Monday, November 30, 2009

No Hips on Monday

Lucien came home from school Thanksgiving Day wearing pink underwear that said "Happy Flowers" on them. I doubt "post-nap underwear swap" is part of the curriculum so I have a suspicion this is related to Lucien's all-consuming quest for schooltime nudity.

It was a tough commute to Thanksgiving dinner. Since Alex was meeting us there, I walked single-parentedly with Coco in the baby wrap, a giant diaper bag hanging off my shoulder, Lucien hanging off my other arm and pulling a fully loaded shopping caddy.

And still, even in my completely loaded-down state, all sweaty and crazy-haired, many people cut in front of me within inches, oftentimes stopping RIGHT THERE to fix their scarf or look in a store window. I nearly mowed down a few Frenchies. I felt angry and not very thankful.

But Huzzah! for all us ex-pat Americans. We did a great job with our bastardized Thanksgiving cobbled together with foreign ingredients and a whole lot of can-do attitude. It was like Macgyver Thanksgiving full of jerry-rigged deliciousness. New York mom kicked butt in procuring the largest turkey in France. She cooked that twenty-pound monster to perfection with a little help from the Fahrenheit to Celsius converter bookmarked on her laptop.

The Loosh and his favorite lady friends


Classic Parisian apartment with classic Virginia dad


Lucien is blurry in almost every damn picture. The kid DOES NOT STOP MOVING.


Exhibit B


As the apartment filled with the scent of Thanksgiving foodstuffs, we fired up the Slingbox to watch the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. We watched a few small floats go by before one of the New York natives in the group asked, "Where the hell did the city go?" We squinted our eyes and agreed the parade was shot from a strange angle that seemed to make New York City disappear.

Lots of things were strange. With no attempt to hide them whatsoever, we could see the trucks pulling the floats. The balloons were a bunch of B-list cartoon characters such as Captain Underpants (who the hell is that???) One of the floats that went by was just a rickety half-pipe filled with skateboarders.

Gosh, maybe the budget for the parade was less this year? Times are tough for a lot of people so perhaps it's appropriate to scale back...

Wait a minute..... that looks like....

Detroit? Is that you?

New York couple's Slingbox is physically located at her parents' house in Michigan. (Don't make me get into how Slingbox works. Let's call it "magic" for expediency's sake) Thus we can only watch what Michigan parents can watch. We now know if you live near Detroit, the time slot usually reserved for the Macys parade is replaced with the Detroit version. It's a rag-tag, if strangely lovable, group of people.

Good for Detroit. If they can still rally and be thankful than anyone can. And it seemed somehow appropriate to watch the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade while celebrating Thanksgiving in France. Ass-backwardness everywhere.

Camille, as you can plainly see, is over the moon with Thanksgiving cheer


I took Camille to her ultrasound appointment today at the nearby ultrasound center. When I stepped up to the receptionist, she told me I was mistaken and our appointment was tomorrow. Tomorrow? That's weird. I distinctly remember asking for a Monday appointment.

No big deal. But since I was already there, I asked if there was an appointment available today? She scoffed and said, "No. Impossible. We don't do hips on Monday." I just stared at her for a minute because that's a stupid thing to say. Then I started singing "No Hips on Monday" to the tune of Duran Duran's "New Moon on Monday" in my head and that cracked me up.

I called Alex to complain as I left the office but didn't get much sympathy. "Every jackass in the country knows Monday is wrist day," said Al.

I walked to a cafe to ponder it all over a tiny espresso. The man sitting next to me in the cafe was having a beer. At 9:00am. He looked upset. He, too, probably wanted a hip ultrasound on a Monday.

Speaking of drinking by yourself, I did some of that over the weekend and have some stories to tell. But I've gotta go get the boy from school and can't wait to see what he's wearing.


Who IS Captain Underpants, mes choux?
MJ

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Frenchie Thanksgiving!

Le gobble gobble from Paris.

Even though we're mad at it from time to time, we miss the homeland during the holidays. We are thus giving thanks for our nearby friends in the same sad boat.

The ladies (the American ones, anyway) plus families will be gathering at New York mom's gorgeous apartment for Thanksgiving. I will be making midwestern cheesy potatoes ("midwestern" because the list of ingredients includes cream of mushroom soup and corn flakes. The Midwest raised me right.) I'm also responsible for the jar of cranberry sauce.

Sharp cheddar and cranberry sauce are elusive beasts in this town. I hit two grocery stores yesterday and best I could find was a small chunk of regular cheddar that costs a bazillion euros per kilo nestled in amongst the fancy white French cheeses. Since I'm not interested in making the most expensive cheesy potatoes in history, I skipped it and will substitute French cheeses. The pilgrims would be horrified. The Midwest may disown me.

