Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How are we caring for the whole child?

A friend posted this article to Facebook. It concerns how New York City is trying to deal with the challenge of identifying and educating "gifted" students.

Since Santi isn't ready for school yet, my musings are merely hypothetical. If I've learned one thing in parenting, it's that your opinions and beliefs change constantly, and you never know how you're going to feel until you're actually in those moccassins. But here goes.

I suppose that in an ideal world there would be the means to tailor each student's curriculum individually to build on their strengths and help them to develop in areas where they are weaker. So I guess everyone would be going to Montessori schools, and those would continue through university.

I have to admit that I fall on the side that is a little skeptical that there are truly so many "gifted" (I read that to mean "above average") children out there. By simple definition, the majority of the population can't be above average. And even if we could provide advanced reading and math classes for all children who excel above their peers in those subjects, I worry they may be left lacking in other important social skills which are just as vital for successfully navigating a world where not everyone is like you in every way. I had to roll my eyes at some of the comments after the article where the "gifted" were disparaging those who are are not as "smart" as them, and then wondering why they feel isolated. "Gifted" in that case could just as easily read "Socially and Emotionally Challenged". Why are the abilities to excel in other areas (for example, socially, athletically) automatically undervalued? Children don't go to school, grow up, and then graduate to another classroom environment. They get thrown out into the big wide world where anything goes. Are we preparing them for that?

No matter how smart you are, there is always something that you can learn from others, whether didactically or through simple observation. I know that the poor and "uneducated" Mexican farmers who assist in our excavations live the ecology of their surroundings and have developed a better understanding of the functioning of those ecosystems through their daily interactions with it than I have managed to do as a full-time archaeobotanist with a doctorate and 17 years of study. I depend on their instruction and assistance. Many of them have also learned to listen and take direction, and apply what they learn to the extent that we entrust with highly specialized and delicate tasks, sometimes prefering these individuals to trained undergraduates with prior excavation experience. They just do it better. And I am also impressed by the degree to which they simply learn to relate to us, and put up with the bizarre minutiae of our work demands. We are so different in our social upbringing, level of education, world views, and experiences, but they succeed in keeping their patience with us and keeping the lines of communication open to figure out what is expected of them, even when it takes several tries. That's true problem solving in action.

I lean toward the perspective that all children will benefit by learning to work hard, to be patient and innovative, to think for themselves, and above all, not fear failure. I think that comes from so many years in academia where everyone is smart, but the ones who succeed are either indisputably geniuses (a very small minority) or are simply people who hang in there and keep trying and innovating, sucking up their "failures" till they get that job or that grant (ok, there are also some douchebags who sleaze and ass-kiss their way to the top, but you just try and stay away from them!). I don't have experience in teaching children as small as those described in the NYT article, but I do have experience as a university instructor. Those students who are the greatest pleasure to teach often don't always the best grades. What they do have is a genuine curiosity about the world around them, the drive to try even when they don't succeed, and the humility to learn at least one useful thing from those experiences of "failure". Those are the ones in which I truly invest my effort because I know that with help and encouragement, they are the people who will do something (even many things) with their lives that is meaningful, both for themselves and for others around them. And in the end, isn't that all that matters?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The new chez nous!

We have been experiencing the agonizing drudgery of the Parisian house hunt. Or, more accurately, apartment hunt. It's on my list of depressing ways  to spend your time. We have to find a place in our neighborhood because otherwise we lose Santi's place in the municipal daycare. Luckily, our neighborhood is one of the cheaper in Paris. Of course, that also means that LOTS of other people are looking here too.

Our biggest stumbling block has been that on one income, we just don't make three times the amount of the rents charged around here. And if you don't, you can forget any property that's being rented through an realtor (which is 95%  of them). It's crazy. Greg is a government functionary (guaranteed employment), owns an apartment outright, already has a renter lined up, and has no debt. With his salary and rental income he makes ALMOST the three times the rent.

But no dice! They are tough here! At every apartment we went to visit there was at least one other set of potential renters already there (or more often, 5 sets, or even 20. One realtor told us he had an open house later on that day for a one-bedroom where he was expecting 65 people, minimum.). And you better have your application and supporting documents ready to turn in on the spot, or you can forget it (most of these rented within 24-48 hours of being shown). We had to submit not only pay stubs and ID's, but also our income tax and property tax returns, and provide a co-signer. At first we tried to just use a special bank account made just for this purpose. It has the equivalent of a year's rent in it and no withdrawals are permitted during the term of the lease. Not good enough (are you kidding?)! In addition, we had to ask another property owner to co-sign.

It is extremely frustrating to see the ideal apartment, turn in all the paperwork, and know you're never going to get a call back because there's always some other applicant who makes more money than you. I kept thinking sarcastically, well, I suppose it's not SO bad being a family of three in a one-bedroom apartment. At least we'll get our roomback when Santi turns 18 and moves out. Ha. And of course, type A me gets even more angst ridden about not having nailed down steady employment yet.

