petite anglaise

May 15, 2008


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:36 am

When I arrive at the Centre de Loisirs, cheeks flushed from another two-hour session at the gym (my anti-anxiety drug of choice), the children are outside in the cour de récréation.

It takes me a while to spot Tadpole. She’s not dangling upside down by her knees from the climbing ropes, a sight which set my heart fluttering last week. There is no sign of her queuing to go down the slide, either, and she doesn’t appear to be under the inverted V-shaped structure the kids all refer to as la cabane.

Then I spot her, sitting by the edge of the playground alone, back to the wall, hands cupping her chin. With her long, spindly arms and legs Tadpole is often mistaken for an older child. She’s inherited her father’s body shape, something I’m sure I’ll be intensely jealous of one day. At her age my knees were surrounded by little rolls of fat; the kindest adjective to describe my legs would likely have been ‘sturdy’.

As I stride towards her, I am waylaid by a black girl whose name escapes me, her hair separated into an elaborate patchwork of squares, each ending in a little knot, bound with a thin band of colour. ‘Elle a fait une bêtise,’ says the girl, gesturing towards my daughter. ‘Elle nous a montré ses fesses au milieu de la cour.’

Ah bon?’ I say, trying not to smirk as I imagine relaying this exchange to Mr Frog, later. I have no idea what could have possessed my daughter to lift her skirt, pull down her pants and moon in public, but the mental image it conjures is priceless.

‘Honey, why did you show your bottom to the other children?’ I say, in a neutral voice, dropping to my knees and ignoring the tale-teller, who stands to my left, her arms folded across her chest.

‘Because Edith did tell me to do it!’ says Tadpole, scowling. ‘And then I did get into trouble, and not her. It’s not fair.’

Tadpole stands her ground with me (and the other adults in her life) all the time, but I’ve noticed her behaviour in the presence of her peers is very different. She lives in a cruel world where a classmate may decide to be her best friend one day, her sworn enemy the next. ‘Dina didn’t want to sit with me today because I was wearing trousers and not a skirt,’ she once told me sadly on the way home from school. She refused to wear trousers after that. It went on for weeks. The shy, bespectacled four year old I once was can’t really blame Tadpole for seeking the approval of her peers. But she’s going to have to learn some boundaries. Because I’d rather not pick up the pieces when Edith dares her to jump off the top of the slide.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘maybe next time Edith or any of your other friends asks you to do something that you know is silly or naughty, you should think about saying no. There’s no friend worth getting yourself into trouble or hurting yourself for…’

‘I know that mummy,’ Tadpole says indignantly, pulling herself to her feet. ‘But I didn’t think showing my bottom was a bêtise. At home when I take my clothes off and wiggle my bare bottom you do always laugh.’

‘At home it’s different,’ I say firmly. ‘Outside there are different rules. It’s rude to show your bottom to a waiter in a restaurant, or to children in the playground. But I’m allowed to laugh when you show it to me, because I’m your mummy.’

Life lesson delivered, we head for home, where my rules are law.


  1. Just a quick note, en passant, to say that I’ve just finished your book and absolutely LOVED it. A fantastic read which I devoured in the space of two days. My parents live in Paris and I lived in the South of France for two years. The British/French combination (my mum is French, my dad English) made it an even more fascinating read. I’m now in the process of exploring your blog. Tadpole sounds adorable and makes me laugh so much!

    Comment by July — May 15, 2008 @ 9:56 am

  2. I have a 4 yr old booty wiggling nudist – fortunately this has been confined to the unseasonably (well, it is Northern Ireland!)warm weather. I have occasionally wondered when was she going to demonstrate her talents to her public? Her father suggested she obviously has a future as a pole dancer. I guess parents have to guide their future with care!

    Comment by georgiethewondercat — May 15, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  3. bonjour petite,

    Kids these days are rather mean and cruel at times i know what you mean. Hope that Tadpole will learn how to be a strong, independent young girl soon!

    Btw, i’m leaving for France pour le premiere fois ce soir de la Malaisie!! Trop trop hate! Tu sais si je peux trouver ton livre version anglais a paris ? bisous!

    Comment by popo — May 15, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  4. That brought back happy memories of June Thomas, who cheerfully dropped her knickers for all of her friends when we were five. It was very educational for me. See, I can even remember her name after forty years.

    It might be worth pointing out to Tadpole that montrant ses fesses is not an adult thing to do; that big girls and mummies are never seen to do it in public.

