When gushing about the magic of motherhood, you’ll hear a lot of clichés. For example, “These are the best years of your life!” and “Cherish every moment,” and “It goes by so quickly.” These usually come from people who are not mired in the quicksand that is early motherhood–their brains have already produced those chemicals necessary to wipe away the memory of days that lasted at least 36 hours or the way time seems to stretch nearly to snapping when a toddler is trying to put on a pair of pants. Our brains all produce these chemicals eventually, and they allow us to frame family stories under rose-colored glass, thus encouraging our children to reproduce, thus encouraging the continuation of the species. Thus another cliché, reconciling the two feelings: “The days are long but the years are short.” Continue reading
I guess it started with Boeuf Bourguignon: I started thinking about Julia Child and The French Chef and how she always hated that title because she wasn’t French or a chef, and it got me thinking about her memoir, My Life in France, and how I’d like to have a life in France, even a brief one (which I guess you could say I have–I’ve spent a cumulative six or seven days in Paris, spread over several trips to Europe), and how if that’s ever going to happen I’ll have to improve my French, so I started going through my French texts and dictionaries, which made me remember this really great book I read a few years back, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which I then began rereading, and in reading the first few chapters I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite films, Amélie, which of course I had to watch, and on top of that the boy has been requesting multiple readings of the Madeline books per day, as well as the bilingual picture books I bought for the girl (whose favorite game, by the way, is to build stacks of blocks and then topple them, saying “Crash!” with all the excitement she can muster–blocks that have French vocabulary on them, because Santa Claus really wanted her to learn a second language) and, well, it seems I’ve thought about the French language and culture every day this week.
C’est bon, hein?
Did you read the Madeline books as a kid? I have Madeline and the Bad Hat and Madeline in London in my collection, and I recently bought the kids a board book copy of the original Madeline, which I know I read as a kid but I guess I didn’t own it because it wasn’t among the stacks and stacks of books I brought home from my parents’ house after the boy was born.
For three and a half years, I waited for him to be interested in those books. I kept offering, but he’d snub them–mostly for Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears. Around age three, he added Babar Learns to Cook and Babar Saves the Day to the rotation, and later Babar and his Children, which is longer, but still no Madeline. I’d pretty much given up on it. And then a couple weeks ago, when I asked what I should read him at bedtime, he brought me Madeline in London. To say I was excited would be an understatement.
I have always loved the illustrations in these books, and the use of color. No surprise, given that Ludwig Bemelmans considered himself an artist-illustrator more than a writer. I loved the towering and sweet-natured Miss Clavel. I loved the beautiful house all covered in vines, and the way they lived their whole lives in two straight lines. And of course, I loved Madeline. And I’m so glad that my son is starting to love Madeline, too.
Which was your favorite Madeline book? What other favorites did you have as a kid, and which are/were you most excited to share with your children?
I tried to do it. I tried to be zen. I tried to be realistic. I tried not to go with a mantra rather than a resolution. But apparently, that doesn’t work for me. My life doesn’t provide me enough external structure to help me pull out of my post-holiday rut so I have to provide it for myself. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a boss. So screw all that zen, self-affirming stuff. I need something more specific.
So. I resolve to:
- Keep up with this blog, creating consistent and entertaining content so that it might gain a following.
- Keep up with my Etsy store, figuring out how to make it into a real business.
- Work on my novel at least five hours a week.
- Start running again, building up my resistance so that I can run at least one 5k and possibly a 10k by the end of the year.
- Get my kids involved in educational activities with other children, including music classes and sports.
- Increase the boy’s therapy time for various delays, finding the right therapists for him.
- Keep better track of my finances so such things won’t break the bank.
- Organize and schedule my housekeeping efforts and get the boy more involved in chores.
- Freshen up my French skills.
- Organize a daily art project for the kids. (And yes, coloring counts–just not every day.)
- Learn at least three more chords on my guitar.
- Try to get the boy interested in yoga.
- Eat salad as often as possible.
And if you think that’s a long list, you should read the one scrolling through my head.
I took four years of French in high school and one semester in middle school. I was very good at it, if I may say so myself–and I’m not just taking the teachers’ words for it. Once, at the train station in Paris, I struck up a conversation with an old woman who was there with her dog (one can only make so many silly faces at a pup before one must converse with its owner). We chatted for maybe five minutes, about her dog and the train schedule and where we were each going. She then asked me if I was from the south of France. When I said I was American, she looked shocked. That was probably the best compliment I could have received.
Fast forward something like twelve years and my French is rusty. Like an old bike that’s been rotting under the trees kind of rusty. Every couple of years or so I try to polish it up and take it for a spin, but inevitably decide it’s too much work for too little benefit. But now, as my daughter proves to be quite a quick language learner and my son begins to catch up, I think it’s a good time to break out the old second language so that when the time comes, I can help them learn it, too. So here we go.
My first French teacher started class not with a grammar lesson, but with a set of sentences for us to memorize. I enter the classroom (J’entre dans la salle de classe). I look around me (Je regarde autour de moi). I find my desk (Je trouve mon pupitre). And so on. It worked very well, as every day we all did these things, and we could narrate them in our minds in real time. As I’m not the most grammatical of learners, I decided to start with this technique, and to start slow, only introducing a couple of unfamiliar words as I sort of dip my toes back into it. So here’s the set of sentences I’m going to try to learn this week (and maybe they’ll help reaffirm some other good habits, as well): Continue reading