But then finally we came across a place that is a little smaller than we were hoping for, and a bit farther away than we'd like, but nevertheless a nice 2 bedroom place on the 4th floor (with an elevator!). And, more importantly, a miracle, it was being rented directly by a very nice elderly couple who told us "Oh, we don't care about whether you make exactly three times the rent. We care more about why you want to rent it. We want to help out responsible people who need help. You know, students and families." (luckily for us, the wife told Greg confidentially that she actually was pretty fed up with students and really was just was looking for a family). Seriously! Our faith a bit restored in Parisian humanity, we will soon be the happy renters of a apartment that is reasonable for a family of three!

Now, if I can just get that elusive job and then we can join the quest for an apartment to buy. I'm sure that search is going to be even MORE fun! Not.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Les Free Range Kids

If you're reading this blog, I'm betting there's a strong chance you've run across this blog, or at least some discussion of it:


It's written by that mom who let her 9 year-old ride the New York subway and bus home from Bloomingdale's by himself on a Sunday afternoon. I think she's become known as the "World's worst mom". It's actually not as crazy as it sounds, and although you may disagree with some of the specifics of what she advocates, I think she raises a couple important points for discussion: What have you done for your children today that they were capable of doing for themselves? How would allowing them some age-appropriate independence affect their self-confidence and self-esteem in the long run?

I don't know if I would let Santi ride the Paris metro by himself as a 4th grader. I don't worry about him getting kidnapped. It's more about him potentially getting lost. I guess I'd have to see when he's older how his responsibility and maturity level is, and how well he observes and remembers what happens around him.

I think Parisians are equally concerned about the welfare of their children, but in my experience it gets balanced with slightly different realities of daily life. For instance, Parents walk their children to and from school, but often the parents from the same neighborhood organize themselves so that they all take turns with just 2 to 4 parents taking charge of the group each day. This is, of course, trickier to implement in the US suburbs where you need a car to get around. Hence the school bus. And, actually, in the small French town where our nephews go to school, this walking train of kids lead by a couple of parents is actually called "The Foot Bus". So it's similar concept for getting the kids to school, but if you're a self-organized walking group, you have to get to know each other to some extent more so than if you're just driving your kids to school, I suppose.

Browsing through the Free-range blog and the other like-minded blogs it links to, I was also taken aback to learn that "playing outside" and walking to your neighborhood friends' houses is apparently a thing of the past in the US. I'm not sure I believe that to be true. There were kids in the local playground when we were visitng my folks in California, and a few walking in the street. Although now that I think of it, they were all teenagers, occasionally accompanied by a younger brother or sister. When I was little in this same neighborhood, I remember that on our block we'd all run up and down the street with no adults present, or pop into one another's houses without having our parents bring us over. My mom and dad say they wouldn't recommend this for Santi when he'll be older, because there are teenagers on our street know who drive much too fast and don't look out for pedestrians. I'm sad to hear that times have changed and families are now more isolated.

In Paris, I've found that even the dinkiest neighborhood has some kind of park with at least basic playground facilities. And they get used every day. The ones near our home are just mobbed with kids. And adults. To be clear, I don't think anyone sends younger children there alone. But the need for children to be outside, playing and getting exercise is considered essential. So much so that parents will allow their children to go without them if there is a babysitter present. In fact, if you send your child to a home daycare provider or hire a nanny, they will expect that part of their responsibilities include taking your child to the park every day. And, in fact, if you send your child to a certified home daycare, you will also be expected to sign a release allowing the caregiver to take your child (and the other children in her care) on public transportation so that she can do her daily shopping and errands (remember, this is largely a car-free city). This is supported by the city government, which explains that it's vital for these women to be able to move around the city, because they have to be available to watch these children for up to 10 hours a day and still need to care for their own families. And it's also considered important socialization for the children. My mom was horrified the first time I told her that our nanny took Santi for walks in the park without me. But from the Parisian perspective, the horror would be always keeping your child inside the house if you're not there to be with them.

I don't think it's fair to compare the two different systems directly, because they don't operate under the same parameters. Even within each country it's a totally different scenario when you contrast rural and urban, and different regions too. I do think that no matter where we live,  it's important in this confusing and sometimes frightening day and age for us to keep our heads, and more importantly keep our connections to one another to foster a sense of community. Fear breeds best in the unknown. And when we're isolated from one another, from our communities, the unknown can take control.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stranger in a stange land

It's been two years since my last visit to the US, and four years since I've lived here. They say reverse culture-shock is the worst kind. I don't if it's the worst, but it's certainly very disconcerting to feel adrift in a place that you used to call home. I've experienced this strange feeling both when I lived in Mexico and now in France. I was feeling relieved and excited to visit the US after a long, grey, damp Parisian winter. Finally a place where I understand why people act the way they do, where I don't need to think about what I am going to say before I say it, and where the supermarket is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. But on arriving, I find that while it's great to see my family and introduce Santi to familiar sights, it just isn't the same. Or, it's probably more accurate to say, I'm not the same anymore.