The cranberry sauce is another matter. After being met with blank stares from grocery store employees when I asked for a sauce made of cranberries, (may have overhead one employee say to another, "What the hell is she smoking?" as I walked away) I had to face facts -- if I didn't want to wander around the city all day honing my pronunciation of canneberge, there was but one option left: The Real McCoy.

The Real McCoy is an American grocery store near Des Invalides. I've avoided it up to this point because I've heard it's the most expensive grocery store in the entire world. They get big kicks out of marking that Stovetop stuffing waaaaay up.

I walked (and walked and walked) with Coco in the baby wrap. I wasn't too impressed as we entered the store; the place is the size of a walk-in closet. And that's being generous. I mean, seriously, how great could this place be -- OH MY GOD YOU HAVE POP TARTS????

The tiny American grocery store was crammed full of stuff like marshmallows, Jell-o, Triscuits and Jiffypop. American food is crap! And I wanted it all. I am not going to admit what all I bought. I would like to say I stopped at the five euro jar of cranberry sauce but I did not. There may have been some Aunt Jemima products involved. And pay no attention to those Pop-tart crumbs down the front of my shirt...

So we will celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris tomorrow. New York mom has Slingbox so we can watch the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. I will sob as I watch the parade but that will not stop me from shoveling camembert and brie cheesy potatoes into my mouth.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
MJ

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mama almost got a beatdown by some Italians

Coco and I had our first girls' night out Friday. I wrapped her snugly in the baby wrap and went to New York mama's apartment with the other ladies where we ate sushi and drank this year's Beaujolais Nouveau (yeah, yeah, wine snobs, I get your point. But I still try it every year. Don't you thumb your nose at me, hey, I said DON'T! Oh, you make me so mad...)

Coco was awesome and is currently the top contender for "my favorite." She slept the entire time, thus allowing me to stay out until MIDNIGHT on a WEEKEND! It was a very good time. I can't give you details about what we ladies talked about since most of it is highly embarrassing. (Let's just say more than one of us have read the "Twilight" series. I will not say who because we are bound by a sacred blood oath that no one must ever break.)

I walked home that night, enjoying the slice of Parisian nightlife. Bodies everywhere. Music everywhere. Laughter and wine everywhere. I would love to say I totally fit in and joined the party but let's face it -- I was the weirdo walking through the party with a baby strapped to me at midnight.

We bought a Christmas tree over the weekend. Instead of heading down to the tree farm to pick out a live one, bringing it home strapped to the top of the car, we headed down to the department store to pick out a fake one, bringing it home in a box stuffed in my shopping caddy. We had every intention of buying the BIG fake one but after some huffing and puffing trying to fit the large box into the caddy and failing, we decided the small one would do just fine. Many inappropriate comments about size not mattering followed.

It's a shame I already bought five thousand ornaments in anticipation of a large tree. Our Charlie Brown Christmas tree will probably collapse under its own weight. I hope you're a fighter, little tree.

Drag that tiny tree home, Al, and Lucien, get out of the middle of the goddamn street.


On Sunday I attempted some more one-on-one time with my son. I took him out for lunch at a nice bistro reputed to have a separate menu just for their myriad of hot chocolate flavors. Sounds like a winner. And it WAS a winner for most of our meal.

We split a delicious egg, tomato and herb casserole and a creamy pasta with smoked salmon. We each ordered a hot chocolate. Mine was the "chili pepper" flavor. Lucien's was the normal kind because he's boring and a hot chocolate menu is completely wasted on him.

Lucien dipping his baguette into hot chocolate. The kid knows how to LIVE.


We were the first lunch customers and tucked ourselves into a corner by the window. It's very enjoyable to eat with Lucien when the restaurant is empty. We had a great mother/son chat about all the things troubling the world. Lucien is deep, man, way deep.

The lunch crowd started to stream in as we were nearing the end of our meal. An Italian couple sat down at the table next to us. The restaurant hummed with lunch activity. People chatted happily. Silverware clinked against plates. The place felt toasty warm and comfy and all was right in the world.

Then Lucien coughed.

Lucien's had a weird cough for over a month that's making us nervous. It comes on early in the morning and after he's been running around outside in cold air. We've been taking notes about the "triggers" to take to his doctor. Bottom line -- it's not a contagious cough. Too bad the only people who know that are named "us."

