year-old daughter. But something – and I’m not sure what – seems to have dented my confidence lately. Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been anyone who I could get excited about for a while, no-one’s admiration to bask in. Or maybe it’s the fact that my last boyfriend was significantly older than me, and these days I often run with a younger pack.

From experience I know that it’s impossible to be objective about what you see in the mirror. On a black cloud day I can’t help but hate my reflection. In the throes of a hormone peak I will feel big, regardless of what the scales might read.

I’m looking forward to the day when the mirror throws me back something I like. It will be a sign that whatever was faulty has been fixed, that the storm clouds have finally lifted.

And in the meantime, I’ll just keep on basking in the warm glow of Tadpole’s compliments.

January 19, 2007


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:01 pm

Tadpole’s most prized gift this Christmas was not one of the carefully selected educational toys I ordered from the wonderful Fnac Eveil et Jeux catalogue. Nor was it the Princess Barbie or the stable of my little Ponies she received from her French grandparents, or indeed anything from the sack of presents which awaited her in the UK (although the sack itself, it has to be said, was a great success).

No, Tadpole’s favourite new toy is a Little Mermaid Barbie, with glittering removable turquoise tail, a purple plastic strapless bikini top (which falls off, baring her breasts, approximately ten times a day) and a mass of unlikely, blood-red hair. She found “Ariel” on a recent visit to the bio-parents’ house, amongst a tangle of Barbies and Sindy dolls of all shapes and sizes which used to belong to my bio-cousins and, given that she had already seen the Disney cartoon of the same name, there was absolutely no way we could leave the premises mermaid-less.

The Little Mermaid used to be my favourite fairytale, once upon a time, never failing to make me shed a tear. I owned a dark red hardback collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – sadly I have no idea where that book is now – and when the Disney version saw the light of day many years later, I refused to watch it with my little sister on the grounds that I objected to the making of a sanitised version with that obligatory happy ending.

My Little Mermaid had to make huge, painful sacrifices to walk on the land. Every step she took felt like walking on the sharpest knives. Her voice didn’t transmit itself to the wicked witch by means of a pretty ball of light flying from her throat; her tongue was brutally severed. And of course at the end of the story, when her prince marries another woman, she is given the opportunity to return to her life as a mermaid if she stabs him through the heart with a knife provided by the witch, a deed which she refuses to do, casting herself into the waves instead and becoming a spirit of the air, condemned to live in some sort of strange limbo for three hundred years, after which she will go to heaven.

That I remember all of this is a testament to how much I loved the original story, because in general I have a terrible memory for books. I’ve read too many, too impatiently quickly, and occasionally start a new one only to realise part way through that I have read it before.

Tadpole, however, is in love with the pain-free Disney version, in which the mermaid gets her prince and everyone lives happily ever after, and if I let her, she would watch it from start to finish every single day. At night, long after the lights are out, I hear her singing the Mermaid’s song, pausing to adopt the voice of the wicked octopus witch to boom “keep singing!”, then switching back to the sweet song of the mermaid once more. In the morning, when I wake her, she waves her legs together as if they were joined and says “mummy! Look at my tail!”

She’s got it bad.

Which is why I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she began using the Little Mermaid to get her own way.

“I can’t eat this dinner,” she said, as I placed a plate of fish fingers and vegetables on the table before her.

“Why not?” I asked in puzzlement. “Those are your favourites!”

“Because I’m a mermaid,” she said gravely. “And mermaids don’t eat other fishes.”

It took a few minutes of negotiation before I was able to overcome this hurdle. Suffice to say that mermaids apparently like nutella very much indeed and are willing to compromise their principles to obtain it.

As we walked home from school the next day, I quizzed Tadpole, as usual, about her day. I don’t usually obtain a very clear picture of what went on, but a few tidbits are enough to satisfy me. Those bruises on her knees, for example, were caused by Jules who pushes her over in the playground and apparently climbs on top of her, although she assures me it is a game and she doesn’t get hurt. The splotches of red on her t-shirt the other day came from the lasagne she had for lunch.

