Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Bringing Up Bébé"

As I mentioned yesterday, I've loved reading Bringing Up Bébé this week.  I've had my eye on the book ever since it was reviewed in the New York Times earlier this year.  I don't know what made it so instantly appealing to me.  Maybe because of the idea of a cross-cultural study in mothering?  We live in Italy partly because we'd love to raise our kids overseas as much as possible.  Or maybe because it's a study of mothering in another culture in general?  Or maybe it was just because it promised to discuss the lives of obedient little gourmands.  Set in France.  Sounds like non-fictional chick lit.  Is there a name for that genre?

Anyway, finally it came to a library near me, and I read the whole book in two days.  I honestly wish I owned a copy so that I could mark it up and remember all my thoughts and revelations as I read, but c'est la vie.  This is my version of notes in the margins.

I should say that Bringing Up Bébé has received its fair share of criticism, partly because it's written by an American trying to summarize an entire subset of French culture, and because the author Pamela Druckerman focused only on her social niche in France (namely, middle class Parisians).  However, as I know next to nothing about French culture and middle class Parisians, I chose instead to enjoy the book as a study of some parents that Druckerman knows who have gotten some things very admirably right.

Although the book discusses much more than I will cover here, the main take-away topics for me were the attitude of French mothers towards themselves and their children, their infants' sleep habits, the French emphasis on waiting, their young children's varied palates, and the authority that forms the backbone of French parenting.

French Mothers
The author points out that the major difference she sees between American and French pregnant women is that "American women typically demonstrate our commitment [to our unborn babies] by worrying and by showing how much we're willing to sacrifice, even while pregnant; whereas Frenchwomen signal their commitment by projecting calm and flaunting the fact that they haven't renounced pleasure." (p 23, emphasis mine) For instance, the author notices that Frenchwomen are much more relaxed about what they eat during pregnancy than American women are (and have better birth statistics nationally).  Frenchwomen also don't read every book, magazine, or manual available to handpick their pregnancy style, delivery style, parenting style.  Nope, that's classic American mothering for you.  (And yes, I was a prime example of everything American in this paragraph.)

This attitude continues into French mothers' parenting style.  "What's different about French moms is that they get back their pre-baby identities, too.  For starters, they seem more physically separate from their children.  I've never seen a French mother climb a jungle gym, go down a slide with her child, or sit on a seesaw--all regular sights back in the United States and among Americans visiting France.  For the most part... French parents park themselves on the perimeter of the playground or the sandbox and chat with one another." (p. 129)  Later in that section Druckerman notes, "I'm also struck by the near-universal assumption that even good mothers aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there's no reason to feel bad about that." (p 130)  That struck me as true.  And freeing, both for me and my child.

I tried out French parenting on the playground today with Lena.  I didn't follow her up the stairs, I didn't coax her through the tunnels.  I left her to her own devices, and, what do you know, she loved it!  She also figured out the slide, which I'd been too frightened to let her slide down independently at all before.  Thank you, French parenting.

Le Pause
I remember the look on the face of a friend when I told her Lena still wakes up once a night.  She couldn't imagine it, couldn't conceive it, and was panic-stricken just to imagine years of her life with young children where she wouldn't get to sleep through the night.

Well, apparently the French also find this idea somewhat inconceivable, as they train their babies to sleep through the night by an average of about 3 months old.  Druckerman learned that this is because French parents learn to pause whenever their baby cries out in sleep during the night.  They might wait as long as 5 minutes, observing if the infant is just between sleep cycles or if the infant is truly awake and needing comfort. If the baby is wailing, the parents will pick up the baby and comfort him or her back to sleep.  But over time this pause allows a baby to learn self-soothing techniques and the baby will increasingly learn to sleep through the changes in sleep cycles and eventually will learn to sleep through the night.  According to Druckerman's observations, French adults of all ages will ask if your infant is "doing her nights" by around 3 months of age with the full expectation that the child will learn to sleep from about 8pm to 8am. 

Sign me up!  I think I'll try this with our next baby!

Have you heard of the marshmallow experiment?  The children in the experiment that were able to wait to eat the marshmallow controlled themselves and their impulses through distraction techniques (little songs, playing with their toes, picking their ears, etc.).  Down the road, those children that were able to wait demonstrated better reasoning and concentrating skills when revisited as teenagers.  The author talked to the researcher behind the marshmallow experiment and compares the techniques the successful children used to the waiting habits instilled naturally in French children.

Druckerman believes that French children are taught to wait on a regular basis.  One big example of cultural waiting is the French children's meal schedule.   They eat breakfast, lunch, a snack around 4:30pm (called gouter), and dinner, and that's it.  They do not snack throughout the day.  No baggies of Cheerios in their mother's purse whenever they're hungry.  They learn to wait.  The result, the author found, is a national culture with a lot less whining and a lot better table manners. 

