Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Plus Tard...

Toto, we really are not in Paris anymore.

Follow our new adventures at What Am I Doing in Brooklyn.

I know, it's not the same. But the bagels are better. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Brave New World

Paris feels like a dream.  I find myself thinking, "Was that really my life? Did we really live there? Did we really do those things, go to those places, speak French every day?"  I can't spend too much time contemplating this transition because it makes me tear up a bit - and I simply haven't had the time to reflect. 

Since landing in the US, we have found and moved into an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  We bought a car.  We have bought a lot of Ikea furniture.  We have unpacked many boxes.  We acquired US cell phones.  I have reveled in the ability to strike up conversations with strangers, and to eavesdrop on the subway.  Today I had my first playdate with a new friend (I mean, of course, that Nava had a playdate, with another baby we met in the playground) and the mom asked, "So what was Paris like?" 

It was a difficult question to answer.  What was it like?  The things that were hard have already melted away into a layer of nostalgia. In my memory, it was gorgeous and sunny and smelled like rotisserie chicken and fresh baguettes.  I miss the bread. And Parc Monceau. And my friends, and Max's friends, and our routine.  I miss that my husband actually came home from work (hey, guess what, turns out the private sector lifestyle kinda stinks). 

New York is an incredible city.  We are going to have a lot of adventures exploring this place.  It's just a different beast - I interviewed a part-time nanny candidate this week, and she asked whether I had particular flashcards or alphabet games that I preferred she use with my kids.  I replied, "What are you talking about?! My oldest child is 2!"  And her response was, "Wow, you really are different."

It is strange to no longer be unusual.  I'm not the American-living-in-a-foreign-country, smiling broadly to make up for my ability to effectively communicate.  It is no longer the case that any other mom speaking English in the playground is a potential friend.  Okay, technically I suppose that is the case, but we are no longer guaranteed the commonality of expat status. 

We have American television again, but it turns out there's really nothing good on.  Something called "Honey Boo-Boo" happened in our absence, and I really don't want to know about it.  I have to force myself to remember that I'm in the same time zone as friends and family, and that I can actually call people in the morning.

For the last two years, my identity was completely wrapped up in being an expat in Paris.  I am not quite sure who I am now - I'm the same person, but I'm different.  Our Paris has ended - it was a moment in time that will never exist in the same way again.  The lasting impact it will have on our life is still unclear.  Max already won't let us read or speak to him in French.  We have sampled three baguettes here - two from "French" bakeries - and all were inedible. 

I feel mournful for our Paris life in a way I hadn't anticipated.  The magnitude of this transition caught us off guard.  These two weeks in New York have felt so long.  I feel grateful for the small things - that my kids are happy and healthy, that my in-laws came to help us move in, that friends are welcoming us to our new city, that it turns out that most people in New York are actually quite friendly, that Graeter's ice cream is available at the Fairway in Red Hook.  Paris feels like a dream, and our new life is as yet unsettled. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

No Regrets

I wouldn't change a single thing about the last two years.

There were days when all I wanted was to go "home" but even more days when I reveled in all that was magical about this city.  There were days when I was so tired I dreamed about a brief hospitalization for a non-threatening illness but even more days when I felt so grateful to be parenting in this sophisticated place.

I could make a series of lists.  Lists of the countries we visited, the regions of France we explored, the wines we drank, the pastries we sampled, the museums we toured. But lists don't capture a life. Tonight my closest friend here made the point that back in the US, I will likely feel the way we used to feel coming home from summer camp.  That sense of being back home, but missing your alternate universe.  That feeling of everything around you being the same, but maybe you yourself are different. 

Paris has been a magnificent teacher. She has taught me about love, friendship, children, courage, trust, confidence, ballet flats, bread, rain, humor, and patience.   I am leaving this place feeling the most myself I have ever felt.  That is a gift to cherish.

Tomorrow I will get on a plane back to the US - just me, two kids, two car seats, two strollers, two travel cots, four suitcases, and four carry-on bags.  A week later I will meet Mr. Oil in New York, sans children, to start our apartment hunt in Brooklyn.  I can't quite wrap my head around the idea that we aren't coming back to Paris.

I have no regrets about how we've lived the past two years.  We are so, so lucky.  

