Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery

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There’s a Place In France … (Part 2)

A friend who’d flown to Australia with her infant sent me off to France with her Flyebaby. Once in the air, I was glad that I had printed the instructions, as the set-up is not intuitive. It was definitely a good option for some hands-and-lap-free time en route. However, its true usefulness was to be discovered when we landed.

4. High Chair is Not Part of French Vocabulary. In the entire month we spent travelling in southern France, Ladybug sat in one high chair. The restaurant offering the chair, I think it was La Marina – though the restaurants along the Hérault in Agde all sort of blur together, advertised its availability by placing a beautifully patinated wooden affair on the quay. The siren, surely designed to beckon weary parents in search of travel respite, combined with the woman who greeted us and announced the special of the day, was all the encouragement we needed. Had I not brought the Flyebaby, I would have spent every other meal for a month with Ladybug on my lap.

Of course, the stroller might work as a meal seat for the child who does not demand to sit at the big kids’ table. Another option to which I have availed myself in a pinch is the ever useful swaddling blanket. I have used one to bind Ladybug to the chair back with great success, by wrapping it over her tummy, around the chair and tying it in back.

5. Travel Insurance is Essential When Bringing Bébé.
Once we had settled into our damp, somewhat smelly, three hundred year old rental accommodation, it became apparent that Ladybug was not only jet-lagged and unsure of her new pied à terre, she was teething and sick. To this point in her short life, she had no teeth and had never had even the slightest sniffle. Trust international travel to bring out the worst all at once!

After a week of sleepless nights and days of fording a relentless snot river, my mother insisted we find a doctor. I returned to the pharmacist who had deftly diagnosed my bad hair and recommended a product cure. He assured me that a doctor was in order, saying he could see Ladybug had an infection by looking at the puffiness under her eyes and encouraging me to at least suction the snot from her salinated nose using a modified straw that he plucked from a shelf in the rhinal section of the shop. After paying for the sucker and engaging in a round of profusely polite parting pleasantries, we were off in search of medical help.

When we arrived at the last address on the list, we were pleased to find a doctor who worked on the weekends in the off-season. We entered the building and were directed by the receptionist to climb to the next floor. No names were exchanged, no questions asked. Upon arriving upstairs, we discovered two waiting rooms for two different doctors. There was no receptionist, just people sitting quietly and patiently. I went back down to speak to the woman at the desk who told me to return upstairs and wait with no further explanation. We picked the room with less people and sat down. A few minutes later a doctor appeared in a white coat and asked for the next patient. A man stood and followed him to his office. There were no arguments or discussions about who was next or whose problem was most acute, everyone waited their turn.

When we were ushered into the doctor’s office, he indicated that we should sit on the other side of an imposing wooden desk from him. He inquired as to our particular complaint, made some notes and invited us over to the examination table. He looked in Ladybug’s ears and throat, and felt her glands, speaking only to direct me to change her positioning. When I asked a question, he held his hand up in the universally accepted “stop” position and asked me to reserve my questions for after he had given his prognosis and prescription. We returned to the desk where he wrote up four prescriptions and asked for 28 euros for his time.

Though your child may be hale and hearty, lack of sleep, change of climate and hours of breathing recirculated, disease-filled airplane air may bring on an illness. Additionally, new countries mean new germs that you and your child may not have the antibodies for. Think ahead, get travel insurance, and bring along some basic first aid supplies such as children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen (pain, fever), and children’s antihistamine (bug bites, allergies).

6. Have Fun!
The reason we travel, for the most part, is to enjoy ourselves and have new experiences. Almost every experience you throw at a small child whilst on the road will be new, try to ensure that the experiences are as enjoyable as possible by planning your activities with your child in mind.

Most toddlers, for example, will not want to spend the day at the Louvre but you may be able to squeeze in an hour or two, with snack breaks, with few protests. Most adults’ idea of personal hell is spending their precious time and hard earned coin at EuroDisney. As I mentioned earlier, there are many wonderful sights, sounds and smells to be had for free or next-to-nothing. Follow the French lead and pack a picnic lunch from the amazing variety of delicious foods available everywhere you turn, eat in a park, at the beach or along a river and take in the natural beauty of one of the world’s favourite travel destinations.

Some of my best memories are of playing in the sand and water at the Mediterranean with Ladybug or feeding the ducks along the Midi Canal our day-old bread. Slow down the pace, stop to smell the flowers and enjoy your time with your little one – having a strict agenda is bound to make for stress-filled and unhappy travel.

For older children and parents with a less restrictive budget and little planning time, there are many wonderful packaged, family-designed tours out there. For example, the American company Butterfield & Robinson offers some phenomenal, educational biking tours in France.

