It’s been a spotty week for blogging, I’m sorry. It’s been a spotty week for most things except three-day-old pyjamas, nose-blowing, drug-taking, and charging through more work than you can shake a hanky at. It’s been one of those long, sad weeks that exist to remind you how nice your normal life is, using a compare and contrast method. The universe is nothing if not methodical.
However! It’s all over now, and here we are victorious, etc. And in between – well, can you believe it? – I read a book.
Actually, I read one and a half books. One was J.K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, but I gave up halfway through when I realised she’d managed to write a doorstopper without a single likeable character in it. But the other one, I suspect, will be a game-changer. It was this.
(It’s called Bringing Up Bebe in the US edition.)
I’m coming very late to the party here: this book was released early this year, I think, so all the controversy has been and gone. The premise of the book is simple: couple move to Paris (she’s American, he’s British), then have a baby. It’s while they’re on holiday and eating in a restaurant, their eighteen-month-old leaving a trail of napkin devastation as per, that she notices the French children sitting down quietly. Eating everything put in front of them. Looking like they’re actually enjoying themselves. And so she embarks on a study of French parenting. The more she looks, the more she finds that French babies sleep through the night between two and three months, eat widely and enthusiastically, and aren’t a nightmare to control in public. Their parents don’t seem to be stressed by parenting, they don’t constantly witter on about how ‘gifted’ their babes are, and they don’t, either, seem to let it transform them out of their pre-baby fabulousness. Sacré bleu.
Well, I am sceptical of miracle children. And her observation pool was almost entirely middle-class Parisians. But despite that, I was more than predisposed to listen, because that scene in the restaurant is my life in miniature. I always said that Henry was going to give me a run for my money as soon as he could actually run, and so it’s proved. He’s just got a lot of things to look at, and he can’t reach any of them from a high chair, so could that be fixed, please? And, probably, I don’t know, everyone in the library wanted to hear that top-of-voice quacking noise, so he was doing them all a favour. And if you didn’t want him to climb up onto that precarious high ledge from the table, then what is it there for?
According to the book, French parents educate their children from a very young age to learn how to wait, to control their emotions, to realise that they’re not the centre of the universe, and to know, always, who is in charge. Then within that strict framework, they receive a lot of little freedoms, to make them feel independent. There was a lot in it, and I’m not going to recap it or we’ll be here all night. But let’s just say that:
1. I’m saying ‘it’s me who decides’ much more often and with more authority;
2. I ask Henry to ‘please wait’ when I’m not ready to pick him up or do exactly what he wants. It won’t kill him. And it might save my biceps.
3. I’ve started serving his lunch in three courses, in the French vegetables-protein-dessert order, and sticking mostly to starchy stuff like pasta and rice at dinner. It works like a dream (grated carrot, he ate. Two days in a row. GRATED CARROT. Glory be).
4. I will definitely, definitely be using that sleep technique with our future babies. We were lucky with Henry, which means next time we’re due an insomniac.
5. SO HELP ME, we are going away for our anniversary next year, even if I have to hire a nanny. It’s not too much to ask to go away as a couple once a year. It’s good for all of us.
There was a lot in it that I didn’t agree with – I don’t want to be pressured to give up breastfeeding after a couple of weeks, or have to get back my figure within a month or two, or feel completely worthless as a person if I’m just a stay-at-home mother. And there’s something rather lovely about getting down on the floor and making Lego villages, thank you very much. You should try it, Frenchies. See how excited they get.
But I would give rather a lot for him to eat his dinner and stop climbing onto that ledge. So let’s try this thing, shall we?