I'm sure one of the biggest reasons is that I really am not the same. Not only am I two years older, done with school, and living in a(nother) foreign country now, but I'm a parent now. And that's a big adjustment in and of itself, let alone adding in the cultural differences that have shaped that process for me. In France I'm always mentally thinking that "this (whatever) would be SO much easier if we just lived in the US". But now that I'm here, I realize everything is much more complicated than that. I guess it's just expat momma neurosis.

I find myself trying to adjust to all the different attitudes about the right way to raise a child. When Santi was born, even though I hadn't set foot in the US during the entire pregnancy, I was reading parenting books by American pediatricians and religiously following American parenting forums online. I found that while there is a good bit of overlap, parenting styles between "Anglo-Saxon" and Latin American culture can also have very important differences. For example, in Mexico, people are very tolerant of children and caring for them is a group sport. Complete strangers may offer to hold and soothe your crying baby, something that I know would horrify many of the moms who posted on the forums I read. However, as a first-time mom far from family, it was actually a godsend for me to have other helping hands. Other things I didn't find so wonderful. Such as the Latin American obsession with keeping babies bundled up, even when it's hot degrees.Our housekeeper nagged me daily that dressing Santi in a onesie and wrapping him in a blanket while napped in our sunny apartment was going to give him pneumonia. She finally brought me her grandson (three weeks older than Santi) dressed in footed pajamas, a fleece cap, mittens, swaddled in a blanket, and then wrapped in another bulky fleece blanket to show me the proper technique (it was about 80 degrees that day). I've even see other mothers bundle their babies the same way, and then drape an additional blanket directly over the child's face. In literally 90 degree weather. I don't understand how those kids don't suffocate!

After moving to France, the rules changed once again. Gone was the Latin American tolerance and patience with babies. I was pressured to "cry it out", stop breast feeding at 3 months because it was "inconvenient" for others, and my mother-in-law was utterly horrified that we swaddled Santi to help him sleep. However, I was really pleased that we were lucky enough to get selected for the incredibly inexpensive and excellent quality municipal daycare center and that doctors are reluctant to medicate children if it's not necessary, particularly with antibiotics. I also found that food in France is just as good for babies as it is for adults. If I don't have time to whip up a home-cooked meal, there is a really wide range of healthy, prepared foods for toddlers that I haven't seen in either Mexico or the US. You can get dishes prepared with beef, veal, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey, salmon, trout, couscous, pasta, and just about every kind of vegetable under the sun.

My two week sojourn in the US has thrown yet another curve ball to my momma skills. In a lot of ways, I've come full-circle. All of the advice on food

How does a first-time mom not get overwhelmed by her insecurities when everyone has a different opinion and is absolutely convinced he or she (mostly she) is right?

The biggest advantage to parenting in France, in my opinion, is (as you might have guessed already) the food. I always thought the moms on the US-based parenting forums were going overboard when they discussed all of the organic foods and supplements they searched out for their children. I do buy some products and produce in organic form in France, but not many and I don't sweat it if only the conventional version is available. I've noticed some really uncharacteristic, hyperactive behavior in Santi that started a few days a few days after arriving in California and that has gotten progressively worse. While it might be just normal toddler wiggles or the asthma meds he's had to start taking, I also wonder if it's not the additives in the food.  Food is pretty heavily regulated in Europe and I really don't see many additives or preservatives on the labels, particularly for baby food. In addition,  And that comes in very handy for a working mom who doesn't always have time to cook. In Mexico, there were only two kinds of beef dishes, two kinds of chicken, and one turkey. And I got lots of disapproving looks for feeding him those jarred foods. Even the crazy pediatrician chided me for not preparing him fresh, from scratch dishes. I would have loved to, but the crazy schedule we were on and the lack of a kitchen in our lodgings made that impossible. Here in the US there are lots of variation on chicken and beef for toddlers, but unfortunately Santi doesn't seem to like any of them. Some times he'll eat a couple of bites, sometimes he'll just eat the vegetables that come with them. The only things that he seems to like are adult canned soups that are really high in sodium. So I'm always searching for something he'll eat and also doing as much scratch cooking for him as possible.

Despite these complaints, there is a lot to like in the land of parenting milk and honey. For better or for worse, the US is a consumer's paradise and there is a great niche that has been prepared for parents who may be busy but still want to do everything to give their children the very best.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When health care systems clash...

So on to California! We've been here for 11 days now and a lot has been happening. For the good times, see Santi's blog. He's been having a great time enjoying all sorts of new sights and places with Grandma and Grandpa. I've been having a bit of momma culture shock. I realize that as a mom, I'm actually a lot more French than I am American. More on that later.

In bad news, Santi has had to be hospitalized for a severe asthma attack. It came on very suddenly a few days ago and we are still trying to get it under control. He started gasping for breath, panting, and screaming in the middle of the night and we had to bring him to the emergency room. He was hospitalized for a day and then released. He was still not doing very well (the doctor who released him should not have, according to the new pediatrician we immediately found), but is now on several new medication with his new doctor (who is awesome). He goes to follow-ups with her about every day and we're waiting to see when he will be able to fly home to France.