Let Them Eat Bleu Cheese
I think any American reader will be dazzled by the delicious descriptions of French food in this book, most notably the food that is served at the author's daughter's day care center. "A typical menu," Druckerman describes, "starts with hearts of palm and tomato salad.  That is followed by sliced turkey au basilic accompanied by rice in a Provencal cream sauce.  The third course is a slice of St. Nectaire cheese with a slice of fresh baguette.  Dessert is fresh kiwi." (p 112) This is the sort of food that French children grow up eating.  In fact, Druckerman herself says she has learned over time to serve food in courses to her children, especially because serving vegetables first often ensures the veggies get eaten.

There are many ways that French parents inspire their children to love food, all kinds of food, prepared in many different ways.  It begins when French parents don't serve bland rice cereal to their infants. "From the first bite, they serve babies flavor-packed vegetables.  The first foods that French babies typically eat are steamed and pureed green beans, spinach, carrots, peeled zucchini, and the white part of leeks." (p 201) From there they continue to encourage a love for food by preparing fresh foods at home from scratch.  (Admit it: we all know this is perhaps the #1 difference between American and French eating habits.) 

A favorite takeaway for me: French parents traditionally bake with their children on weekends, beginning at a very young age.  Can you think of a better activity that teaches patience and waiting (measuring ingredients, baking the cake, waiting until their afternoon gouter to eat a slice)?  I copied down the recipe for the classic Gâteau au Yaourt (Yogurt Cake) that parents often make with their children.  They reuse the empty yogurt container to measure all the other ingredients.  Lena, let's start baking!

Authoritative Parenting
Of course, all of this hinges on the parents.  How do you teach your child to deal with frustration and learn to wait patiently?  How do you teach your child to sit quietly at the table through four courses of food?  It seems to be that French parents believe in an idea called cadre, or framework: "setting firm limits for children, but giving them tremendous freedom within those limits." (p xvi)  Children are taught at an early age what those limits are, whether they be staying inside the sandbox at the playground, not throwing their food on the floor during dinner, or waiting to eat the candy at the birthday party until all their friends are also present.  Within those limits, however, Druckerman describes a lot of freedom, such as children generally being permitted to eat as much candy as they so desire once the birthday party actually starts.  Pushing or disobeying those limits, though, is absolutely non-negotiable (unlike with most American parents, often including myself).

The way these limits are enforced is also through saying "non" ("no") and meaning it.  This is so simple and so revolutionary.  Druckerman describes a scene in which she was sitting with her French friend by a sandbox.  Her friend's daughter was playing quietly.  Druckerman's son ran out of the playground every two minutes.  Her French friend instructed Druckerman that she needed to say "no" to her son and mean it.  After about four tests and a great increasing in the conviction behind the "no," little Leo obeyed... and played happily and peacefully within his cadre in the sandbox. Druckerman had a calm and uninterrupted conversation with her friend.

Elliott and I use "no" with Lena.  He frequently reminds me that I need to speak with more conviction, to use the word once (not "no no no!"), and not to use her name as part of my command.  He's right.  A simple, convicted "no" leads to an amazing response from my daughter.  I am inspired to speak with more authority.  In fact, I might even learn to employ les gros yeux, but you'll have to read the book to figure out what those are!


In this summary I've skipped so much of the book, including the lengthy discussions of excellent French daycare, the fact that French mothers rarely stay at home, and the early emphasis on childhood autonomy.  There are parts of French parenting that are definitely not for me, and I don't want to pack up and move to Paris.  (Well... at least not this very minute.)  Also, it's obvious to me that Druckerman is focusing on a small subset of the population; she admits often how difficult it is to truly get to know French families in their homes, and so I know she doesn't have a pool of thousands of mothers from which she collected her data.  So I take it all with a few grains of salt.  But those grains of salt pack a lot of flavor, and I'm excited to sprinkle them on our parenting style and see what happens.

What do you think?  Does it sound like a worthwhile read?  Overall, the book was fascinating to me, and I recommend it.  I'd love to know your thoughts after you read it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

an occasional francophile

This week I'm reading this book:

I hope to write a book review when I'm done, a la my Simplicity Parenting review, but right now all it makes me want to do is be her:

And do this:

And eat this:

What would you like to read, do, or eat today?

all images via pinterest

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"better than a water gun!"

Jessica reminded me about this video that I took on our family vacation.  She wants me to post it so that she has a pick-me-up while studying for the NCLEX (nursing exam) this week.  Wish her luck... she takes it on Friday!

In the meantime, goofy fun with the Garbers, with lots of giggles from Lena.  This is probably my favorite Lena video ever. :-)

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Oh Shenandoah!"