Lucien coughed again. Then again. Now me, preoccupied with this cough as I am, started taking mental notes about possible triggers and feeling concerned. I was lost in my thoughts until I glanced over at the Italians and saw them busting out the hand sanitizer, rubbing it all over their bodies and glaring, glaring, GLARING at me. Uh-oh.

I shoved the rest of the food in my mouth and started looking around for the waiter to ask for the bill. This is the part that sucks about tucking yourself into a corner by the window. The whole darn world, especially the waiter, forgets you exist.

When Lucien realized that every time he coughed the Italian couple looked at him, he had a light bulb moment. He then started FAKE coughing. Really gave it everything he had. Did I mention my son is a little punk? My hissed pleas of "Stop it, stop it, stop it" went unheard as my kid got his drama on.

I understood their anger. It didn't look good. They thought the stupid American brought her kid with swine flu to a crowded restaurant.

In an attempt to reassure them I tried, first in French, to explain he was not contagious and the cough had been going on for over a month and it was only brought on by certain things and we were concerned about asthma and we actually got the flu vaccine it's the rest of France you have to worry about and oh God, shut up me. (On a positive note, as the words flew out of my mouth, I thought to myself, "DAMN, girl, your French is awesome!" It was fast and effortless. So there you go -- I can speak French. I just need to be in fear of a smackdown to be good at it.)

As I'm going on and on, I'm realizing they're not going to acknowledge me. They're both focused intensely on their plates, occasionally glancing up at each other with looks that clearly said, "The idiot is trying to talk to us. Don't make eye contact." So I switched to English, thinking maybe they just didn't understand French. I explained my story again. Still nothing. They just kept sawing at their food that didn't need sawing, occasionally sighing and rolling their eyes at each other.

I tried, people, I really did. I sat there defeated and feeling like a moron because, of course, everyone around us heard me and witnessed me getting completely ignored. I glanced at a French woman sitting a table over and she gave me a sympathetic look that seemed to convey, "Give it up, honey. You've lost this one. I hope it's not asthma." (What a nice and caring lady! And her facial expressions communicate surprisingly well!)

So I did the only thing I could do. I commended Lucien for covering his mouth with his napkin every time he coughed -- which he always does, good little kid -- and all but stood on my chair and screamed for the bill.

Can't we just have one afternoon together where you don't almost get us in a fight?


We escaped. Lucien did not cough once the rest of the day. He hasn't coughed once today. I may need to rethink this mother/son bonding time on weekends. It's going to get me killed.

When I look back at this weekend, I will not focus on the Italians. I will remember the good times because there were many.








Cough, cough,
MJ

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Parlez-vous huh?

"In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language."

~Mark Twain



I'm unlearning French. Since the minute Coco was born, I have become less and less proficient in my French-speaking abilities. We can call the movie version of my life in Paris, Flowers for Algernon II: What the f@#! are you talking about?

My three-year-old son has become my translator. This is marginally embarrassing. Recently we went to the department store to load up on Christmas decorations. At check-out the young man asked me something that made no sense whatsoever. So I did what any reasonable person would do and just stared at him without saying a word. So he asked it again. Me blank. Didn't compute. I got nothin', bub.

Lucien then tugged on my arm and said, "Mom-eeeee, do you have checks or money?" Awesome. The guy was just asking me how I wanted to pay. It's a question I've been asked many times and it's never stumped me before. Let the long, slow descent into French senility begin.

I don't blame it all on mommy brain. I also blame it on Madame Kickmyass who has made me realize how impossible it all is. We'll study a "rule" of the French language and I'll feel good and confident. I totally get it. Then we turn the page and browse the five hundred pages of "exceptions" to that rule and I grit my teeth and mutter, "I'm going to punch you in the nose, French."

There is so much info fired at me during my average French lesson that most of it just bounces off harmlessly. But I try really hard to recall some of it, usually for about ten minutes, before I compose a sentence. This makes interaction difficult because people are reluctant to stand in front of me for that length of time while I scrunch up my face and make grunting noises trying to conjugate the correct verb tense.

At our last lesson, Madame Kickmyass said, "You keep making the same mistakes over and over. It's not fixing in your brain," jabbing sharply at her head for emphasis. I'm glad she wasn't jabbing at my head. Her fingers look pointy.


To add insult to injury, Camille's physical therapist, who comes to our place twice a week, speaks fluent English. One day I complimented him on his English and asked him where he had learned to speak it. He replied he had spent a summer in London when he was fourteen years old. That's it. Three months. Fourteen years old.

He then cheerfully said, "I've been told I'm quite gifted with languages. I also speak Spanish but I've never lived in a Spanish speaking country!" You may be gifted at language, mister, but I'm gifted at putting my foot up your ass.