It was very scary having to rush him to the hospital. I felt even worse when he didn't respond to the breathing treatments and the doctor said he had to be admitted. He was placed in the observation wing, which is not a specifically pediatric ward. He looked so tiny in his adult sized hospital bed, hooked up to an oxygen monitor and mask. He did get a child-sized robe with lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). But I did start to feel less sorry for him as the day went by because he was actually very happy. And he had the nurses wrapped around his finger because every time they came in to check on him, he gave them his whole-face million dollar grin, waved, and blew them kisses. So, pretty soon those visits became more and more frequent (and were accompanied  by graham crackers, cheerios, apple juice, toys, etc.).

The real difficult part was that we were stupid and didn't buy traveler's insurance before we left France. We thought the worst that would happen is that he could get an ear infection and we might need a doctor to prescribe an antibiotic. So we're paying out of pocket for the hospital (they haven't been able to calculate his bill yet, but it will be in the thousands). And I've had to be explaining all of this to Greg who was first in Mexico and now back in France. He has never lived in the United States and does not understand the health care system we have at all. He was shocked and worried to hear about Santi and then furious to hear that anyone would be expected to pay that much for a medical emergency ("Tell that doctor he's a thief and that he should stop exploiting the misery of others!" were his exact words. Well, there were actually some other words, but I won't repeat them here). I explained actually, that's not so expensive in comparison with other people I know who've been hospitalized without insurance, and also, it's the hospital's policy is to make money (with a lot of influence from the insurance companies to be able max out their billing, I'm sure). In France, this would have been covered by our health care, and even if we didn't have health care, it would have been covered somehow. I know I'm going to get an earful from the whole family about how screwed up the US is when we get back. And I tend to agree (but I also realize it was especially dumb for me to not have bought traveler's insurance, knowing what we're dealing with over here. Expensive lesson learned). While it's true that we pay more taxes in France, we get a lot back for them. And those social services our taxes fund allow us to live much better as a one income family of three even in an expensive city like Paris compared to what how we'd be doing in the US on that same income at a lower tax rate. To each his own, but I'll take what we have.

Ok, stepping down off the soap box. For now, I'm just hoping Santi gets better and we can get home to his affordable doctor and hospital (but let's hope he doesn't need it).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finishing up the excavation

I can't believe we're already done with the season and that Santi and I have already been in California for over a week!

Lots has been going on. Where to start?

The dig ended well. It was hectic, but we got a lot done. We were even filmed for a television documentary on the archaeology of Mexico (it'll air on a French TV station next year). That was very funny because they only had one camera man, so to get all the angles they needed, we had to "recreate" (i.e., fake) a lot of the stuff we were doing. Like pretend to discover the same pot four times. Or spend all morning driving randomly around town with the camera man hanging out the tailgate of their station wagon in front of us, filming us supposedly leaving to go to the site. They were incredibly nice and friendly though, and we enjoyed having them around.

Being a parent changes your perspective on all sorts of things, I have found. We discovered a number of burials at the site, the last of which was incredibly well preserved. I have always had mixed feelings about excavating those who were laid to rest by their families. We learn a great deal about past civilizations in this way, but it is still exhuming a grave. And in this case, it was even more poignant. The burial was a child who had been carefully placed inside a large ceramic urn, with an offering of perfectly made miniature bowls and jars on his/her lap and some kind of organic cover. Then the opening to the urn was plugged with a bowl and sealed with a precise layer of mud. We found such child burials in every house we excavated (it seems to be a pattern that these people buried their children in their houses and adults outside in cemeteries), but these had all been disturbed at some point after the houses were abandoned and they were really just a mixture of badly eroded bone fragments and dirt, plant roots that had invaded the broken urns, etc. But this last burial was so well preserved we could see precisely how the child had been placed in a seated fetal position, with his little head resting against the side of the urn. He was probably Santi's age (between one and two years-old). I couldn't help but imagine the parents of this child preparing his little body and then tenderly arranging his pots for the next world on his lap before they sealed his small tomb. And I got a bit teary eyed thinking that this little boy or girl had spent the last probably 1,000 years all alone under the floor of that abandoned house. I hope that the physical anthropologists in charge of analyzing the burials take good care of him/her from here on out.

California deserves its own entry, both for the good and the bad. Be back soon!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Miraculous Super Cream!!!

Things have been advancing well with the dig. It’s very hot but we’re all in good spirits and working hard. I also am realizing how exhausting it is having a toddler with you when you’re in the field, even if you have a full-time nanny.

We get up at 7:00am, have breakfast quickly, say “good-bye” to Santi and are on the road with the four other members of the team by 7:45. We stop on the way to pick up some of the local farmers who are hired to help with the excavation. The site we’re working at is located on a series of basalt lava flows called a malpais (badlands), so it’s a jagged, rocky surface that extends for miles in each direction.