Max, July 2011
Villandry, Loire Valley, September 2011
Parc aux Buttes Chaumont, Paris 19eme, September 2011
Portugal, December 2011
Versailles, April 2012
Italy, May 2012
London, October 2012
Paris swimming pool, December 2012
8 months pregnant in Burgundy, December 2012
Nava Sylvie, born January 23 in Paris
Nava, March 2013
Giverny, May 2013
San Sebastian, Spain, May 2013
Scotland, June 2013
Nava in Parc Monceau, last day in Paris, July 6 2013
Max in Parc Monceau, last day in Paris, July 6 2013
Last day in Paris, July 6 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

All the Lasts

It's time for the lasts. The last Sunday afternoon in the park.  The last day picking Baby Oil up from halte garderie. The last time having friends over for an afternoon gouter.  The last visit to our favorite patisserie (okay, maybe we'll squeeze in one more). The last time making foie gras burgers.

Yet even as the lasts pile up, there are firsts.  First time Baby Oil eats pate (he liked it!).  First time Mademoiselle rolled over.  First time Baby Oil sang a French song.
Yes, that is pate on a hamburger bun.

And then there are the everyday occurrences, la vie quotidienne. Looking from our balcony onto a gorgeous sunset.  Listening to Baby Oil say, "Baguette, s'il vous plait" at the boulangerie.  Explaining to Baby Oil the concept of "chaqu'un son tour" - everyone takes a turn - at the playground.  Running to Monoprix to pick up diapers, and of course pausing to check out the adorable baby clothes. Recognizing the elegance and beauty of our street:

Loving that our neighborhood sandbox can double as a set for a fashion shoot:

Realizing that no matter what I wear to the park on a weekend afternoon to walk with my family, it won't be this:

Nor will it be this:
I think these would be called "muscle leggings".
Yes, muscles. In case you weren't clear above.

Enjoying sweet sibling moments:

On the one hand, it is hard to believe that this life we currently lead is just days from being over.  On the other hand, it is hard to believe that this has ever been our real life to begin with.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I can't get enough of the UK.  I am in nation-love.  There are the accents, from the rarefied posh London accents to the heavy Cockney accent to the cheerful Scottish brogue.  There are the weekly magazines, of which Hello! is my personal favorite.  It's like US Weekly, but with dukes and earls and tiaras thrown in.  There is the fact that there seems to be some regulation requiring every establishment to have a changing table.  There are the child-friendly museums and palaces featuring costumes and/or toys for little ones to play with.  There is the Duchess-formerly-known-as-Kate Middleton.  There are the high street shops like Reiss, Whistles, Hobbs, and LK Bennett.  There are scones and clotted cream.  There are fish and chips.  There is excellent beer.  There is amazing Indian food and even Thai food.  There are the hundreds of years of history.  

So perhaps I've developed a bit of an obsession.  Our recent trip to Scotland - our last trip of our European sojourn - only solidified my love for the UK when I met Sticky Toffee Pudding.

The name alone sounds delicious.  The actuality is simply rich, caramely, sticky, and incredible.  It is quite basic in a way - a cake, usually made with dates, covered with toffee sauce, and typically served with vanilla ice cream.  Toffee sauce is the stuff of dreams, and all I can really say is that when our server walked by our table approximately 2 minutes after placing the sticky toffee pudding in front of us, the plate was empty.  She even exclaimed, "Didn't I just put that down?"  Slightly embarrassed, we stuttered over several statements of "It was so good...we were was so good...".

Naturally, I also found Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream at the well-regarded B. Janettas in St. Andrews.  Scotland has fantastic ice cream, and while sticky toffee pudding is better in its regular form, the ice cream was not too shabby.

Scotland is the second country we have visited in the past few years that made us both feel, almost immediately, like we want to come back.  The first was Portugal, and we still talk about wanting to go back to Lisbon and head north towards Porto.  But without hesitation we both agreed that five days in Scotland was simply not enough to do justice to this incredible place.

The country is absolutely gorgeous.  When have you ever seen a cliff like this in a public park in a major city?  Holyrood Park in Edinburgh is the only one I know of.

On a picture perfect day like we had, I better understood why golfers trek from around the world to places like St Andrews, Scotland to golf on the oldest golf course in the world.

The fishing villages of East Neuk were quaint and charming, everything a fishing village should be, with the added bonus of Scottish accents, the occasional kilt, and a wide selection of Scotch at the local pub.