Super nice and friendly JERK.

Alex and I made the mistake of watching Revolutionary Road the other night. Before we watched it, we read the summary and giggled. It sounded like us! A couple, determined to be more than just another family in the 'burbs, decide to move to Paris to reinvigorate their lives and fulfill all their creative dreams. Hee hee! We ARE Frank and April Wheeler! Laugh, joy!

But then... holy hell! Things don't go so well for the Wheelers. One might say things go horribly, horribly wrong. Shudder. Now Al and I walk around the apartment like zombies and repeat to ourselves, "We are NOT Frank and April Wheeler. We are NOT Frank and April Wheeler..." We've even made a list to show how we differ:

1. We never lived in the 'burbs.
2. We actually made it to Paris.
3. Al is not diddling someone at work. I am not diddling the neighbor.
4. We are not dead.

Phew. So our lives are not mirroring Revolutionary Road.

Flowers for Algernon, however, is still painfully close.


For my moment of Zen, I met friend Emily and her family at the Luxembourg today. It's a gorgeous fall day, if a bit finger-numbing chilly. Our boys ran wild on the playground and shuffled through piles of leaves. I may never be able to communicate effectively ever again but I sure can still enjoy the pretty flowers. They don't care if I ever understand les relatifs.

Call me Charlie, mes choux,
MJ

Monday, November 16, 2009

H1N1, you sleazy bastard


The Loosh and I went to get vaccinated for the dreaded H1N1. I'd heard stories from friends in the U.S. about long lines and waiting for hours and vaccine shortages so I prepared for the worst. I packed a week's worth of snacks and a month's worth of diapers. I took Lucien's comfy stroller so he had a place to crash if need be. I put Coco in the comfy carrier so she could stretch her legs at will. I took markers, coloring books, a puppet theater, a set of encyclopedias.... it was like we were camping out for Def Leppard tickets.

(Sidenote: I did that way back in the day. I was just a young'un so my mom slept in the station wagon next to me and my friend in line. The rest of the peeps in line had beer; we had Kool-Aid. Everyone thought we were soooooo adorable. But come morning they trampled us in their frenzied love for hair bands and we never got tickets. Still stings to this day. Mom's back probably still stings, too.)

We arrived at the vaccination center fully prepared, threw open the doors and! -- we were the only ones there. It was me, the Loosh, Coco, and about twenty doctors and professional shot-giving people clustered around us, eager to see some action and help somebody SURVIVE. The vaccination center is set up in a gymnasium. It's large and currently full of rows and rows of empty chairs. Those little chairs looked so sad, pining away for skinny butts to fill them.

We had to visit a few "stations" before the actual shot including a brief interview with a doctor. Each time we picked up to move to the next station, the people working at the previous station got up and followed us. By the time we got to the shot giving place, we had five people in there with us all trying to coax Lucien into exposing a butt cheek. He wasn't having any of it.

It's a good thing we had all those people there. A few workers and I danced around in front of Lucien like monkeys and while he was distracted, the remaining peeps yanked his pants down and delivered the life-saving goods. Then his face crumpled as he clung to me and cried. Thankfully he had a whole army of hands patting him on the back and handing him cookies.

They followed us to the door and made me pinky swear I'd return in a few weeks for the second dose so they would have something to do. They looked so crestfallen we were leaving; I offered them markers, coloring books, cuddly puppets and hugs. They were so cute, those little Frenchies in lab coats, sprawled on their bellies on the floor happily doodling as we left.

And up to that last paragraph -- I got carried away -- that's how it all went down. Few are getting vaccinated in Paris. Now granted, we were among the first wave of "high risk" peeps sent letters in the mail on account of having a brand new baby in the house. So perhaps once the general population is able to go, those vaccination centers will be flooded. But all reports point to no.

Alex went to get his vaccination over the weekend. We decided he should take the Loosh with him so Loosh could see Daddy being brave and strong and see that shots are no big deal in preparation for the second dose; he's no dummy and won't fall for the Michael Jackson dance moves and cookies a second time. Well, maybe the cookies.

So back they went to the somewhat more full (there were four other vaccine seeking people there!) vaccination center. Al rolled up his sleeve and, smiling in a relaxed manner, said to the Loosh, "See? It's no big dea--OW OW OW OW what the hell are you doing, hammering a nail into my arm??" Lucien's eyes grew big as saucers. No way I'm getting him ten miles within another shot. Thanks, Al.

To be fair, the guy apparently did something weird to Al's arm. The shot was extremely painful compared to other shots in his lifetime. His arm hurt immediately after and has continued to hurt. We're wondering if it's going to turn green and fall off. I'll keep you posted.

