Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chloe, hockey, the French, and other interesting tidbits

Chloe loves France, or so she tells us. Virtually every day she says to us, "I really like France." And so she should. She's gone from 15-30 minute stints outside in minus 20 degree weather (just to prove we can spend time outside in winter - it's a right of passage for a Canadian kid) to spending most of her waking hours in the sun. Sure, it's not hot, and sometimes her hands get a bit cold first thing in the morning. But she's no dummy. She knows it beats the hell out of putting on hats, mitts and boots and still coming back with numb ears, fingers and toes. Yes, Chloe is aging well in France.

And I haven't heard another word about hockey since we left our few acres of snow. Hockey is born of a need to survive and thrive in a harsh and inhospitable environment, a sort of "take that," to the elements. Kids in our neighborhood spend hours shooting pucks in makeshift rinks as a way of getting out, staying warm, and having a blast in spite of where they are. It's beautiful to see, and crystallizes for me certain unique Canadian attributes. Our character is built from and in spite of that cold ground and ice we must endure for so much of the year. But for now, I'm enjoying being an ex-pat in Nice.

One of the best parts about being away is gaining a new appreciation for your own home. By the time I travel away from Canada, I'm usually so frustrated with the place that I've forgotten what there is to love. Going away reminds me, and it's wonderful. I understand why so many authors write from away. It really lends perspective.

Nice is beautiful, and I love the French - those bombastic, stubborn, opinionated, lovely people. I always have. Anyone who doesn't like the French is, in my humble opinion, unable to see the beauty of what makes them who they are. Those same attributes we hate to encounter when we ask to make a change to an order at a restaurant in Paris are the ones that make them so passionate and warm when they offer you a seat on the tram, or engage you in a conversation about global politics. They will not hold back their feelings, and they expect no less in return. One can never truly become French, but one can certainly appreciate what incredible culture they exude. They have beliefs, ideals, a sense of fraternity that most of us in cynical North America lack. Often it blinds them to certain realities, but oh what I'd give to have a little passion and idealism in our society and in our politics. Stephen, Michael are you listening... Please God, save us from the dreariness of peddling "ordinary Tim Horton's sipping Canadians." We can do better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adventures in Nice - Julie's perspective

We made it!

There’s quite a lot to tell, so I’ll divide this up into sections!

The airport: My parents took us to the airport which was fantastic. Mom helped us in with our (many) bags. Chloe napped pretty much all the way to the airport in the car which was excellent. Emily enjoyed the view from her car seat! Our first challenge arrived at the check in counter for Air France. We had called ahead specifically to ask about the size of our stroller and whether we would be able to check it at the gate. We were told this was no problem and we were happy because we’d rather have Chloe in a stroller to navigate the airport. At the check-in counter we were told we would have to check it there (meaning we wouldn’t have it for the airport). We were not happy – now we had too much carry-on, a huge car seat and two kids to carry. Due to the mix-up they promised us a golf cart ride to our gate once we were through security. Even though we had to wait about 30 minutes for this, it was worth it. We got to the gate and miraculously there was a huge play structure right next to our gate for Chloe to play on. Things were looking up.

The plane ride: We’ve discovered that France doesn’t really do pre-boarding for kids – they call you with the first round of passengers, which means that you are stuck waiting in a line (with all that stuff I mentioned earlier) to get on the plane. I carried Emily in the baby carrier and Chloe on my hip. Sean handled the rest of the stuff. We discovered that kids in France use booster seats at age 3, and so the airline attendants had never seen a car seat that big. They kept thinking it was for Emily and telling us that we would have to put in the overhead bin because the flight was full – and we kept having to explain that it was for Chloe and that we had a seat for her. The people at the check-in counter had messed up our seating so that my seat with Emily was several rows behind Sean and Chloe with no space for a bassinet for Emily as we had booked. The very nice man sitting in the seat I was supposed to have switched with me. Then, my seat was broken, so they had to call a mechanic on the plan to fix it. Okay, we are finally settled, Chloe is excited and we take off. At first Chloe was very excited to be on the plane. She liked eating some of her meal. By 9:30pm (we took off at 6:50pm) they had not yet turned the lights off. I got Emily to sleep by covering her head with a blanket (I left some room so she could breathe and she was sleeping on me!), but Chloe was completely delirious. She kept screaming, “turn the lights off so I can sleep”! Finally they did and she fell asleep. For 3 hours. Then she spent the next hour whining about not wanting to be on the plane. Poor kid. As a result, Sean and I did not get any sleep. We transferred planes at Paris and then continued on to Nice. Chloe had several temper tantrums, but all in all, didn’t do too badly considering she got about a quarter of the sleep she normally gets. She passed out on the car ride to our apartment. She slept through me carrying her upstairs and for about two hours after that.