We get to the site at 8:00am, and after a steep and rocky 10 minute hike up to the top of the malpais (carrying all of the food, water, and equipment we need for the day), we’re at the site. We work till noon, break for lunch, then work until 3:30pm. After we hide the shovels and buckets and tool boxes (so none of the people who hunt or graze livestock on the malpais decide to help themselves while we’re gone), we hike back down the slope carrying out our samples collected that day. Then we drop off the workers, head back to town and the restaurant that we’ve contracted to feed the crew dinner each day at 4:30pm with just a brief stop to wash our filthy hands and faces (by the way, if you’re ever in Zacapu, Michoacan, eat at the “Deutsch Haus/Casa Alemana. It’s some of the best Mexican-German food you’ll ever taste. Ask for the owner, Martin, and tell him Michelle sent you). After dinner (around 5:30pm), Santi and his nanny usually show up, after a stroll around downtown Zacapu. Greg needs to keep working with the crew processing and cataloging samples at night. I work as much as a I can, but also need to look after Santi, so I’m not around much in the downstairs “laboratory” apartment where the rest of the crew is staying.

Yesterday was an awful day though because I got back from dinner to find Santi crying and his nanny a little worried because he had just vomited up everything he’d eaten that day. At first we thought it was just the heat (it’s in the high 80’s right now) and so I gave him a little water and he seemed find. But then he began heaving and vomiting up water and mucus every 30 minutes. After the second time I ran to the pharmacy and bought some electrolyte solution, which he drank happily from a spoon. But then he kept vomiting it all back up. Greg was back by now and we were getting pretty worried about dehydration since it’s so hot here. Greg ended up running back to Martin’s restaurant to ask him to recommend a pediatrician. Luckily there is a private urgent care clinic on the edge of town open 24 hours. After more vomiting, including the parking lot of the clinic, we were able to see a doctor.

Enter Dr. Quack, every parent’s nightmare! He seemed like a nice guy at first, but it quickly became apparent his medical degree came from the back of a cereal box. On hearing that we were foreigners only hear temporarily (in other words, we already have a regular doctor back in France) and about the vomiting he insisted on knowing if I was giving him the electrolytes from a bottle or a syringe. I told that I was using a spoon. Then he launched into a long speech about how Santi should never use a bottle now that he’s a year old and we needed to immediately go home, sit Santi down and have him watch us cut off all the nipples on his bottles with scissors and throw them in the trash. then explain to Santi (at 15 months) how he is too old for bottles. I was thinking, who cares??? And did you notice that we’re here because we’re worried about keeping him hydrated?

Next he told us it was probably a virus, which seemed reasonable. So he examined him, asking Greg to hola his arms and me his feet like some kind of medieval torture. He said his left ear was slightly inflamed but needed no antibiotics (after I told him he had been taking antibiotics just a week prior for a double ear infection that was still affecting his left ear when the doctor in France had checked him the day before we flew to Mexico). Then he suddenly opened up Santi’s diaper and began retracting the foreskin on his uncircumcised penis! If your son is circumcised, you might not know this, but that’s complete no-no because it can cause tearing and exposure to infection, as well as being extremely painful! A boy should be left alone until he can do it himself, usually by the time he reaches 3 or 4 years-old. So this nutcase tells me “Wow! It’s stuck! You need to pull it back all the way and scrub him with soap every day!” I was thinking, you jackass! It’s “stuck” because that’s how it grows and you’re the one who’s going to give him an infection. I just gave him a tight-lipped smile and a non-commital nod since he hadn’t told us how to treat the vomiting yet.

Next he weighed Santi, who came out to be 9.5 kilos. This worried us because before coming to Mexico he was 10.2 kilos, so the illness and now the vomiting had caused him to lose a good bit of weight. But the doctor was concerned because according to his american infant growth chart Santi is supposed to be 11 kilos. Actually, what the chart says is that 50% of 15 month old toddlers weigh less than 11 kilos and the other 50% more than 11 kilos. 11 kilos is the average, not the ideal weight. And since Greg and I are both small, and Santi is being raised in France (where their growth charts based on French populations shows that French babies are smaller than American babies of the same age) this is all nonsense. He told us to immediately stop feeding him Frosted Flakes, Chips Ahoy, and sugary yogurt. I kept my self control and told him calmly that it would never occur to me to feed those kinds foods to a one year-old child. That seemed to take some of the wind out of his pompous sails. He grudingly agreed that maybe the weight wasn’t a prime issue for the moment as long as he was eating well.

Finally we got to point, what treatment? Basically it was to give him Pedialyte every 10 minutes, and give him a anti-inflammatory medication. He suggested we bring him back the next day for some kind of injection if the vomiting continued, but I had no intention of letting Dr. Jackass inject Santi with anything. We were also supposed to put “Supercrema Milagro” (The Miraculous Supercream of the title) all over his butt and chest. It appears to be an organic version of Vick’s Vapo Rub, but the label says it can be used to treat everything from herpes to athlete’s foot to hemerrhoids to sciatica (see, miraculous).

The final kicker was he then insisted that we make another appointment with him to finish retracting Santi’s foreskin! He said he prefers to spread it out over three appointments because otherwise the child tends to scream a lot and it disturbs the parents (maybe a clue that you shouldn’t be doin it Dr. Jackass?). When he asked if Friday worked for us, I just responded “no”. He sat there for a minute waiting for a clarification or alternate date from me that was never coming. Finally Greg said something about Monday afternoon, but that we’d need to call to confirm first (a call that we both knew was never going to happen). Finally we escaped, deciding that if Santi didn’t get better, we’d find a different doctor, even if we had to go to Morelia (a couple of hours away).