The rates of vaccination here are indeed much lower than most other countries who have the vaccine. The reason, according to the doctor at the vaccination center, sounds a lot like the reason offered by our pediatrician: The French are stupid and self-centered with a healthy distaste for being told what they "should" do. (doctor's words not mine)

We'll see what this means for Paris. The flu is just now beginning to spread. It may be a hotbed of horrible illness or no big whoop in which case I subjected my son to pain and deception for no good reason.

Phew. Well after all that flu shot anxiety I'd like to unwind with a little TV watchin'...



What the...wait a second...they were in Mama Mia?


I actually would enjoy watching Alec Baldwin sing a little "Super Trooper."
Oh, look, 30 Rock is on...whoa... Meryl Streep what the hell are you doing there? Shouldn't you be over in Mama Mia?



The whole world's gone mad. MAD.
And now I have every single ABBA song running through my head. DAMMIT. Those don't go away for years.

Al stayed home with Coco so I could get some rare one-on-one with the Loosh over the weekend. As we left our building, the boutique owner downstairs exclaimed, "Oh, you are together again! You two used to be out together every day; everyone on the street used to say you were so close with your son. Nowadays I never see you together. This must be a very happy day for both of you."

I didn't cry in front of the nice boutique man. Instead I picked up Lucien and carried him for a long, long time. We wandered up and down the Seine, stopping to buy some pictures of choo choos at les bouquinistes, the famous book and print sellers set up all along the river. The Loosh was probably wondering why I was squeezing and kissing him constantly but he didn't say anything. He just soaked it up and grinned while collecting leaves that had fallen on the sidewalk.

Su-per Troo-per, beams are gonna blind me but I won't feel blue. Like I always do. 'Cuz somewhere in the crowd there's you... DAMMIT mes choux,
MJ

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't tread on me

Paris, you're so pretty but I'm tired of the jostling. I was living in a damn pinball machine this morning at the grocery store. The narrow aisles were full of boxes and crabby employees and customers with no sense of personal space.

And whereas sometimes carrying a baby around this city seems to give me license to do whatever the heck I want while people smile at me, all bets are off when the grocery store gets crowded. Everyone goes Rambo. Coco was blissfully unaware in the baby wrap as her mama got knocked into shelves by shopping carts and elbowed out of the way by a little old lady (I swear she was made of steel).

One guy walking past me clipped me so hard on the shoulder I did a full 360 degree turn in the milk aisle. I think it was actually pretty graceful but no one applauded. I don't even think anyone noticed. They were too busy stabbing each others eyeballs out to get to the bananas.

Why does it feel like every day is stocking day yet half the items are always out of stock on the shelves? Our favorite sliced ham has been out of stock for a month. I still go look at the pathetic empty spot where it used to be and remember the good times, wondering if we'll ever meet again. And all the while there are employees emptying boxes and "stocking" all around me. I think they're really just killing time until their next smoke break because if they're really stocking so hard, where's my goddamn ham?

It's a pretty normal occurrence to have an item we've grown particularly fond of disappear from the shelves for an extended period of time. Then, one day, long after we've moved on to something else, there it is again. And I'll be like, "Where the hell have you been?" And it'll be like, "Woman, don't cramp my style. You know I need to come and go as I please."

As we all stood there in a mess trying to sort ourselves into lines at checkout, a woman behind me advised me to go into one specific line. She used her "I'm being very helpful" tone of voice so I thought she knew something I didn't, said the required, "Merci" and moved into the line. My line then moved like molasses while the "helpful" lady sped through hers and was on her way. I don't know if she was being evil when she directed me to the line with the slowest people and broken register, but I'm suspicious. I'm pretty sure I saw her laughing into cupped hands.

It was crowded at the grocery store, after all, which tends to turn nice people into real bastards.

Lucien's showing the signs of living in a big city. He was put in timeout yesterday evening, which in our house is a small stool in the kitchen. As he sat there, he quietly opened a drawer, pulled out some measuring cups and placed them on the floor in front of him. Whenever I walked past him, he'd say, "Can you give me some money, madame, s'il vous plait?" with a somber face, pointing down at his measuring cups. I tried to ignore him as I prepared dinner but he kept moaning, "Oh, she doesn't have any money. Oh noooo. I'm so hungry."

Some kids play house. Lucien plays homeless. Words fail me.