The adjustment: After her nap, Chloe woke up crying and saying that she wanted to go back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I took her out to the carnival near our house and took her on the merry-go-round, which helped somewhat. Sean and I were talking later about how it must be so hard to be her right now, because she was not involved in any of the planning and all of a sudden she’s in this strange place with none of her familiar surroundings. We felt awfully guilty for bringing her all the way over here. However, the next morning she woke up saying “I love France”. She is doing much better now, enjoying the wonderful food, warm air, sunshine and carnival that’s pretty much right next to our place. Emily is adjusting fairly well also. She’s having some trouble adjusting to the time change at the moment, but hopefully that will pass soon. She is definitely having the hardest time adjusting, but I guess that her food supply (ie. me) needs time to adjust also). She keeps giving us these confused looks when we wake her up at 7am (1am home time) and when we expect her to sleep at 7pm (1pm home time). Anyone else had experience with dragging an infant through time zones and care to share any tips????

The apartment: The apartment is in Old Nice, very close to the beach, the tram line, the market and the pedestrian area. Most importantly it is also very close to amazing shopping. So far we have just been getting ourselves settled, so no wonderful purchases yet. I definitely have a pair of boots and a new jacket on my radar though. We have been having fun the last few days exploring the neighborhood and enjoying the food (let’s face it, this trip is largely about the food). We came across a child and parent centre in our neighborhood and checked it out today so that Chloe could play with some other kids. I also got to chat a little bit with some other moms. The downtown location is amazing, but we have both realized that it’ been a while since we’ve lived downtown in a city, and the density of people is taking some getting used to as well.

So, in short, we are settling in. The adjustment has been greater than we had anticipated (for the kids and for us). We are glad that we are staying for a few months, and not turning around and coming home in two weeks (only to have the kids have to adjust again). I’ve been experiencing a bit of culture shock (and it’s only France!), but more in the sense that I guess I had romantic visions of spending hours of time walking around the city, eating in cafes, shopping at leisure. Well, the news (good or bad) is the we are still parents of a toddler (who will have tantrums wherever you are, even in a french cafe bringing many dirty looks) and an infant (who gets very cranky if she doesn’t get her naps, and is delirious with laughter at 8am when her body thinks it’s 2am). Same shit, different place. The reality is that this trip is going to be amazing, just a different amazing than it was backpacking on our honeymoon five years ago. Although we won’t be traipsing all over Europe, we will be getting a sense of what it is really like to live here on a local level. We find wonder where our kids find wonder – the tram, the little applesauce squeeze packs (we really need to have these at home), mo-peds, a million dogs that look like Burt (Auntie C’s dog), baguette every night, croissants many mornings. At first I was wishing that Sean and I could have taken this trip on our own (obviously not for as long!) so that we could cram a lot more in. But adding kids into the mix slows us down to where we have to (literally) stop and smell the roses. And trust me, roses smell a lot nicer when it’s 10 degrees outside as opposed to -20!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Living now and taking stock

I suppose it's human nature that we want everything, and that we want it as soon as possible. Not that living for the future is all bad. Anticipation can be a wonderful thing. I remember last December when we were preparing for a trip to Florida how the planning and the anticipation was almost as exciting as the actual trip - and the trip was wonderful. And for a guy that's not fond of winter, spending half of it thinking about Florida (when I was there and when I wasn't) sure was great.

But the danger with living for the future is that you can do it at the expense of the present. We often don't even take the time to enjoy what we've been coveting before we're coveting something else. And in the age of quick information and free flowing credit, we often don't have to wait very long for that next exciting thing or experience. In actual fact, as a society, we don't do a lot of real anticipating anymore - just for as long as it takes to get to the nearest Best Buy or to download the latest song. Everything we want is at our fingertips and we greedily grab for it like a child grabs for the chocolate bar in front of her at the checkout line.

Parenting is different... and not so different. There is no rushing anticipation here, that's for sure. And believe me, there are days when I'd love to say, "o.k., that was fun for a while, now let's put these kids up on Used Ottawa and then go catch a couple of movies." But we can't. It doesn't work that way. In the 21st century, parenting may just be the one last aspect of our lives where most of us still feel compelled to make a long term commitment.

As much as Julie and I have loved experiencing the day-to-day wonders of raising small children, we have also hungered for the day when our responsibilities will diminish in intensity, if not in importance.  We can't wait until we can sleep in on a Saturday, see a play again at our leisure, or enjoy a wine trip to Niagara.

So as parents we continue the pattern of always looking forward - to the next step, the next stage, the next reward in life's journey (as though life is about being rewarded) - except, that's not the whole picture this time. This time, we're being constantly reminded of the present, and of the past. Kids will do that to you. They change so quickly that you find yourself always mourning what's already passed and what you know will soon pass. Every beautiful moment, every sweet spot you find yourselves in with a child is tinged slightly with the knowledge that this moment, this stage will pass and that you won't get it back again.