Luckily, once we got home, Santi gulped down some Pedialyte and passed a vomit free night. Thanks to some homemade chicken soup at Martin’s “Casa Alemana”, and a visit to see the birds at the laguna park, he’s doing great today. And I also ask my scientific self if the “limpia” that his nanny did on him before we left for the clinic (it’s a Latin American folk cure where you rub an egg over a child’s body who’s sick from the “evil eye” to absorb the eye’s bad vibes and then throw the egg away over your shoulder to send the bad on it’s way) didn’t do some good as well. Well, whatever it was, I’m relieved that he’s better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More shameless promotion (but at least not really self-promotion this time)

I realized that you may be interested in the actual field project that Greg is running and I'm consulting on. So, here is the project blog link. Most of it is in French, but some of it is translated into English and/or Spanish. And photos are always universal!

Project Uacusecha

Traveling with a toddler, no es lo mismo los tres mosqueteros que 20 años después

We arrived safe and sound in Mexico, but it wasn't the easy ride I was hoping for. Traveling with an active, "spirited" toddler is not the same as traveling with a 6 month old baby! First Santi barfed all over him, me, and the taxi that took us to the airport. Luckily the driver was very nice and patient (and I tipped him pretty well). Then I discovered that all Santi wanted to do at the airport was run all over the place. And he did NOT want to hold my hand. That just made him annoyed. I finally distracted him by carrying him around to see the display windows at the Cartier and Swarovski stores (shiny things, you know).

On the plane, luckily the flight attendants got the woman next to me to take a different seat so that I could have hers for Santi. We were the window and middle seat of the bulkhead row and that worked out pretty well. The man sitting on the aisle was a grandfather and very patient with Santi constantly going up to him and flashing his most charming smile while offering him one of his toys for the hundreth time. Santi was very antsy and we ended up doing laps of the the aisles on both sides of the plane. He had a hard time sleeping on my lap (he's too big now), so I laid him down on pillows on the floor of our bulkhead aisle. I'm not looking forward to our flight back, especially if we're in a full row next time.

Mexico is great. Except for today, it has been nice and sunny. Santi has been charming the pants off of all of the students of the friend we are staying with (she's an artist and her workshop for teaching is in her house). He's annoying the hell out of her cats though. I'm afraid his ear infection may be making a come back, so I'm keeping an eye on that.

We leave for the field site tomorrow. Well, we hope so. Our car's battery is dead, so we'll have to see what we can do in the morning.

Monday, April 12, 2010

When will Wednesday get here?

Wednesday Santi and I head off to Mexico City on a direct flight! Heaven! We finally will be back with Greg. The weather will be sunny and HOT! Lots of great food and country where almost everyone loves children! And is willing to lend a hand even to a complete stranger. I can't wait.

Greg has been making progress on the excavation and I'll be arriving (hopefully) just in time to swoop in and start collecting my botanical samples. I love having a job where I don't spend all my time to doing the same thing. The mix of office research and fieldwork is great.

In the meantime, after having a good weekend and a great night's sleep, Santi was very fussy and tearful this morning. He also lost his appetite again yesterday. I really hope the antibiotics are doing their thing and he's not suffering a relapse of his double ear infection right before we leave. I don't know what I'll do if the doctor says she doesn't want him flying.

I'm also just exhausted and ready to be done with living in a tiny space, having a super fussy toddler who won't let me do anything without holding him in my arms (partially from being sick, partically from missing his dad, and partially from not being happy that Greg's mom is trying to take care of him), and dealing with grumpy old parisians on a daily basis.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Raising a child of the Fifth Republic

The reactions I've gotten to the school lunch post in Santi's blog have unanimously been "Wow! That's so great!. I wish it was like that here" (here being the US). I wondered why my gut reaction to that hasn't been, "Well of course! Come on over!". Instead I feel a bit of ambiguity about the insistent helpfulness of French government and society in the rearing of a French child.

One thing I have felt since moving to France is that Santi is my son, but he is also a son of this republic. In fact, my official status for all of my immigration proceedings is not only "Foreign spouse of French citizen" but also "Foreign parent of French Citizen". So I feel a double duty to learn my way around this country, not only for my sake, but for my son's. I don't want him to feel that he is an outsider in his own country because he wasn't offered the opportunities afforded to French children by their French parents.

This feeling is not just a philosophical stance, but has its practical side too. My progress towards permanent residency and eventually citizenship depends partially on my care of Santi. As an immigrant parent of a French citizen, I have to show that I am doing everything in my power to make sure he suffers no disadvantages by having a foreign mother. I was required to registered his French citizenship officially, to prove that he is being integrated in French society (at his age this means being in French daycare, later on it will mean he is in school), and also that I'm caring for his health (primarily that he is attending all of the national health plan's required check-ups and that he is being vaccinated for the more serious and highly contagious diseases. Not only for his own health, but also for the good of the population as a whole). It has become clear to me that I would have a very difficult time getting residency as a stay-at-home mom. But that also makes sense to me because I'm not French, have not lived here very long, and if Santi and I just stayed home the two of us all the time, neither of us would make much progress on learning the language, understanding the culture, the social services (which here are not stigmatized as only for poor people), local traditions, making friends and professional networking, etc.