I picked the Loosh up at school today and he wasn't wearing one stitch of clothing that belonged to him. He was wearing a huge gray sweatshirt, the arms of which hung down almost to his knees, a pair of navy blue tights and a pair of too small girls jeans with embroidered flowers that stopped just below the knee. The highest of highwaters. Lucien greeted me with excitement and said he "got some new clothes today."

"Oh Lord, what now?" thought me. I asked teacher what happened to Lucien. She asked, "What do you mean?" What do I mean? What do I MEAN? This question tells me two things:

1. She thinks I dress Lucien like a moron every day.
2. She is, indeed, on some sweet, sweet happy pills.

After consulting the teacher's aide, I found out he'd slipped and fallen in the bathroom and the bathroom floor was wet (why?) so his clothes got all wet. They pieced him together something from the lost and found.

We had to walk home like that. In stylish Paris. We stood out, got lots of looks, blah blah blah blah...

Time for bread therapy, mes choux,
MJ

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stop staring at us

Lucien thinks every store is a boulangerie. Alex took him into our favorite wine shop and Lucien walked up to the counter and ordered a baguette. It's possible we consume too much bread. Wait -- that's a dumb thing to say. Forgive me, bread; sometimes I write too hastily.

The Loosh's fever was a non-event. He had it for 24 hours and then it disappeared with no other symptoms. I hate mystery fevers. They make me paranoid. If something is lurking inside my son, I want it to come out and face me instead of hiding like a coward.

The injustices keep piling up on our poor Camille. First there were condoms on her legs at bathtime. Now there's this:

Go to your happy place, Coco...


The "minor" hip problem, while indeed minor in the grand scheme of things, requires two months of constant wearing of this impressively large and awkward hip brace. Coco seems to hate it as much as you think she would.

In my experience, doctors here don't like patients asking a lot of questions. They are the authority and don't have much patience for patient self-advocacy. My repeated questions for the hip specialist, such as, "What the hell are you doing, bub?" went largely unanswered as he pulled the brace from a cabinet and strapped it on my girl. She then shared some choice words of her own in baby language, hollering in his face and waving her tiny fists around, demanding to speak to the manager.

Then he said, "She can't wear pants anymore" which sucked because that's what I dressed her in for the long journey out to the hospital. I got her home by wrapping the lower half of her body in a blanket and tying it on with my scarf. She looked ridiculous all the way home and I looked like a really, really strange mother.

I tried convincing Coco hip braces were all the rage in Parisian fashion but she glared at me with a look that clearly said, "I've only had my life for one month and you mf'rs are already ruining it." Then she made her hilarious scrunched-up face -- the one that comes just before lots of screaming. Could be a long two months over here.


Why are you doing this to me, you bastards???


When I returned home, I was met at the door by an equally irate and incredulous Lucien who said, "The stupid birdie ate my french fries!" This was disturbing news indeed. On his last day of paternity leave, Alex took Lucien for one final "dude lunch." Since Lucien cares little for fancy French cuisine, they ended up sitting outside at a fast food-ish restaurant. They left their food momentarily to duck inside for napkins. They returned to find a large gang of hoodlum pigeons carrying off Lucien's french fries one by one.

The Loosh can't shake the experience and now has a serious vendetta against pigeons. Alex now has a serious vendetta against the other diners who, while sitting just an arm's length away from their table, did nothing to stop the carnage. NOT COOL, Frenchies.

We took the long trip up to the north of Paris this weekend to once again visit le marché aux puces, or bigass flea market. We went with zero purchasing expectations this time, now familiar with the outrageous prices and fancy wares. (We have an expensive bread habit to support.)

It's fun to wander around up there. We will continue to make treks every once in awhile just to soak in the ambiance and leave empty handed. Our most outrageous find this time was a behemoth chandelier. We would have bought it except it's ridiculous, larger than our apartment, and costs more than my life is worth by a LOT.

For those searching for chandeliers and nudie statues...


We had lunch at a small cafe in the middle of the market and that's where we began our normal process of "standing out." First of all, there are few people dumb enough to bring two small children antiquing. Second, Lucien is Lucien and feels it's his duty to entertain anyone who looks at him. Third, I have to nurse the baby covered in blankets at a tiny table in very close proximity to other tables. This is Paris, after all, where "elbow room" is as foreign a concept as "customer service" or "successful package delivery." And fourth, like his son, Alex is just Alex.

Alex recently bought a very Frenchman-like scarf. It's beautiful and huge. Al stood up, wrapped the scarf around him like a little old lady's shawl and squealed, "Oooooh, I have a chill!" Al's inside voice is an outside voice to the rest of us so immediately every eye swiveled in our direction including those of the elderly couple seated next to us. Al, uncharacteristically realizing he was perhaps a tad too loud, leaned over and whispered, "That guy just looked at me like I was from another planet."