Every Scot we encountered was genuinely friendly, from the girl at the Scotch Whisky Experience who gave us a list of places she loved to visit in Edinburgh as a child to the jovial, large-bellied man making flirtatious jokes with me when we asked for directions to a gas station near the airport. Of course, this was after we mildly traumatized Baby Oil by taking him on the barrel ride at the Scotch Whisky Experience - like an amusement park ride, you sit in a "barrel" and are escorted through a virtual distillery. The problem was that your "host" for the trip was a ghost.  And it turns out that 2-year-olds are not big fans of ghosts, no matter how friendly and Scottish they may be.  Furthermore, try as I might, I have to admit that I just don't like Scotch.  The only exception is when that whisky comes in the form of fudge. 
The ghost
The traumatized toddler
The first day we tried to tour the Palace at Holyroodhouse, no visitors were allowed because the Duke of Rothesay was in residence.  Who's that, you say?  Oh, nobody much, just Prince Charles - the Duke of Rothesay is his title in Scotland (because why stop at one title when you can have four or five?).  The next day, when we were able to visit, I basically felt like I was hanging out with Charles and Camilla as I strolled through the dining room where they had eaten the day before.  Much appreciated were the sample menus laid out for visitors to see of actual formal meals previously served at the palace.  It is a bit crazy in this day and age that there are still people with palaces, and that they can just call up and say, "Hey, we're dropping by for a few days - could you please have the chef whip up some of that lemongrass and ginger marinated duck breast?" 

I wouldn't want you think our trip was all royalty and whisky.  We also toured Scotland's Secret Bunker (or as Baby Oil would say, "Scotland's Secret Plunker").  For 40 years, this was a top-secret location that housed all of the equipment and supplies necessary to serve as a headquarters for Scotland's government in the case of nuclear war.  When you approach it, it looks like a typical Scottish farmhouse.  Except for this:
I'm going to go out on a limb and say this wasn't here when it was a secret

Conveniently, we happened to stay in a town boasting a restaurant that has been named the UK's best fish and chips.  We may have eaten there two nights in a row.  It was really that good. 

Scotland, I love you, and I'm not just using you for your sticky toffee pudding.  After all, look how happy you make my kids:

My 2.5 year old has visited 8 countries in the past 2 years (France, US, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, UK (England and Scotland), Belgium, and Spain). My 5 month old has hit four countries already (France, Belgium, Spain, and UK).  I hope they're okay with being stuck in the US for a while...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One Month Left

We leave Paris on July 7; the movers come on July 3.  Every day we grow increasingly nostalgic about our Parisian experience, and every day I get a tad more anxious about all of the unknowns ahead of us.

We are moving "home."  Home in that it is our home country, the place in which we have both spent our entire lives living, with the exception of study-abroad during university and these past two years.  Home in that we will be in the same time zone as our family.  Home in that English will be the language of business, and I won't feel like a tongue-tied moron in the vast majority of my daily interactions.

On another level, though, it's not home at all.  New York is a new city for both of us, but even more, I've realized that I don't know how to live my current life in the US.  When we moved to Paris, Baby Oil was just six months old.  In the past two years, I have learned how to parent (or at least, how to parent in the infant and toddler phases).  I am learning now how to parent two children at once.  I know when the park is crowded, what to wear to the playground, how to take kids on the bus and the metro, and how to conduct my daily stay-at-home-mom life here in Paris.

I have absolutely no idea how to do that in New York.  All of the cultural norms around parenting that I've absorbed are informed by expats in France and the French themselves.    I know when behavior is too rowdy (in the park, essentially never), I know how far away it is acceptable to sit from your child in the playground (really, really far - the moms sitting closer are always expats), I know which boulangeries give a free piece of baguette to your child when you buy something (the one on Rue de Rocher).  But in the US, there will be other cultural norms.  And as much as it is my home country, I am a foreigner in the world of American parenting.

The classes are what put me over the top.  There are so many classes for kids in America!  Just in Brooklyn, it seems you could skip preschool altogether and just escort your 2- or 3-year-old from yoga to art to music to dance to science class.  If your child doesn't take Sustainable Art (this class is actually offered at the Park Slope YMCA - the brochure explains that your child will "learn to make art that cares about the environment"), will he be shunned as an outsider? 

Baby Oil will have to wait until he is 3 to be old enough for the Action Heros - Boys Only dance class offered at one Park Slope dance studio but he can start combined yoga-and-swim classes immediately at the Y.  Due to conflicts with his preschool schedule, we won't be able to enroll in the Brooklyn Design Lab's Paint Studio in which "we delve into alternative painting techniques and experiment with tools and materials of our own creation."  I wasn't aware alternative painting techniques for 2-year-olds even existed.  Classes for toddlers simply don't exist in France.  The expectation is that your child is at creche, or home with the nanny. Or, in the case of many expat kids, spending long afternoons at the park with a frazzled, lonely mommy eavesdropping on anyone who doesn't look like a nanny in hopes of making a new friend. 