While we were back in the States, the whole Garber clan took a weekend trip to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As we do every year, most of the kids (including Lena, on her daddy's back) climbed Old Rag Mountain the first day before meeting everyone else at the vacation house.

The house was near a field of Texas Longhorn cattle (beautiful creatures!) and what appeared to be a horse boarding facility.  A couple of Arabians were happy to get their necks rubbed by many hands, large and tiny.

We were also very close to a stream flowing out of Shenandoah National Park.  My sister Emily drove down to spend part of the weekend with us, and she loved enjoying all this natural beauty with us too.

Everyone loves Lena's jelly shoes!

Twice we visited quiet parts of the river to go "swimming" and relax near the cold, clear water.

We also took a family portrait, which this time included Jonathan's lovely fiance, Erika.  Here's a hilarious candid of some of the family...

... and here's the final product, which turned out beautifully.  I love you, wonderful new family of mine!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the Father's Day breakfast in bed flop

Buzzzzz.  Buzz buzz.

My alarm clock went off early on Father's Day morning.  Elliot was wearing ear plugs (the dogs in the farm nearby bark loudly through our open windows at night) and didn't hear it.  Good for me, because that meant I could proceed with my plan: breakfast in bed for him!  Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb-Gruyere Toasts.  Doesn't it sound heavenly?! 

About 5 minutes into said plan, as I was still studying the list of ingredients for breakfast, I heard our baby crying.  Uh oh.  This breakfast in bed might not go as well as I'd hoped.

About 20 minutes into said plan, as I was slipping eggs into boiling water, I could hear that Elliott had woken up.  Uh oh again.  Lena and I went to meet him.  "Happy Father's Day!" I said.

"Oh wow... good morning... I forgot!" he said.

"Well, get ready, because you're about to have breakfast in bed."


(I should say right now that thus far in our marriage we have never had breakfast in bed.  I was making history!)

I quickly finished cooking the romantic breakfast, but I was disappointed that it didn't look anything like the pictures on Smitten Kitchen.  For one thing, I was missing egg cups.  For another, the toasts were kind of burned.  And lastly, I only had cheddar, not Gruyere, for the toasts.  Sigh.

                                                   mine                                                                                     Smitten Kitchen's

Oh well, Elliott hasn't ever seen Smitten Kitchen in his life, so he didn't know the difference.  He raised his eyes appropriately in delight when I brought the meal to him on a Polish pottery platter, accompanied by a fresh cup of coffee.  Unfortunately, however, breakfast in bed also meant baby in bed, and there was no way we could juggle her and cracking eggs and dipping toasts.  We relocated to the balcony.

The summer sun shines right on our balcony in the morning, which means it's about 80 degrees by 8am.  Sweating, squinting, and attempting to enjoy a hot breakfast, I glanced at a clock.

"We're going to have to eat kind of fast," I said to the man I was attempting to honor with peace and rest today. "We should leave for church in 10 minutes."

We managed to leave in 15, still swallowing our coffee as we raced out the door.  (In fact some of mine landed on my white dress.)  We left so fast, unfortunately, that Elliott forgot his entire wallet.  We arrived on base and the security guards shook their heads.  "You're going to have to go home and get your I.D. card.  Sorry."

I forlornly unpacked the diaper bag and my daughter from the car as Elliott sat even more forlornly in the driver's seat, ready to turn around and go home and be even more late to church than we already were.  Just then some friends pulled up behind us and said hello, then kept watching me unload and said, "Did you forgot something?  Your I.D., Elliott?  I can get you in.  Oh, you don't have any identification on you?  Wow.  Well... I can still get you in.  Don't worry.  I'll park outside the chapel and come right back for you!"

Bless him.  Saved our day just a little bit, he did.

So Father's Day wasn't quite the restful, peaceful bliss I'd hoped it would be for Elliott's sake, but real life rarely is, right?  Later that evening we took a hike in the valley below our house.  Although the grass is dry and prickly this time of year, we managed to find a quiet spot with a pretty vista and enjoyed one of Elliott's favorite things: a picnic meal out in nature.  He and Lena shared a peach and found a baby frog in a nearby creek.  Not a bad end to his Father's Day!

Dearest Elliott, thank you for being such a patient, attentive, and involved daddy to little Lena.  She has no idea how blessed she is.  But I have some idea, and I am thankful and grateful every day.  We love you!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

bathtime in Burke

Today wasn't my greatest day as a mother.  At 8am this morning I rushed my little girl out the door, carpooling with Elliott on his way to work, so that I could get errands done before my weekly women's Bible study.  I dragged Lena from the library to the commissary to the post office.  Unfortunately I didn't do my research and missed the fact that today all the moms and kids were not at Bible study... they were at a playground 20 minutes away!  This all dawned on me when I took Lena to the nursery to drop her off and it was a dark, empty nursery.  Lena toddled around pulling out her favorite toys off the shelves while I scrolled through emails on my phone, realized my mistake, and groaned.

