petite anglaise

February 4, 2009


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:57 am

It’s almost bedtime and having just popped a decidedly honeymoon bikini-unfriendly gratin into the oven, I’m putting my feet up for a moment. Tadpole pads out of the bathroom wearing a towel, her hair gathered up into a curly knot on top of her head.

For the past two months, the next part of our evening routine consisted of Tadpole lying on the sofa while I rasped away at the sole of her right foot with an emery board, applied an acid preparation and covered my handiwork in adhesive dressings. But, thankfully, the verruca cluster on her right heel is history now. So when Tadpole slides her bottom onto the sofa by my side, we can devote the last few minutes of her day to more pleasant activities, like reading stories together or just shooting the breeze.

‘How many sleeps is it until theatre class?’ says Tadpole innocently. ‘Is it two more, or is it three?’

‘Three,’ I reply, darting her an amused look. ‘Why do you ask? Are you looking forward to getting Leonardo all to yourself?’

Tadpole blushes. Leonardo is her playground crush. Jules, her amoureux of the first two years of maternelle had the misfortune to be allocated to a different class when they both moved up to the grande section in September. He’s only just a along the corridor nowadays, but this minor geographical shift has made a world of difference. I fully understand, never having been much good at long-distance relationships myself. Loin des yeux, loin du coeur as they say.

Leonardo, on the other hand, is not only in Tadpole’s class but also attends her Friday evening éveil théâtral activity, at a nearby centre d’animation. There they slither along the floor pretending to be snakes, stand immobile side by side with their arms stretched to the ceiling being trees and, according to the teacher, are pretty much joined at the hip.

‘Last time at theatre class,’ Tadpole confides, ‘Leonardo did give me a kiss on the cheek. He said that I have extremely very soft skin and he told me that I’m pretty when I take off my glasses…’ She frowns. ‘But Mummy,’ she adds, ‘when we’re at school, he says he loves Suzanne most of all. And in the cour de recréation today, he did hold her hand.’

‘But what about Nina?’ I say, puzzled. ‘I thought Nina was his school girlfriend, and you were his theatre class girlfriend.’ It is to be hoped that my apparent acceptance of this unusual situation is not paving the way for Tadpole to willingly participate in a ménage-à-trois when she is older.

Tadpole shakes her head. ‘He changed his mind about Nina,’ she explains. ‘Because she chose Raphaël to be her king when we ate the galette des rois.’

picture by Tadpole

I am reminded of when we cut into our own galette at home, just after the New Year. By devious means, I made sure Tadpole ate the slice containing the fève. When the time came to choose her king, however, she protested that she didn’t have a real choice, The Boy being the only male present and startled us all by choosing one of her soft toy frogs instead. The irony of this – although Tadpole has no idea I call her father Mr Frog on this blog – was not entirely lost on me.

‘Well,’ I say to Tadpole, casting around for something wise-sounding to say. ‘If Leonardo doesn’t appreciate you all the time, it’s his loss. One day, when you are much older, you’ll have a real boyfriend. Someone who only wants to hold your hand.’

‘But Mummy,’ Tadpole protests. ‘I am grown up. I’m five years old! And Leonardo is REAL.’

Oh, he’s real alright, I think to myself. And he’s well on his way to becoming a Real Player.

January 6, 2009

words of wisdom

Filed under: Tadpole rearing, Tadpole says — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:32 am

Tadpole and I hurry along the cobbled street, hand in hand, trying to avoid the patches of black ice that have formed overnight. An anxious glance at my watch reveals that it is 8.28, and I quicken my pace.

Tadpole is chattering nineteen to the dozen about the coming day at school. ‘We’re going to do a travail que j’aDORE,’ she says, making me rather nostalgic for a time when I could feel such simple, strong emotions (and also for a time when ‘work’ consisted of doing a spot of colouring in without straying over the lines). ‘The maîtresse has made some sheets with a 2009 on,’ Tadpole continues, ‘and inside every number there’s the beginning of a pattern. And we have to take a different coloured pen for each number, and continue the pattern, and then at the bottom it’s written ‘Bonne Année!’ with a big point d’exclamation, and we have to copy it, to practise how to do writing on a line, and then…’

Meanwhile, I am making a to-do list in my head. I need to edit at least three chapters before dinnertime. I must pop by the pharmacy to pick up my folic acid. It’s market day on boulevard de Belleville, and I compile a mental shopping list (peppers, mushrooms, clementines, kiwi fruit (Tadpole’s favourite), bananas and broccoli). I ought to try and finalise some tentative plans for our coming weekend in Yorkshire, assuming the black ice and minus double figure temperatures expected in Paris later this week don’t ground our plane and scupper our plans altogether. I need to fix the dodgy starter sparky thing on the gas hobs and get a battery for the torch so that if I manage to trip the fusebox again, like I did yesterday, I don’t end up running around in the dark looking for matches while Tadpole attempts to eat her dinner in the dark, with predictably messy results. I need to give UK bank details to my agents, because if they take it into their heads to send any advance money over to me in France at the current exchange rate, I think I will cry.

‘MUMMY!’ shouts Tadpole, her eyes flashing with anger. ‘You’re not LIST-EN-ING to me, are you?’

