petite anglaise

September 24, 2007


Filed under: Tadpole rearing, Tadpole says — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:31 am

from Mr Frog
to    Petite Anglaise
date 19 Sep 2007 21:16

subject Quote of the Day

“Aujourd’hui dans la cour de récréation Matthias il nous a montré son zizi…. C’était très rigolo.”


I chuckle aloud, paste the quote into my ongoing MSN chat with the Boy (his response: “let’s hope Matthias is a four-year-old”), then file it in my brain under “things I musn’t forget to use one day in a blog post”.

Several days later, Tadpole and I are in the unisex, open plan changing rooms at the kids’ swimming pool we visit on Sunday mornings. When we first began frequenting the pool, I used to manoeuvre myself into my underwear with embarrassed awkwardness, under cover of a huge towel. Then one day I realised that normal rules didn’t apply here. Something about the fact that we are all parents, surrounded by young children, rubbing the sleep from our eyes and wishing that we were at home with a steaming mug of coffee and a newspaper, makes casual nudity even more asexual than a nudist beach in Greece.

Tadpole sits on the bench, swaddled in a hooded towel, wearing an extremely disgruntled pout. Persuading her to leave the pool had not been easy, and involved my resorting to a whole spectrum of parental behaviour – wheedling, promises, threats, pointless lengthy negotiations, raised voices – approaches proscribed one and all by the child rearing manual Mr Frog pointedly lent me the other day. Our altercation culminated in the tenth “I’m not your friend” of the day (it is midday), followed a dose of the silent treatment (a blessing in disguise).

Suddenly Tadpole’s eyes widen at the sight of the small child opposite, and she opens her mouth to speak, her fit of pique instantly forgotten. “Mummy! That girl has got a zizi! Why has that girl got a zizi?”

I sneak a glance at the child in question – male, without a shadow of a doubt – and consider how to respond. Probably best to keep things simple. Conversations about gender reassignment can doubtless wait until she is a little older. “Well,” I say slowly. “We know that only boys have zizi’s, don’t we? So that means it must be a boy, not a girl.”

“But mummy, she had the voice of a girl!” Tadpole protests with a crumpled brow.

“Little boys’ voices are often just the same as little girls’ voices,” I reply. “But if you see a zizi, it’s always a boy. That’s how you can always tell the difference between boys and girls, ladies and men…”

At this, Tadpole gives me a very strange look. In her opinion, I have taken leave of my senses.

“No!” she says emphatically. “My daddy doesn’t, any more. Maybe he did have a zizi when he was a little boy, but then he growed up and it disappeared.”

“I think you might be wrong about that honey,” I reply, the corners of my mouth twitching. “So, when we see daddy later, perhaps you should ask him…”

September 18, 2007


Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:09 am

I am surrounded by a dense, dark, oppressive fog. I can’t see it, touch it, smell it, but it is real to me.

I sensed it on the periphery of my day, quietly, ominously gathering force. I pretended it wasn’t there, at first. I blogged about my daughter, made some notes for an interview, bounced flippant messages back and forth with friends on gmail and MSN. I suspect there was a vague undercurrent of hysteria, of volatility in some of those exchanges, but mostly I was successful at cloaking it in humour, denying its existence, even to myself. Until Tadpole was safely in bed, and the evening yawned emptily ahead. I tried to read a book, but the words wouldn’t stick. The walls crowded closer.

Words like “sad” or “depressed” are hopelessly unequal to the task of describing something so visceral. There is a heavy stone in my chest, a shallow shortness of breath, a desperate fluttering in my stomach. My body shifts gears and slips beyond my control. It’s poised for fight or flight, there’s a pent up energy it can’t contain. The overriding – utterly irrational – impulse is to release the pressure by lashing out at someone I love in some petty, spiteful, childish way.

I take a bath and wash my hair. I tidy the kitchen, manically. I pour another glass of wine. Finally, just before I turn off the lights, I reach for my phone and type a text message worthy of a hormonal teenager.

The results are woefully predictable. I provoke anger and incomprehension.

There is no earthly reason for me to succumb to the undertow, right now, when everything in my life is about as perfect as I can conceive of. I have everything I could possibly wish for. This Boy. The Book thing. Financial security. Nine days out of ten I’m happier than I can remember ever feeling. Why is it then that I seem to be hardwired to try, periodically, to destroy everything I touch? When the rational me, the real me, I hope, knows full well that I’m being unreasonable in the extreme. And idiotic. And wrong.

Hunched under the bedclothes, arms around my knees, I press my dry eyes tightly closed, willing it to stop; hating myself with a fierce intensity. Feeling stupid, pathetic and small. Terrified that one day I will go a step too far and exhaust the Boy’s reserves of patience. That he will see even this explanation as an attempt to abdicate responsibility.

When the feelings refuse to recede, I try to drive them away with words. And this helps. Not a lot. But a little.