Lena and I drove home, Lena weeping in the back seat, hot and exhausted and hungry.  Little Lena, I'm so sorry for pushing you beyond your limits, for not giving you a nap when you needed one, for not checking my emails beforehand and seeing where we needed to be and when!  I'm sorry, too, for not being able to nurse you before your nap once we got home.  I know that's what you still want before you sleep, but you're growing up, little one, and you can't always drink Mama's milk. 

In the midst of feeling rather in the dumps about my mothering/scheduling abilities, my sister-in-law Jess sent these wonderful photos from our trip home to Virginia.  She took them right after I got Lena out of her bath.  Sweet memories and a dear family.  Love that covers a multitude of sins!

Monday, June 18, 2012

there and back again

Well, I guess I went on an unexplained blogging vacation!  Sorry about being MIA for all you few and faithful who look forward to updates.  I'm back now with some photos today and other life updates later this week.

One reason for the lack of posting is that our little family took a trip back to the States.  We did nothing but relax with family and see friends the entire time, altogether a sweet interlude in regular life.  I'll share more from our visit home later this week, but for now, here are some iPhone photos from time with family as well as a few from life since we got back last Wednesday night.
Marmee (mother of twins) teaches Lena how hard it is to take care of twin babies!
& snack time on the back deck
 nature loving in the Garbers' beautiful backyard in Virginia
 now back home in Sicily, we settle back into our familiar routines (and also pots)
 playtime and "helping" with the laundry
 she pulls her wooden alligator behind her everywhere these days
& enjoying a traditional Sicilian breakfast (frozen granite ices inside brioche sweet buns) with my dad, who visited us this weekend
 enjoying the fruits of Sicily: homemade cherry compote (in an old lemon curd jar) 
& munching on an apricot on a walk
yesterday Lena found new uses for her cloth diapers as her mama took them off the line

Monday, June 4, 2012

life lately

Happy Monday, everyone!  Here are a few snapshots from our life recently:

a trip to the visiting circus in our little town!
& I gave her a bucket to splash in on the porch and she got right in 
 celebrating the end of May and my month of no sweets with a giant chocolate chip cookie
& lunchtime with a cutie patootie
 new activity: stacking things
one day she just walked up to me with a blanket on her head
 "Look what a great seat I found!"
& then the next night, when I was cooking in all the big pots, "Why don't I fit in here anymore...???"
 baby legs on the go in cute velvet skirts 
& cross-eyed over a pea
 books, books, oh how we love books!
& working on some mending
a walk around our town's cemetery

Friday, June 1, 2012

a trip to the beach

Very, very spontaneously, Elliott and I decided to go away to the beach this past weekend.  The decision was made when Elliott was looking at hotels online, and when I asked him why, he said, "For Memorial Day weekend."

This was Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend.

The hotel he'd found, though, seemed perfect.  Glowing reviews on, lovely pictures of gardens, famously delicious meals in the hotel restaurant, and just 100 feet from the beach.

"Let's do it!" I said.  "You said you wanted a getaway to a white sand beach.  We can go tomorrow afternoon and come back Monday."

And so we did!

Hotel Villamare was fabulous; I think we'll go back if we can.  White sand surrounded a bay of turquoise water, although unfortunately the scenery was marred by a lot of seaweed.  (We missed the annual seaweed clean up, which was scheduled for June 1... oops!)  We worked around a winters' worth of seaweed, though, and thoroughly enjoyed sand and sea.

That evening Elliott and I enjoyed a delicious three-course Italian meal in the hotel restaurant.  We lingered over our bottle of wine, savoring the cheeses and meats, the fresh pistachio pasta, the fillets of fish.  Breakfast the next morning was just as noteworthy, and we got special attention because of little Lena sitting primly in her high chair at our table.  The waitress brought us a special dish of almond granita and brioche, a very traditional Sicilian breakfast.  We slathered the sorbet (granita) over the sweet bread roll (brioche) and ate up like true Sicilians.

On Monday morning our good friends Josh, Becca, and their kids joined us on the beach, and another friend and her two sons came as well.  They all dug a huuuuuge hole, which little Stevie said was for Lena to swim in.

Princess Lena awaited her pool while playing with everyone else's beach toys and trying a taste of sand.

She loved her handmade pool!  She also clearly loved the beach, and her friends, and the sunshine.  Now whenever Lena sees a bottle of sunscreen, she asks me to pop off the lid and then carefully dabs her fingertip in it and wipes it on her face.  She's ready for summertime in Sicily, I think!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...