‘I am!’ I protest, untruthfully. ‘You were saying how much you were looking forward to working on your 2009 picture! It sounded great. I was listening and thinking at the same time.’

‘No you weren’t,’ says Tadpole firmly. ‘You only listened to the beginning. You’re not IN-TER-EST-ED Mummy. You don’t really CARE about my 2009…’

I curse the day Tadpole became so scarily perceptive. There’s no pulling the wool over her eyes any more. Whereas I can still fool The Boy – punctuating his lengthy, blow by blow accounts of poker games with a few strategic ‘mmm’s’ or the occasional ‘mouais‘ without him seeming any the wiser – Tadpole has an uncanny talent for knowing precisely when and why my attention has strayed and pulls me up on it, every single time.

And that’s not all. ‘When you say “Mmm” it doesn’t mean “no” or “yes” or anything,’ she explained to me the other day. ‘It just means you’re not really listening. And when you say “we’ll see”, you really mean “no”.’

‘And how about when I say we’ll do something later?’ I enquire, wondering if my arsenal is now completely empty.

‘Well,’ says Tadpole, furrowing her brow. ‘Later is more difficult. It can means lots of things. Sometimes it means “in a little while”. Sometimes it means “the day after the next day”.’ She pauses, and for a moment I think I may just have got away with this one.

‘But usually,’ she adds sagely, ‘if you say we’ll do something later, you mean never.’

October 8, 2008


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:17 am

I take out Tadpole’s carnet de santé, the notebook which was presented to me at the hospital when she was born, in which doctors record the reason for every visit and the fill in the vaccinations she’s received. The entries within are sparse, to say the least. This is partly because Tadpole has enjoyed remarkably good health since she was a baby, and partly because I don’t feel the need to have every sniffle or short-lived tummy bug checked out, given that, in my experience, doctors here have an alarming tendency to over-prescribe. Especially antibiotics.

‘Any serious illnesses or operations to report?’ the school doctor asks, flicking through the pages and tutting when she sees that the double page set aside for a reporting the results of a general check up, aged four, remains blank. At a guess, I’d say the doctor is in her fifties. She’ll only ever see us for this one compulsory visit and apparently thinks this eliminates the need for niceties. Her manner is brusque, her voice clipped as short as her greying hair.

‘Um, she had a fall and split open her lip about eighteen months ago,’ I reply. ‘We were in England at the time, so there’s no record in the book. It was glued together at casualty… It seems to have healed really well.’

‘They used glue?!’ The doctor raises her eyebrows ceilingwards. I toy with the idea of ingratiating myself to her by making a snide comment about the NHS, pandering to her obvious feelings of superiority over English doctors. ‘It was surgical glue,’ I murmur instead, just in case the doctor thinks the incompetent English might have used pritt stick. But the doctor is already busy running her biro down the list of vaccinations at the back of the book, and gives no sign that she’s even heard me.  ‘I have a prescription for her second MMR jab,’ I interject, seeing her frowning at the blank space next to the family doctor’s pencilled-in reminder that a rappel would be due in 2007/8. I can hear defensiveness creeping into my voice. I’m starting to feel like I’m on trial; my ability to bring up a healthy, happy child called into question.

During the hearing test, my heart sinks into my shiny ballerina pumps. Tadpole, dwarfed by a huge pair of headphones, repeatedly giggles and repeats ‘je n’entends rien‘ when sounds are piped into her left ear. The doctor inspects further and finds a large blockage. ‘There’s a lump of hard matter obstructing her ear canal and seriously impairing her hearing,’ she tells me, sternly. ‘Has your daughter ever had a serious ear infection?’ I reply that she’s only had one, that I know of, and she was one at the time. The doctor looks doubtful, and asks me whether I often have to repeat things to my daughter in conversation.

‘Well… sometimes,’ I admit. ‘But you know how it is at this age… It’s hard to differentiate between whether she’s not listening or she can’t hear. Half the time she’s caught up in her own little imaginary world and just ignores me…’

‘Well, you’ll have to get that obstruction removed,’ says the doctor, ‘and test her hearing again afterwards. We need to know whether this impairment is caused by the blockage or due to some other defect.’ I nod, mutely.

When it comes to the eye test, I feel more confident. After all, how many mothers have been taking their daughters to see an optician on a regular basis since the age of 12 months? Mindful of the fact that I got my first pair of NHS standard issue glasses at the tender age of four, I’ve had Tadpole’s eyes tested several times. At the end of our last visit, we were told there was no need for any action, and we should return in not one, but two year’s time.

‘Well, my test says she’s 9.5 in the right eye and 7.5 in the left,’ says the doctor, curtly. ‘When did you last visit this optician you mention?’ I leaf through the carnet de santé and realise the optician must have kept her own records in parallel. There’s no record of these visits whatsoever. It’s as though she never even existed.

We leave the school doctor’s office with two referrals. One to see an ear, nose and throat specialist and the other to see an optician. I feel utterly dejected. I walked into the room feeling reasonably confident in my abilities as a mother and walked out, half an hour later, feeling like I was guilty of criminal neglect.

I accompany Tadpole back up to her classroom, pausing just outside the door to give her a fiercely tight hug and whisper something in her left ear.

‘Did you say something, mummy? I didn’t hear you?’ Tadpole looks puzzled. I repeat myself in her right ear and she smiles.

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.

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