    And it’s good to have you back!

    Comment by Moses — May 15, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  5. You can get it from WHSmiths, Brentanos, Shakespeare & Co, Red Wheelbarrow or Village Voice – Smiths are the mostly likely to have a signed copy in stock, if you fancy one of those…

    Comment by petite — May 15, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  6. What a wonderful life lesson to have learned! (memo to self… must not show bottom in restaurants…)

    Comment by girlwiththemask — May 15, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  7. ‘For seeking the approval of her peers’ is going on on and on in our life this feeling and starts so early this urgent feeling to be accepted’

    Comment by penelope — May 15, 2008 @ 11:35 am

  8. My 4 year old daughter, Daisy, is going through a booty wiggling phase. Fortunately this is only indoors, and she usually slaps her derriere with glee as she draws it to my attention.

    Comment by Bills — May 15, 2008 @ 11:48 am

  9. Pauvre Tadpole… the school of “live and learn” strikes again. Of course when she’s in college she might moon someone again someday, most likely as the result of a drunken dare. But I think you made your point quite well and she’ll probably keep it covered until then. Love the updated banner, BTW!

    Comment by The Bold Soul — May 15, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  10. PS the other day Georges had to speak to his little boy (age 6 1/2) about scratching himself “down there” in public when Georges caught the boy with his hand down his pants. So if it’s not one thing, it’s another. He’s still at an age where he loves tearing through the house naked at bath time but now he covers himself with one hand if I’m anywhere in the vicinity! (His shyness is apparently reserved for me and his older sister but not his nanny or his papa. Nice to know he’s already being selective about who he flashes, at least!)

    Comment by The Bold Soul — May 15, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  11. Oh this brings back memories… I grew up in a really warm and loving family, but the children at school were quite cruel, and I just never understood why they would be mean to me – although I did have the good sense to decline when a ‘friend’ told me to stick my finger in a rapidly spinning fan because she wanted to see what would happen!

    Comment by Marjolein — May 15, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  12. I’m sure it’s something many children do – I am told that there were occasions when, as a child, I would insist on only wearing wellies, or on taking all my clothes off in the middle of some National Trust property of other. No harm done, just very embarrassed parents!

    Comment by Hannah — May 15, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  13. “‘At home it’s different,’ I say firmly. ‘Outside there are different rules……because I’m your mummy.’”

    When you say that phrase, “Because I’m your mummy.” do you chuckle a little to yourself? I mean after all, you have just become your mother. (Mind you, not in totality, but I think you get the gist of what I mean.)

    I was talking with a friend the other day with a friend, and she scolded her 10 year-old daughter for something she had done. She then said to me, “I cannot believe that I just my daughter ‘Because I said so!’ My mother said that to me all the time and I hated it.”

    Perhaps we are more like our parents, kids or not, than we care to realize?

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — May 15, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  14. BTW, love the new banner……good PR for the book……

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — May 15, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

  15. At least you don’t have a boy, my little man takes his out all over the place. After living back in England for a year, I still have to tell him to use a toilet and not just wee up a tree, car, wall etc.. An umpleasant habit he picked up in France!

    Comment by Anglaise Anna — May 15, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  16. Hee! This little anecdote has gotten my day off to a good start.

    Comment by Halcyon — May 15, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  17. #3: Kids these days are rather mean and cruel at times

    It’s nothing new. Kids have always had the capacity to be mean and cruel (especially little girls), and they always will.

    Comment by Passante — May 15, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  18. Oh well, I find mooning to be an intrinsically British thing to do!
    Wait until she moves to the UK, becomes a student up North and has a couple of snakebites too many… Then and only then is when you start to worry, hee hee! :)

    Comment by obviously childless — May 15, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  19. Absolutely lovely!
    I especially appreciated the last sentence… :-)

    Comment by alcessa — May 15, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  20. Another one who has recently finished reading your book! Hearing all about when you were an assistante reminded me of my own year abroad in Le Mans. It was far too easy to get stuck in the ‘international community’ rut. Looking forward to the novel…

    Comment by mrsB — May 15, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  21. Our Littloe Ducks do it regularly. Usually accompanied with a ‘bum chicka waa waa’

    Lynx has a lot to answer for!