September 17, 2007


Filed under: Tadpole rearing, Tadpole says — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:31 pm

Tadpole and I are making our way home from “daddy’s house”. We make excruciatingly slow progress, as she insists on pulling her Miffy wheelie weekend bag along herself rather than letting me carry it. My eyes are riveted on the pavement ahead so that I can give advance warning should we encounter anything unsavoury left behind by a pigeon, dog or human.

Grinding to a halt at a pedestrian crossing, Tadpole suddenly becomes very excited at the sight of a teenage girl across the road.

“Wow! Look mummy! That girl has really red hair! Absolutely exactly the same red colour as the Little Mermaid!”

I take my eyes off the traffic lights for a moment and obediently take a look. The girl in question, striding away on the opposite pavement, has dyed her hair an unnaturally deep red, a cross between the claret colour so often favoured by Parisian café owners when choosing their awnings and my own crimson bedclothes. Uncannily similar to Tadpole’s Little Mermaid doll’s dishevelled mane. A colour which looks better, in my humble opinion, on fabric than on hair.

“Oh look, the green man!” I say, changing the subject and grabbing Tadpole’s free hand.

Later that evening, as I pull a wide-toothed comb through her damp ringlets (amusingly called “anglaises in her father tongue), I make the mistake of doing my thinking aloud. “We really must go to see a hairdresser sometime,” I say. “If we cut your hair just a little bit, then it will grow thicker, and longer.” I’ve been saying this for the past two years, ever since Tadpole’s hair finally deigned to begin growing in earnest, but somehow we’ve never got round to it.

“Mummy?” says Tadpole, turning to face me, her brow furrowed, “when you go to the see the hairdresser, sometimes the hairdresser puts some colour, doesn’t he?”

“Well, yes,” I admit. “I sometimes make it a little bit blonder, because it used to be light like yours, but now it’s darker…” I can almost see the cartoon lightbulb flickering to life above my daughter’s head, and have a sudden inkling of what is coming next.

“So when I go to see the hairdresser, can he make my hair a different colour too? Because I would like to have really really red hair like Ariel’s!”

I pause, wondering how to respond, then a phrase falls from my lips which somehow I never expected to find myself using quite so soon. “Not until you are at least sixteen years old, young lady! Your hair is very pretty just the way it is!”

“But mummy,” protests Tadpole with a sullen pout I find eerily familiar. “Sixteen years old is in a long long long time.”

Combing duty over, I pull myself to my feet and lead the way through into the bedroom.

“Hell yes,” I mutter under my breath.

September 12, 2007


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 6:46 pm

In the course of our holiday we spent a few days on four islands in the south of the Cyclades: Santorini, Naxos, Ano Koufonissi and Amorgos. Each island was very different in terms of size, landscape and the nationalities of the tourists we encountered, and every time we boarded a boat to move on, it felt as though our holiday was starting all over again. Multiple leaps into the unknown added to the excitement. Never before had a two week holiday felt so deliciously long, so limitlessly elastic.

Some things, however, were constant wherever we went. Villages, their white buildings like cubes of feta flung from the sky by the gods, clinging to the slopes of mountains, teetering on cliff edges, nestling in arid inland valleys. Hundreds of chapels with dark blue curved roofs and a collection of different sized bells hanging from a frame adjacent to the entrance. Stray cats of all sizes and colours begging for scraps from our plates when we sat down to eat. The ubiquitous greek salads, saganaki, moussaka, stuffed tomato and aubergine which cropped up on every menu.

And the fact that the further we drove away from civilisation on our rented moped to seek out ever more secluded beaches, the likelihood of encountering people wearing little more than sunscreen increased proportionally.

Having led a somewhat sheltered life, I’d never taken my bikini top off in public before, let alone watched a man snorkelling in a tiny bay, his scrotum bobbing insouciantly on the surface. Under cover of my sunglasses, peering over the top of my book, I looked around with interest at naked bodies of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Once I’d finished marvelling at how asexual this public display of nudity seemed to be, I began conducting informal surveys. My conclusions were as follows: female nudists tend to go for the natural look in terms of pubic topiary, rather than reaching for the wax; elderly people do not necessarily have matching collars and cuffs; absolutely everyone, however skinny, gets folds on their tummy when sitting; there is a very disturbing breed of Italian women who have the lithe bodies of twenty-year-olds, but sun damaged, puckered faces which look decades older.

As for yours truly, my bikini briefs remained firmly in place, which means I am now in the possession of a glow in the dark bottom. But even though my bikini top spent most of its time in my beach bag, I never quite got over my innate British prudishness, nor did I manage to overcome my morbid fear of burnt nipples. (The only flaw in my other holiday book, in my humble opinion, is that a character uses beer bottle tops to protect her nipples while sunbathing on a Greek Island. Surely, being made of metal, they would heat up in the sun and turn into branding irons?)

And so it was that even on day fourteen I found myself instinctively crossing my arms across my chest as I emerged from the water and stepped gingerly across the pebbles to my beach towel, much to the Boy’s amusement.

You can take the girl away from her island and transplant her onto the “continent”, but you can’t, it seems, flush the prudishness out of the petite anglaise


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