The couple next to us didn't stop staring from then on. I mean unabashedly, unapologetically staring with no expression on their faces. Alex started feeling nervous and muttered, "I can't decide if that couple thinks we're the cutest family ever or the most obnoxious." My thoughts exactly. And truthfully, I don't think the couple knew how they felt about us either and did all that staring to gather evidence for their verdict.

(They eventually came down on the side of "cute" and were very nice, though I think it was tiny baby Camille in the big scary hip brace that won them over. And perhaps Lucien's prattling nonsensically in Frenglish.)

One final adventure for the day was changing Coco's diaper in a bathroom stall the exact size of a toilet. No wasted space makes for awkward diaper changes. I had to balance the both of us on the toilet lid. It was difficult but I now know I can do anything I put my mind to.

We threw blankets over the heads of the kids for the metro ride home and bathed in Purell upon exiting the metro. We are scared of the flu just like everyone else but still want to get out and have fun. Therefore, our blanket-headed kids will continue to stand out and we will continue to be of questionable judgment.

Keep f'g that chicken, Al
MJ

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Le Contrôleur du Bonheur

To better illustrate the trough of piss story, here's a metro trough with its most enthusiastic fan. The level of mystery liquid is pathetically low compared to the trough Lucien chose for his bath but I think it still expresses some of the yuck.

I took this picture on Halloween, lest you think Lucien is still terrorizing Paris dressed as a skeleton.

I headed once again to the suburbs yesterday for Coco's ultrasound appointment at the American Hospital. The doc wanted to check out those frog legs and make sure there's no damage to her hips (answer: there is minimal damage. One hip has a slight "instability." I'm not sure what that means for the future but I hope it doesn't compromise her bellydancing career.)

The appointment was a confused mess of ushering me from one room to another, eventually getting an ultrasound, then ushering me around some more. I think that last set of ushering was just for laughs because nothing came of it.

There was so much ushering, Coco got hungry and started to express herself in an angry way. I then had to nurse her in a crowded waiting room next to a French teenage boy. I was discreet, of course, but everyone in the whole damn room knew what I was doing as I flopped her around trying to get situated. Since there was not much else to look at, I was the hottest show in town once again. It feels like I'm always saying that.

"I jump in dat?"


But the real show began when I boarded the metro home. Within moments of sitting down, a voice boomed behind me, coming through a megaphone. "Ugh." I thought. "Another person asking for money in obnoxious fashion on the metro."

As I listened, I realized this guy was different. He called himself "Le Controleur du Bonheur" (He's a Happiness Inspector!) He wasn't asking for money; he was asking for smiles and saying stuff like, "Without happiness, without smiling at each other, we have nothing." He reminded us smiles were free and slammed Sarkozy a little bit. Then he made his way through the metro car, asking everyone for a smile.

I liked the guy. His enthusiasm was infectious. So when he stopped in front of me and asked for a smile, I gave him all I had. Biggest. Smile. Ever. The second the smile parted my lips, however, my heart sank and I realized, "Uh-oh. Overdid it."

True enough. He got very excited because he had found a new smile poster child. He knelt down in front of me and guess what? I WAS THE HOTTEST SHOW IN TOWN! He asked me if I was holding a "prince" or "princess." I answered it was a princess. He asked me how old she was and with a big encouraging smile held the megaphone up to my mouth. "One month," I told the whole damn car. "What's her name?" asked the CdB. "Camille,"I announced through the megaphone then immediately thought, "aw crap should have made something up."

He jumped to his feet and told the car we needed to celebrate Camille, la petite princesse, just one month old because what's happier than a new little baby? He counted to three and I'll be damned -- the Frenchies CHEERED! Loudly. Why, I've never been in such a festive metro car! They clapped and laughed, smiled at me, beamed at her. And while Coco seemed bored by the whole thing, it made me feel very, very happy.

Le Controleur said we were his muses for the day, gave me one of his flyers and mentioned he had a blog (hold your horses I'm getting to it). As we chatted a little, he noticed I had an accent and asked where I was from. When I told him I was American he got even more excited and happy, which I didn't think was possible. He just returned from living three years in New York and loves him some America.

Everyone on the metro looked at me differently when they heard I was American. It was kind of an "ah-HA!" look; it all made sense to them now. The giant smile, the eagerness to talk to a stranger, the oversharing of information in a desperate attempt to be loved -- of course I'm an American. An American in full puppy dog mode.