It is quite possible that Brooklyn, or maybe all of New York City, is going to be a parenting experience unto itself. I'm beyond excited at the thought of actually having places to take my kids when the weather is crummy, but I am also intimidated at all that I don't know about being a NYC parent.  One month left - Mr. Oil has taken to buying caramel au beurre sale in a jar and drizzling it over ice cream, in between trying to sample all of the multitude of French yogurt options available in our local grocery store.  I'm doing my part to buy at least one fresh baguette every day.  I recently tried to tell Baby Oil that there are no baguettes in New York.  His response?  "No baguettes in New York.  Baguettes in the boulangerie!"  Poor kid is in for some serious culture shock.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Day For Me

I knew many things had changed in my life since our son arrived back in January 2011.  But it was a bit of a surprise when I realized a few months ago that I had not spent a single night completely alone in almost two-and-a-half years.  I've had nights with just my husband (3, to be exact), and nights with just Baby Oil.  But never a night alone.

Feeling the urge to reclaim some alone time, I mentioned to Mr. Oil that I would love to go to London for a day by myself, do some shopping, and sleep in a hotel.  He did not understand why going alone was appealing, but with some positive reinforcement from my stepmom, he gave me the best Mother's Day gift around - 30 hours alone in London.  And yes, we noted the irony that the best Mother's Day gift involves no mothering duties.

Saturday morning I set out for London.  It's an easy train ride from Paris, and I was in London, with my bag dropped at the hotel, by 11:30.  My agenda for the day was straightforward - no plans.  Walk around. Do some shopping. Get my hair cut (it is difficult to do this when you have a baby attached to you all day long!).  Do whatever I wanted to do.

I thought about my kids, and my husband, throughout the day.  I still noted every construction vehicle, and if I passed a nice bakery I thought, "Mr. Oil would like that place!"  But I enjoyed every moment of the utter privilege of thinking only about what I wanted to do.  Did I want to try on LK Bennett shoes at Selfridge's?  Yes, please.  Did I then want to try on more shoes at French Sole? Yes , please. Did I want to walk into three different locations of the same store (Reiss) and try on clothes at each one? Yes, please.  Did I want to sit and have a latte at a time when some people would insist we eat "real" lunch?  Yes, please. Did I want to spend 20 minutes exploring the wonder that is Boots (a pharmacy chain - think CVS on crack)?  Yes, please.

I hit the big London shopping spots - Selfridge's, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Harrod's, and Kensington High Street.  I managed to pick up some tea at Fortnum and Mason, and of course grabbed a new train for Baby Oil at Hamley's.  I got my hair cut at the posh Daniel Hersheson salon. At the end of the day,  I swung by Ottolenghi and bought a fantastic flourless orange-almond cake with chocolate frosting to bring home for Mr. Oil.

Eight hours later, I virtually collapsed in my hotel room at the lovely Lancaster London Hotel, with views from my room overlooking Hyde Park.  Tea + sweets + clothes + shoes + toys = a heavy load by the end of the day!  I went to eat in one of the hotel restaurants as I had learned the hard way that even a trusty pair of flats can wreak havoc on your feet after five miles of walking around London.  After the hostess went to find an appropriate table for my party of 1, a couple standing behind me said, "Excuse me, but won't you be bored by yourself? Would you like to join us?"

Now, according to Mr. Oil, nobody actually wants to be taken up on these sorts of invitations.  But in a moment of awkwardness, I said, "Oh...sure."  And that is how I ended up spending an hour and a half eating dinner with a nice couple from Australia who had just finished a week long garden tour of England and Wales.  They are from Warwick, about 2 hours southwest of Brisbane, where they garden on 3 acres.  My favorite part of the evening was when, after the husband had gone on for about 15 minutes straight with many details about the gardens they had visited, the wife, said, "Wow, I'm impressed. I thought you just slept through the tour."

The best moment of the day came when I crawled into the king-size bed in my room, all by my lonesome.  Nobody to feed in the night, nobody needing a drink of water, nobody at all.  Just me, asleep. In the morning I forced myself to stay in bed until 8am, took a relaxing bath, and headed back to the train station.

There were certainly moments when I wished that my family was with me.  And there were moments when I was a bit bored being by myself.  Overall, however, having this day to be completely myself, all by myself, was wonderful.  It is not easy to find the balance of having an individual identity while being a stay-at-home mom.  And I know my husband will never quite understand the value of what he gave me this weekend.  Not only did I come home refreshed and relaxed, I came home to a clean home and two happy kids.  Major points for Mr. Oil.