No matter where you go and what you decide to do, you are bound to have a lovely time in France. There is a reason that North Americans have been spending time there for centuries – go discover why for yourself!

Agde, France

Agde, France

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There’s a Place In France … (Part 1)

A friend of mine is heading to Europe for an extended visit with her twin infants and has asked for ideas of things to do while in France. Much has been written about France, travel and children. What immediately came to mind was Todd Babiak’s 2010 Learning French column from the Edmonton Journal. A serial account of family life in France simply doesn’t get much funnier, truer, and more whimsical. Alas, a quick search on the Journal’s site returns next-to-nothing. My next thought was Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. This book represents the fruit of Gopnik’s dispatches from France to the New Yorker. Lately, there’s been an awful lot made, perhaps too much?, of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. A personal favourite, though it has nothing to with children at all, is David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Any of the above will give you an introduction to the French from a North American’s perspective.

I have made many pilgrimages to France over the years, both with and sans baby, and have yet to have had a terrible time. My last visit was in September and October 2012. I travelled solo with Ladybug and made the mistake of using points. My 23 hour journey went like this: Edmonton – Heathrow – Frankfurt – Toulouse. By the time we got to the airport hotel in Toulouse, Ladybug had a meltdown the likes of which I had never seen and hope never to see again. It lasted for 2 hours and I hadn’t slept in two days. You get the picture, I’m sure. Which brings me to my first tip:

1. Know thyself and thy child. If you have never travelled with your child, have never travelled far with your child, have never crossed time zones with your child, or have never been on a plane with your child, make it easy on yourself. Book the flight with the least amount of stops. Bring an adult companion with you. Ask for a seat at the bulkhead or one with an extra seat open next to it. A perfectly rational child may become a snivelling mess when a mile high. You may become a three-headed monster when seriously sleep-deprived. The only way to know how you and your child will travel is to go travelling.

Once we got on the train to Agde the next morning, we were both slightly more composed. The train is an excellent way to travel in France and many parts of Europe. It also eliminates the need to lug around a carseat.

2. Kids are currency with French public services, if you can find the right information. Before we left, I did a fair amount of research on train travel. I purchased something called the Carte Enfant+ for 75 euros. It is available to children under 12 and is valid for one year from the start date of usage. The card entitles the child card-bearer to a free seat on the train when accompanied by an adult. It also entitles up to 4 people to accompany the child and receive a minimum of 25% off their fares and up to 50% off certain journeys. These people do not have to be related to the child and can be of any age. My parents qualified for seniors’ pricing but this card proved more economical than the seniors’ discount. Certain trains even have Espaces Familles which are like your own private room reserved for families. For more information, click here.

Children under 18 are admitted free to most national monuments and museums in France. If you are planning to visit a lot of sites there are multi-day passes available to adults that really cut costs. However, if you are there in the late spring, summer or early fall, there are many lovely outdoor opportunities that won’t cost you a cent. Walk the lavender markets in Provence, stroll along the Seine in Paris … but leave your stroller at home.

3. Be prepared to get some serious exercise. As anyone who has ever been in the metro in Paris or any train station in France will tell you, accessibility is a huge problem. Many stations have stairs, stairs everywhere and not an escalator in sight. I brought an amazing, light umbrella stroller for my mother to use with Ladybug. It was a pain in the airport, on the plane, on the train, on the cobblestones, in pubs … you get the picture. I did see French women blithely pushing their progeny is strollers whilst sucking on cigarettes, in skinny jeans and stilettos, but I found it much easier to navigate with my carrier and sensible shoes. I definitely did not see anyone anywhere with those gigantic “jogging” strollers women here are so fond of.

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Pre-Christmas Blues

Ladybug and I have been sick for the last couple of days. This means a few things: not sleeping well, not leaving the house, and clinging. Yesterday I tried everything in my power to fight the clinginess. I used my bright, cheerful voice, sang along to the radio, pointed out various exciting toys, read stories, and served delicious snacks. By the end of the day I was exhausted and frustrated, and my little lady was more clingy than ever. I had forgotten the (possibly) most important parenting lesson of all: go with the flow, especially when dealing with a non-verbal, teething toddler. This dawned on me last night as I watched my sad baby fling her little body against the hardwood in a final, passionate plea for me to hold her. Again.

I was determined that today should be different. Upon waking, I got the Ergo carrier ready for the hip holding position. With the first whine of the day, I popped Ladybug in. We were able to make 2 dozen sugar cookies with virtually no complaint. I will say that rolling out dough was a little slower but I am pleased with the results nonetheless.