One stop before mine, a few transit police came in the car and asked him to leave. As the train pulled away, I saw them leading him out of the metro station. I don't understand why. Chalk it up to "guitar in the park" syndrome; you can beg for money in a metro car but you can't beg for smiles.

Whatever the offense, I'm a fan and hope we meet again. For those of you who live in Paris, keep an eye out for him. He's a special dude. http://lecontroleur.canalblog.com.

The Paris metro welcomes you to life, Coco


Fun's over now. Just got a call from Lucien's school. He's running a fever and we have to go get him right away. Perhaps not much hilarity in our near future.

Show me your smiles, mes choux, except for you, Coco, since you're too young to know how to do that, and except you, Lucien, because you're sick oh forget it,
MJ

Monday, November 2, 2009

Skeleton boy. Mice. Condoms

We've got a new roommate. His name is "brown mouse." Crazy story how we came up with the name -- he's brown and he's a mouse. OH, the creativity that lies within!

Lucien loves brown mouse and has spent much of his vacation trying to coax BM (HA!) out from under the refrigerator to watch television with him. Alex and I are not as enamored and can't wait to bait that mouse trap. (I'm not as tough-n-mean as I sound, I swear. We had to kill a mouse in our Seattle house and I cried.)

(We also had a family of rats move into our Seattle furnace room. One died somewhere in the walls and we had to live with the stench for weeks as it decomposed. We maniacally cut holes in the sheetrock in every room while wearing gas masks trying to figure out where the hell it was so we could please, oh God, please make the smell go away. But I digress.)

I now find myself staring at the floor a lot. I'm not afraid of mice but I don't like being surprised by 'em, either and am constantly, suspiciously on guard.

Speaking of animals, Coco was born with frog legs. Her legs remained tucked up at her sides after birth and she showed little interest in straightening them out. While common in newborns and usually resolvable on its own, her pediatrician recommended physical therapy. We decided to go for it -- in this land of free health care (as long as we use our fake names), why not get her legs tugged on by a professional?

Our physical therapist gave us a list of supplies to buy before our first appointment. Most things were pretty basic, along the lines of elastic bandages and whatnot. But at the bottom of the list, a surprise. Surely there must be a mistake, we thought, for the list was telling us our three-week old baby needed condoms.

We raised a few eyebrows at Mr. Therapy Man. He quickly explained they were to protect her bandaged legs during bathtime. After I understood and lowered my eyebrows again, I could not wait to get those bandages on so I could bathe her with condoms on her scrawny little legs. Heck yeah, it's stuff like this that makes me happy to be a parent!

There's very little you can buy off the shelves at pharmacies here. You have to ask a pharmacist for nearly everything, even routine over-the-counter stuff. We took our list to the pharmacist and as he gathered our things together we mentioned condoms. We all walked over to a condom display together and the pharmacist listened as Alex and I had a one-of-a-kind condom conversation:

- "Do we need extra large?" asked Alex.
- "No, I don't think so," I replied.

The pharmacist smirked.

- "Do we need lubricated?" asked Alex.
- "Nope," I replied.

The pharmacist grinned.

"OH, and no spermicide," I added, "I don't want spermicide swirling around in the bathwater."

The pharmacist looked hella impressed. I think I'm his kinda woman.

In a country that doesn't celebrate Halloween, we got on a metro Saturday with a kid dressed as a skeleton. It confused some but for the most part it delighted the French. It seems most people can't help but crack up when unexpectedly confronted by a pint-sized day glo skeleton.

God bless our MESSAGE group once again for bringing a piece of home to Paris. We met in a park in the 15th arrondissement and set up trick-or-treating stations at benches around the perimeter. It's not your traditional set-up but if we had started knocking at doors and yelling "trick-or-treat!" the festive mood would have been dampened by doors closing in faces.

There were a few MESSAGE members -- namely our friends from Australia and one dad from Belgium -- who had never celebrated Halloween before. The Australian boy never caught on but the Belgian dad perhaps caught on a little too well. Soon he was trick-or-treating by himself, emptying handfuls of M&Ms into his mouth as he rushed to the next bench. He gave us a happy wave as we passed him and told us Halloween was the best thing ever.

Alex called our TV provider again to complain about losing the sound every five minutes. The "customer service" lady accused him of calling every day with a different problem. Alex said no, he in fact called once every couple weeks for the same problem. He apparently pushed the issue too far because the lady eventually hung up on him. And this is for a customer service call we had to pay 15 euro cents a minute for.


Home on the metro after trick-or-treating.
Al said his costume was "sensitive father" this year.



We should all bathe with condoms on our legs. For the hilarity, mes choux,
MJ

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