    Comment by Duck — May 15, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

  22. Wouldn’t you love to have seen it happening! It must have been very funny.

    Comment by Passante — May 15, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  23. two decades ago, I was cast as the lion in the zoo at daycare. I was put under a laundry basket and the visitors came to look at. When one of them put their fingers in the cage (which you are absolutely not supposed to do), I bit them. That is what lions do, and I was a lion.

    It still smarts that I got into trouble over that. Poor Tadpole.

    Comment by -b. — May 15, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  24. Poor Tadpole! At my school it would have been considered hilariously funny to do that – all the coolest kids mooned when they were little.

    Comment by Marianne — May 15, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  25. This reminded me of the time when my friend and I decided to take the children to the pub on a hot summers day, we left them happily playing in the beer garden whilst we went inside to order more drinks. On waiting my turn to be served I was watching the CCTV screen behind the bar, when horror of horrors there was a bare bottom staring back at me, aimed directly at the camera!! I recognised it immediately as my 6 year old sons. I was mortified.
    Kids!!! Who would have them?

    Comment by Posh int Harrogate — May 15, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  26. What an absolutely lovely post! And how I, being a mother of a small little girl, relate to every word of it… Gorgeous, heart warming piece of writing. As a matter of fact, you’ve just convinced me to buy your book :-)
    Keep going.

    Comment by Claudia — May 15, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  27. Love the new banner!

    Comment by Nataliya — May 15, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  28. Hi,

    I read your book a few weeks ago. Not only did I really enjoy it, but I loved that I could then come and find your blog and the story continues in such a well-written fashion!

    Also made me want to revisit Paris… which I’m now doing in 3 weeks! So thank you!

    Comment by L.C.T. — May 15, 2008 @ 6:49 pm

  29. Who’d want to be a four year old again!

    Comment by Babycakes — May 15, 2008 @ 7:41 pm

  30. haha oh how cute and very well handled by yourself :o) xx

    Comment by Emmie — May 15, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

  31. hi petite, i just bought the next to the last copy (signed) of your book at whsmith on rue de rivoli this afternoon. it was one thing on my list of to do while i’m in paris this week. mission accomplished! :)

    Comment by epikuryooz — May 15, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

  32. This reminded me of when the kids were little …Kyle now 21 had a thing for eating his petit filous with the handle end of the spoon rather than the bowl ….& why you may ask he’d seen the little boy on the tv ad doing & thought it was the norm…..Mother here hastily on the phone to ITV standards to find I was the only person to complain * gulps *… Thankfully Kyles clever trick didnt last long …I can even take him to the pub now lol…..

    Sooz x

    Comment by Soozyuk — May 16, 2008 @ 2:46 am

  33. Oh no, bring back the old banner, made it feel much less ‘corporate’. Loved that photo.

    Comment by Adam — May 16, 2008 @ 4:11 am

  34. It’s a temporary re-branding, don’t worry!

    Comment by petite — May 16, 2008 @ 7:52 am

  35. I had very similar yesterday on way home from school(though Lashes is 6 and should know better).
    “Maman, my zizi needs fresh air [lowering shorts in threatening fashion]”
    “No, it doesn’t, it gets air through your slip”
    “Yes it does, lovely fresh air [takes zizi out and mimes it gasping for air]”
    “Lashes, if one of those big nasty mouettes sees your zizi they will think it is a sausage and come and bite it off”
    “My zizi will fight the mouette with a ninja coup de pied” [mimes zizi ninja fighting, getting a mental picture? Yes, I fear so]
    This from the child who was known for his first year at maternelle as “le garçon qui a fait caca au milieu de la cour”. Oh yes.

    Comment by Jaywalker — May 16, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  36. Life lesson, indeed. Excellent style of exposition, I noticed it.

    Comment by maximus — May 16, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  37. I am not feeling very well right now. My throat is like having a sand paper inside, I have a running nose and I am lacking 4 hours of sleep. But when I read your post, it somehow lightens my day. I really love your posts. Keep them coming! By the way, this is my blog. I hope you will find time to visit it. I was inspired by you, too inspired that I got a blog for me too. :-)

    Comment by MetropolisMom — May 16, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

  38. I like the banner, I liked the picture too, but in a way the new banner has a more amusing feel, like the blog itself. You may as well use it wince the book is so current at the moment.
    I imagine you must be pretty busy as you haven’t posted so regularly! Oh! the life of an ‘Author’.

    I think it has to be said that people (including kids apparently) make too much fuss these days. When my son was four he regularly went around Hyde Park without bottoms on and no one batted an eye. Now you’d be arrestd for child abuse! (He is 18 now, my son)! Children are always fascinated by bottoms!