All of that probably doesn't sound like much. And it isn't. I'm fine with doing all of those things and I would have done them even if they weren't required. I think what has been impressed on me more is the motivation behind it. Maybe natural-born French citizens don't feel this (or more likely don't notice it), but since I'm an immigrant and required to complete civic training, it gets drawn to my attention more explicitly. It's the sense of raising a child being a collective responsibility. It's not just about what his father and I want for him, but the larger goal of raising a French citizen who understands and respects his country. And it's not always an easy thing when I don't understand or necessarily agree with the beliefs and principles that are integral to the current French society.

It's hard to explain. An important difference between France and the US is that in the US the individual comes first, as long as they're not breaking the law. But in France, I find that the philosophy is the that good of society as a whole comes first, and then the rights of the individual (and I've been taught that explicitly in my civic training). That's one of the main reasons I think that the (partially) tax-funded national health care works here, and is so controversial in the US. Or why the French often think of Americans as overgrown children, who are always focused on testing the limits of individualism for its own sake, even when it becomes absurd or cruelly narcissistic, rather than using common sense and focusing on how their actions affect others around them. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, I think it's a pretty accurate portrayal of the perception of the differences. I find lots of points of French life and society that clash with my American ideals of the rights and responsibilities of the individual, and plenty of inconveniences that are very foreign to my personal experience and preferences. But I have to find a balance and present these to Santi in a way that allows him to form his own opinions and to like and dislike aspects his country and society for his own reasons, not mine. And I also find that many of my own ideas have changed since coming to France, and likely will continue to change and grow as I integrate (as best as I can) into this society.

Many times now since becoming a mom and moving to France, I think about my own mother, an immigrant to the US in her 20's. I think about my experience growing up and resenting some of the differences I saw in my upbringing versus that of my classmates with American-born parents. I now look back on that all in a new light and recognize the bittersweet charge of remaining who you are, while raising a child who will be something else. And I have an all new respect for the path that my own mother tread. I only hope I can do as well as she did.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Countdown to Mexico!

In six days Santi and I will be on a plane to Mexico! I am excited not only to have some sunny, warm weather, but also to get my husband back! Of course I miss him, but it's also to have someone share taking care of Santi with me. Greg's mom arrived yesterday afternoon to help with Santi, and she'll stay with us until we leave next Wednesday. I'm very grateful for that, but it's just not the same as having someone who knows the ins and outs of your routine without having to ask, and having that help come from someone your child knows and is used to. Santi is not comfortable being alone much with his grandmother because he doesn't see her on a regular basis. He clings to me while she is here and protests if she tries to help by holding him or playing with him. So I end up with a "velcro" baby as soon as I get home from work until he falls asleep. Which has been 9:30pm the last two days. Ugh! I really hope that stops tomorrow.

Of all of the big hurdles that lie between now and Wednesday's flight, the biggest is that Santi has a double ear infection and the doctor doesn't want him to fly if it's not cleared up by Tuesday afternoon. So I'm really hoping the antibiotics do their thing fast.

In more practical problems, I'm trying to sort out the mess of paperwork that arises when you are a tri-national family taking a trip that involves traveling between all three of those countries when momma and baby don't have the same last name, and papa isn't going to be on any of the flights. At this point, I don't think any of the countries any longer requires notarized permission from the absent parent for the child to travel with the other parent. And, in any case, Santi is a citizen of all three countries, so he can't be denied entry. I just need to bring proof of all of those nationalities and proof that I am his momma.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What a difference three days make!

So the trend of not wanting to sleep until after 9:00pm continued for two more nights. I'm hoping not to jinx myself here, but Santi actually went to bed tonight with no resistance at 7:15pm! The sleep fighting till 9:00pm (or later!) seems over. I'm knocking on wood that that means he's made the adjustment to daylight saving time. It's currently 8:45pm here and still twilight.

I don't know if it helped that I closed the shutters and curtains in his room before his bath, so that he didn't see anymore daylight while he was getting his pj's on. I usually close them after I put his pj's on, while he plays a little on the bed and looks at books. After reading some advice about how being "overtired" can actually make kids hyper and have more trouble sleeping, I also insisted on him going to bed as quickly as possible after dinner. I even rushed his bath. I usually ask him if he wants to get out and wait until he nods and raises his arms to be picked up. Today I pulled him out even though he turned away from me and wrapped his arms around himself, which is what he does to say "no! more bath!". But as soon as I wrapped him in a towel he collapsed with his head on my shoulder and arms around my neck, so I might try doing that more often. After that he played a little while putting on jammies, but quickly started pointing to his sleep sack and crawling into my arms.

Momma is MUCH happier tonight than she was yesterday. I just hope he doesn't decide to get up 45 minutes earlier tomorrow morning...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thank you Picard!