Last month, I decided to ramp up my holiday stress a couple of notches by hosting a one year old birthday party for Ladybug on December 22. Hence, my push to bake and clean and ignore my daughter’s protests.

Fortunately, a friend who is a dedicated vegan let me in on her amazing cookies secret: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I have yet to fail with the help of this book. I have even made celiac-friendly vegan cookies using the sage advice offered by the authors (who also have an excellent website full of delicious recipes here). The cookies I made today featured the Red Fife flour I bought from Gold Forest Grains last month. This flour is truly delicious and worth every penny. It has a slightly cinnamony flavour that really enhances baking.

When the baking was done, I was able to do some tidying and make some tea. As I sat in the living room with my baby latched to my breast, I looked around and thought things didn’t look so bad after all. We were able to continue the day with few tears and a great deal of connectedness.

If I can manage to go with the flow when it comes to holiday stress, I think I might just make it to 2013.


A little 12/12/12 humour

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Living in the Now

A major and unnecessary part of my first few months as a new mother was spent poring over parenting books, websites, chat boards, magazines, etc. If it offered to unlock the secrets of the new world I had entered, I was willing to read it. Some of what I read was interesting, some thought provoking, some silly, and some downright scary. What did I learn from all this, you ask? Am I a certified platinum, five star mother now? Can I whisper to babies in three different infant dialects? No. I spent many nights, when I should have been sleeping, worrying. Did Ladybug have incurable reflux? Was she becoming securely attached? Did that beer I had at dinner lower her IQ?

I finally stopped and came to my senses after a conversation I had with one of the women I met at the Lucina Centre. She stunned me by telling me that she didn’t read anything, ever, about parenting. She explained that she just did what she felt was right in the moment. She used her motherly instinct. My mind was blown! I have all the tools I need to care for my baby.

What she said next cuts right to the heart of the parenting experience: it is a lesson in being present. Put down your cell phone, step away from the television, shelve your laptop and look your little one in the eye. What is he telling you? What does he need? The way to figure that out is to watch, to listen, and to feel.

There are many helpful sites and books out there, and sometimes it’s comforting to know that you are not alone in your journey. Being a new mother can be very isolating. However, it is also comforting to know that there is no one right answer, no one right way. Much like there is no one magical baby product that will solve all your problems, there is no one secret that will make parenting a breeze (if you’ve found it, though, please send me the information).

Something I have learned over the last twelve months is that, just when I think I’ve got something figured out (crying, naps, feeding, etc.), it changes. The best I can do is to try to keep up with all the changes, and stay present.

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You Have Everything You Need … Or Almost

My Ladybug turned one yesterday. It was a momentous occasion for so many reasons but chiefly because our little family survived the first year intact. So, hurray for us! Happy birthday, my lovely daughter!

The other day I was reminded of advice I got from my midwife, when I received a text asking about nursing covers (insert cute and gag-worthy brand name here) from a dear friend who has recently experienced the joy of childbirth and is proud mama to two beautiful twin boys. When I asked about what I should buy, in frenzied anticipation of my daughter’s arrival, my midwife said all I really needed was a car seat, a few outfits and some diapers. And, though I did buy many more receiving blankets than I needed and a used crib that is currently a gigantic laundry basket, I generally stuck to her advice.

Just because you can afford to doesn’t mean you should! There is a hugely wasteful, multibillion dollar industry out there designed to take new parents for everything they are worth. From the latest plastic doodad guaranteed to make your baby sleep sixteen hours straight to the organic cotton, designed in Canada, made in China layette that your little one definitely deserves, no new parent insecurity remains untouched. After a year with Ladybug, I can honestly say you do not need a tent engineered to hide your breast while you nurse. Use a receiving blanket, a swaddle, your sweater, the tablecloth or any other soft material lying nearby.

Which brings me to my bare necessities list for new parents (in colder climates): 5 sleepers, 5 onesies, a hat, a warm blanket, a car seat, 30 cotton or flannel rags for wipes, and 15 washable diapers. That’s it! If you have extra money to throw around, I suggest a wrap-style carrier, 2 swaddling blankets, and a medium size wetbag. Forget the fancy diaper bag, a backpack works just fine and is easier to carry. Don’t forget to check the classifieds – many people are unloading barely used or brand new items. Also, remember that friends and family are going to want to give you things. Lots and lots of things. Things you want and things you don’t. Plan accordingly!

In reality, you will likely not leave the house much in the first six weeks. What your baby needs at that time is you, your warmth, your milk, and lots of rest. What you need is lots of healthy food, lots of time in close contact with your new baby, and lots of rest.

You have everything you need. Trust yourself.