    Comment by scribble — May 16, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  39. Just found ‘petite’s paris’ – brilliant idea, if only I’d seen it before I went last weekend, even though most of my time was spent at the b/f’s parents in suburbia…

    Comment by jacqui — May 16, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  40. Great post! I’m also really enjoying reading the ‘exploits’ of the other readers/other readers’ children. Good way to end the week!

    Comment by Karen — May 16, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

  41. Everytime I open your blog or spot the book at home I start counting the days until I will be back in Paris! (Not until November, very frustrating!!) The very mention of rue de rivoli is enough to make me check my diary!!! I’m running out of supplies from Sephora!

    Comment by Rois — May 16, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  42. I finished reading your book a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it! I did not notice any particularly disturbing selfishness or “dislike Catherine”. On the contrary!

    My only grudge is that the book ended far too soon. Next time, 682 pages please! :-)

    I’m fine with the new banner. Nice colours!

    I remember reading a story about some African tribal women, who were told to cover their normally bare breasts during an important state visit. The women lined the streets and waited patiently, and as soon as they they caught sight of the approaching car convoy they did as they had been told and hauled up their skirts to cover their breasts while the state guests passed by! Granted they were not wearing much of anything underneath their skirts either, but no-one had given them any instructions about that particular detail!

    Your daughter is in good company! :-)

    Comment by Johanna — May 16, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

  43. Awh the poor thing. I know at that I probably would have done anything I was dared to also

    Comment by Java — May 16, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  44. Am I the only person who prefers the old banner for her blog with the photo from Petite’s first flat? I don’t much like this US-ified version…

    Comment by Teaperson — May 16, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  45. Imagine trying to explain mooning as a non-physical form of defiance later on in life?! And on another note, sadly, my knees are still, and seemingly perpetually, surrounded by little rolls of fat!

    Comment by Tamara ModernGear TV — May 16, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  46. Oh me too, I miss the old banner! It had this bellevillesque charme and was your own… And here is Paris in the eyes of an American tourist, or “à la sauce Hollywood” if you prefer. It’s my humble opinion, but… please don’t become a marketing product! Stay the independant yourself everybody loves here!

    Comment by arevik — May 16, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  47. I dig the banner, although the hazy look to the old one is preferable. Gotta make that money though! Looking forward to your US debut!!

    Comment by Leslie — May 16, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  48. I think the new banner looks great! I’m so glad the book will be in the U.S. soon. Can’t wait!

    Comment by Jenny — May 16, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

  49. Je ne suis pas certaine que la naïveté de ta petite grenouille soit si grande, la tienne peut-être ?
    Pour m’être fait embobiner des milliards de fois par plus petit que moi, je suis devenue suspicieuse…

    Comment by marie-hélène — May 16, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

  50. I’m curious why you mentioned the little girl’s ethnicity when you have doesn’t done so in describing other people (as far as I remember).

    Comment by A Seattleite in Paris — May 16, 2008 @ 11:39 pm

  51. Sweet Jesus,

    Give the kid a break. You’re destroying her future life for the sake of smiles now.

    Please stop.


    Comment by Joe — May 17, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  52. Great post!

    As an aside, as a bookseller – I can’t wait until the US release. I get as much pleasure hand selling and recommending great titles as I do reading them, and I know yours will be a great read.

    Comment by mrs. bee — May 17, 2008 @ 2:34 am

  53. @49 – er, it was just a description? Perhaps in the age of political correctness I’m not allowed to do that?

    Comment by petite — May 17, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  54. I personally did not even notice that you singled out one child’s ethnicity. What I did notice was that I had a vivid image of the little girl. Please don’t turn so super PC on us that we lose the visions you try to relate to us.

    For those of us who are white and live in a predominantly white world, I’m sure we visualize people in print as also white without thinking about it. By describing the color of this little girl, you are supplying us with a more accurate visual image of reality. What if you had said she was tall and thin (or similar to how you described your own daughter), or short and fat? Would many take offense? Would it be better just to imagine some vague indistinct blob of a child?

    The PC world tries to make everybody seem to come from one basic mold (sometimes even unisex), when in reality we are supposed to be acknowledging each person’s individuality. Come on, folks, you just can’t have it both ways. And I prefer the colorful (no pun intended) descriptions you provide, one of the things you are most noted for.

    Please don’t stop.