I had plans to write a great post exploring the cultural differences between the French and Americans, inspired by the reactions to the new health care legislation in the United States. It would be profound and insightful. Then I spent a weekend taking care of an energetic 14 month-old and my brain turned to applesauce (or compote as they call it here).

The longest I've cared for Santi on my own before was 6 days. This time it'll be 14 days. All I can say is that I'm really not cut out for single parenthood. I know I'm really lucky to have a full-time daycare center. I planned on working from home one day a week while on my own to be able to do things that require heavy lifting (like grocery shopping), since we live on the 6th floor and don't have an elevator. Carrying all 22+ lbs. of Santi, my laptop, my purse and grocery bags or trash bags up or down those stairs is no treat. But I already realize that I'm going to have to do more grocery shopping tomorrow morning, and it's only been 3 days since my last trip.

Yesterday and today were fine. We had a great long walk yesterday on our baguette (mis)adventure and today we stayed in due to the crappy weather and played with balloons, watched "Pinocchio" and drank hot chocolate (Santi was in heaven and was adorable with his chocolate moustache and beard). We even had fun while he ate his dinner (Couscous with lamb. Homemade? I wish. Nope, from a jar. Yes, rub in the guilt. But at least we're in France, and even the mass produced baby food is gourmet here). But then he didn't want to go to sleep at his normal bedtime. The worst part is that he was TIRED, actually fell asleep when I put him in his crib, but woke up a minute later and then couldn't fall asleep again until after 9pm.

ARGH! 7:30pm and beyond is supposed to be "me" time. That's when I finally have a chance to put away Santi's bathtub and toys, shower, clean up Santi's dinner mess and his toys, make and eat my own dinner, clean that up, do laundry, creatively find space to hang it all to dry in our ridiculously tiny apartment, think about how much work I'm behind on, and then relax for a bit before going to bed early (10pm, 10:30 at the LATEST), since Santi has a tendency lately to wake up around 5:30am.

To be fair, his late night is sort of my fault. I let him nap for 3 hours today (I guess that really was my "me" time for today) and we usually don't let him go that long for just this very reason. Oh well, lesson definitely learned.

Anyway, hats off to all you single parents, military "widows" whose husbands are currently deployed, and everyone else who cares for a young child on their own on a regular basis. I really don't know how you do this day in and day out. The only thing that's getting me throughis knowing that it will soon be over. That and the excellent pre-made frozen dinners and sides from Picard (sort of like "Trader Joe's" except it's all frozen foods). Hmmm, maybe they'll be willing to sponsor me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The best baguette in Paris

This, dear reader, is the best baguette in Paris. Literally. It won the 2010 annual competition and will be the baguette served exclusively at the palais de l'Elysée at the president's personal table for the next year.

I stood in line, had to elbow my way out, and got the chocolate Easter bunny that I had also bought for Santi smashed into lots of little pieces by the morons around me within 10 seconds of paying.

Is it good? Yes, very. Is it the best I've ever eaten? No, and I will not be making the trek to the other side of the Montmartre Butte to get it on a regular basis. But, on the occasions when I do find myself there, I'll probably pick one up. If we need some bread.

If you're in the area and would like to give it a try:

Le Grenier à pain, Michel GALLOYER and Anne-Marie GUILLARD
38, rue des Abbesses
Paris, 18th arrondissement

The emmenthal that is my blog

I'm well aware there's a two year hole in this blog (and to be fair, it was on the cryptic side even before that hiatus). So I'll be catching up and filling in the holes little by little as I blog.

Grey Saturday

Well, with Greg in Mexico, I'm taking on a single mom role until April 7, when Greg's mom will arrive to help out during the week before little Santi and I make the trip to Mexico and catch up with papa. It's not as scary as I'd imagined so far (she says 3 days in), but it is tiring. We are very lucky that we were awarded a place in the full-time municipal daycare center. It's top-notch and we pay according to our means.

But the weekend seems a bit long to me. Santi is a little under the weather, which means clingy and easily tired. But it's so much easier now than it was before to take care of him on my own. Now that he can walk, communicate (even if not exactly talking), and play on his own for a few minutes here and there, I don't feel so overwhelmed. He's currently obsessed with a picture book I got him from the library called "Le Petit Pouët" that is about a tiny guy, his trumpet, and a lot of existential angst (so very French).

I need to finish at least the English version of the final report before I leave for Mexico to complete my postdoc grant in good standing. That's the tricky part with no one here. I really have to learn to get everything done at the office (or at night when Santi is asleep, although I'm pretty pooped them too). I realize I have some pretty crappy work habits from grad school, or maybe it's just that I don't have the luxury of working when I want as long as I want. Oh well. C'est la nouvelle vie!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Chichimec a long, long way from home...

For those who remember me, a lot has happened in the past two years. I'm now on the other side of an even wider sea than the Gran Chichimeca. I'm now a PhD, married, mom to a one-year old son, and I've finally settled down (well, for the moment) in Paris, France. Go figure. Anyway, here's to new adventures!