But on this day Tadpole was unusually silent.

“What on earth is the matter?” I said. “I’m asking you a question, it’s rude not to answer!”

Tadpole shook her head and gestured silently at her throat.

“You’ve got a sore throat? Shall we go see the doctor?”

Tadpole shook her head.

“Well what then? Come on, tell me what’s matter.” I came to an abrupt halt on the pavement and dropped to her level, refusing to go a single step further until she told me what was going on. With a sigh, she pulled back my long hair to expose my right ear and began to whisper.

“The wicked witch stole my voice!”

I’m starting to wonder if those éveil théâtral classes I was going to sign her up for next September are really such a good idea, after all.

January 16, 2007

Tadpole talk

Filed under: Tadpole says — petiteanglaiseparis @ 5:44 pm

Tadpole and I sit on her bed, side by side. I bend forwards to unbuckle her shoes (Clarks, navy blue and purple with sequins. Sensible shoes fit for a princess.)

“Mummy, I can see a bottom peeping there,” shrieks Tadpole. An icy hand reaches for the space between my jumper and my low waist jeans and I flinch in anticipation of her touch.

“Why do they fall off, your trousers?” she continues, puzzled now. “Look mummy!” She turns to show me her own rear. “We can’t see my bottom, can we? My trousers don’t do that…”

“And a good thing too!” I say, hastily pulling my jumper down.

There are some scenes that need to take place behind closed doors, and that was definitely one of them.

January 14, 2007

The Adoption

Filed under: adoption — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:53 pm

Books about adoption, whether fiction or memoir, hold a special fascination for me, and always will. Some of my own experiences as an adoptee are documented in the “adoption” category of this blog.

Which is why Dave Hill’s book “The Adoption” caught my attention. Dave, a fellow Brit and blogger, has become a virtual friend and a fascinating “inside source” on the weird and wonderful world of publishing.

The basic premise of “The Adoption” is as follows: a couple who realise they are too old to have any more children (and who already, in fact, have three of their own: two teens, and a younger son at primary school) decide to apply to adopt another child in order to complete their family. Given the dearth of newborns available for adoption, they are offered the opportunity to care for Jody, a three-year-old who has lived with a string of different foster parents since being removed from the care of her young, alcoholic mother by social services.

Told from the point of view of all the members of the family in turn, including Jody herself (who is, of course, Tadpole’s age), I found “The Adoption” incredibly honest and illuminating. The characters rang astonishingly true, and for the first time, I think, I fully appreciated what a minefield bringing up several children represents, and how complex the interaction of family members can be. Welcoming a newcomer into the fold creates tensions, both exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones. I found myself on tenterhooks, wondering whether ultimately Jane had bitten off more than she could chew.

I also found myself dreading Tadpole’s teenage years, as Dave Hill’s descriptions of the teenage daughter, Lorna, brought back vivid memories of some of the despicable things I once said to my own mother under the influence of raging hormones.

The following is a short extract, a scene which takes place shortly after Jody’s arrival at her new home.

Her name was Jody: Jody Jones.

Jane knew that three-year-olds are leaving babyhood behind. They may still get scared by strange noises or imaginary beasts, and may still cling to comfort blankets. But mostly they are becoming sociable. They begin to enjoy the company of other children; they like to laugh and act daft; they start to grasp the shocking truth that grown-ups cannot read their minds and sometimes need to have things explained. Times passage, too, begins to have meaning. They start to talk about the future and the past.

The past: Jody’s past; the mental space from which it was Jane’s mission to rescue her. Jody got slowly to her feet.

‘Come on, Jody. Let me give you a hug.’ Jane held out her arms. Jody stepped into them, keeping hold of the doll and leaving Grandpa’s Handkerchief behind. Jane lifted her up, shocked by her lightness yet almost breathless with the weight of responsibility. ‘Let’s find the others, shall we?’ she said.”

Once I’d finished “The Adoption“, I sent it as a gift to another blogger I have never met, but often corresponded with, who is in the process of applying to adopt a young child himself.

Such a vast place, the internet, and yet such a small world at the same time.

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