    Comment by azurienne — May 17, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  55. The new banner is nice, so was the old one, as I’m sure whatever new one you come up will be. You’ve been promoting your book, the US version is one of the next ones to come out, people supposedly liked the cover of that one, so it’s nice to see what the whole thing would look like. It’s a classy banner. Different from what you had, but since when were you wanting to stagnate?

    Life is full of too many choices and opportunities, so often it’s not a good idea to change, so why not play around with something totally unharmful?

    Comment by azurienne — May 17, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  56. Love the distinctive new banner. It’s much more eye-catching and sophisticated (to me anyway) than the old one — though I do have the same reaction I did to it as a book cover: Isn’t it rather sexist that the man is clothed and you appear to be naked other than the f***-me stilettos?

    Comment by Passante — May 17, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  57. I had to explain to my three year old that it was not a good idea to put his willy into his toy car this morning. “But mummy I’m just being the petrol pump”. ;-)

    Comment by Catherine — May 17, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

  58. We walk a find line trying to teach our children not to be ashamed of their bodies while remembering what’s acceptable to show in public, eh?

    Tell her the next time another child dares her to do something to say, “I will if you do it first!” And then don’t do it!

    I like both banners.

    Comment by Dawn — May 17, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

  59. That is too funny. My son does these same thing, only he flashed his front. He said the same thing to us,”Why was it funny at home?”

    Comment by Mad William — May 17, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  60. My sympathies are with Tadpole. At her age, how can one expect to keep all the complex taboos of two separate cultures clear in one’s mind?

    I don’t think her comment could have been improved: ‘Because Edith did tell me to do it!’ said Tadpole, scowling. ‘And then I did get into trouble, and not her. It’s not fair.’

    It wasn’t, and I suspect you have taught her to think Yorkshire like that.

    Comment by John Norris — May 18, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  61. @ johanna 41 – it was a protest quite recently in Ghana by women against being sent back to Côte d’Ivoire, so not quite as charming as you depict, unless the protest was inspired by the anecdote you quote.
    On a more serious but related note, W African women have a far healthier attitude to their bodies than we do, especially here (in France) where there is so much concern about future obesity, yet anorexia is seen as virtually normal.
    Before I get any snide comments, yes I am a bit chubby, and all bar two of my French friends are stick-insects, with, to my mind, an unhealthy attitude that they have to stay thin, despite producing children and gourmet meals, to keep hubby happy. Several claim to be jealous of me for having such an understanding husband – WTF?!

    Comment by j — May 18, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

  62. My anecdote was from colonial times; the important state visitors were British, as I recall, with somewhat fussy attitudes towards the customs of African native women.

    Comment by Johanna — May 19, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  63. I’m blessed with a body I’m somewhat proud of.

    Comment by Trevor — May 19, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  64. Petite: I love your explanation of the ways of the world. It put a smile on my face!

    Comment by Kat — May 19, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

  65. Salut!
    I’ve just finished your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been in Paris with my husband (Scottish not French – Mr Haggis?!) for a little over a year and loved reading about your experiences here. Your writing is so frank and witty while at times heartfelt and moving.
    I’m looking forward to reading your continuing adventures on your blog.

    Comment by une petite ecossaise in Paris — May 21, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  66. @57 – hilarious!

    wait till she starts saying/repeating inappropriate things. My mother loves to tell the story of my little sister, aged 4, telling a dinner guest and good friend of my parents “Joesephine, you have a mustache like my Daddy!” (which she did incidently) at the top of her voice. No recovering from that.

    Comment by Susie — May 21, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  67. Your post made one of my very few childhood memories spring to mind. I was still in kindergarten and remember being dared to not only moon my peers but to go and stand still by the railings in that position – under no circumstances was I allowed to move. In my child’s mind, I was there for an eternity while my peers had long gone back to class. I don’t know who found me nor what happened next. All I can remember is the distress within.

    Comment by Ariel — May 21, 2008 @ 11:32 pm

  68. Interestingly we had a similar thing with Felix when he was Tadpole’s age. At parents’ evening we were told how he was quite sensitive and they managed to find a tactful way of saying that he was easily manipulated by his peers, who would get him to do stuff he wouldn’t do otherwise. A year on, that phase seems to be over. We and the teachers told him it was OK to say no to his friends, and maybe it was just an added year of life experience to bolster his self confidence, but it no longer seems to be a problem.

    Comment by Clare — May 26, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

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