Emily's not waking as often during the night, and that makes Julie happy, of course, but it also makes her sad. She knows that pretty soon she won't have the night time feedings, the intimacy that she's enjoyed with her baby. And every time Chloe gives me one of her big hugs or says "Daaady" in that way she does, I know that it won't last forever, and that I had better appreciate it. I know too that I won't always be perfect, won't always be her hero (it may end next year since she's taken a keen interest in hockey and I can't skate).

If we're doing our jobs right as parents, we're spending every day guiding and teaching our kids how to survive and thrive on their own. They arrive fully dependent on us and become less so everyday until they really don't need us anymore. Talk about weaning! And we parents are being weaned the whole time too. No wonder parents of adult children long to feel needed again. It's the flip side of longing to feel cared for and protected.

With most things in life, phases and stages slip by without our noticing, and we can only long to have them back and wish we had appreciated them more in the moment (university and my early twenties come to mind). With parenting, you can see all the little moments slipping by right in front of you, and you're a damn fool if you don't take the time to appreciate them. You won't get them back.

Living in the present... it's hard, and always has been hard for me. But at least kids help to make it a conscious choice. Every day now I try to live now and to observe what's going on around me. It's easy to miss a lot when you're not paying attention. But it's the hardest thing in the world to live for now and not worry about tomorrow or yesterday.

It's also great to anticipate the future, of course.  That's one of the joys of life. But to simply live for the next great distraction, it's just pathetic really - like a dog salivating for his next treat. Spending our whole lives waiting for the next great thing is just a form of escape, where we don't have to evaluate our lives, appreciate where we are right now, or deal with our own mortality. We can just keep sitting for treats until we die, "hopefully of a heart attack, not cancer. Nobody wants to die of cancer, man" and we won't have to think about any deeper purpose, meaning or appreciation.  Isn't it strange that none of us want to die, yet instead of trying to come to terms with our lives and our deaths, we stick our head in the sand and go out and buy something.

Childhood development generally follows a pretty predictable path, and can't be rushed or slowed. Sometimes it seems to take so long - and other times it seems like it's happening way too fast. The best thing we can do is appreciate the whole ride, and then what comes after. Life will run it's course, whether we like it or not. Constantly looking forward will only lead us to one place, ultimately - the end of the story, the conclusion, and everybody knows that the end of the story is rarely the best part.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Shit my kid says - January

Today we were returning a couple of small things at Sears, and while the woman behind the counter was doing her thing, Chloe said to Julie in a big loud voice, "My like to pick Emily's nose." Julie, stunned, embarrassed, and unsure what to say, said, "What Chloe?" And she said it again - "My like to pick Emily's nose." Julie just looked at her and said, "no." Then Chloe said, "Then I like to pick your nose."

Thank God the woman behind the counter was francophone.  Hopefully she didn't catch it. It's bad enough that our otherwise charming toddler picks her nose regularly in public, but to suggest picking others' noses too... what must people think? That we have regular nose picking orgies at our house. You pick my nose, and I'll pick yours. Oh, and by the way, I've got some good tasting wax in my ear too.

There's a book out that's making quite a splash called Shit my Dad Says. It's a compilation of all of the crazy things the author's father has said over the years. I've heard some of them, and they're hilarious. I thought of this book today when Chloe made her charming suggestion. I think I'll start a regular entry about the cute and not-so-cute things my daughter says. The first entry will be hard to top!

Speaking of cute and not-so-cute sayings, Brian Hammett, a friend of ours and father, has just started a great blog about the things his little girl says called, Conversations with Sera. Check it out. It's partly what inspired me to start tracking some of the things Chloe says.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The obligatory Christmas post

Well, it's been a while. I'll have to get back into the groove of this. I thought many times that I should write during the holiday season, but the whole time was such a whirlwind, I couldn't get up the energy to do it.

So, what to say about Christmas 2010?  I'll keep it short because, quite frankly, nobody wants to hear about someone else's Christmas (it's like telling someone about your day - people will ask you, but they don't want to know) unless there are some juicy stories, and even if there were some juicy stories... my whole family reads this, so I couldn't go there.

We had a great turkey dinner, or as is common for many young families, multiple turkey dinners. We drove a lot, visited a lot, ate too much, and stayed up too late at night - at least for parents who have to get up at 5:30 in the morning. We'll need a few days at home just to get back to a normal rhythm.

Chloe left Santa some cookies and milk, and in return Santa visited both of her grandparents' houses. At one, he left a stocking and at the other a gift, including the new baby she'd been waiting for with great anticipation. Although, in the end, a little backpack for her to take her toys to France turned out to be a far bigger hit (Dora the Explorer wears a backpack. That could have something to do with it).

Emily, of course was well treated by Santa too, and both girls received a wealth of gifts from family and friends.

What else can I say? There were lots of pictures, lots of laughing and talking and playing with the kids. Chloe had a great time with her cousin Hayden. They chased each other around the house for hours, and Chloe showed a keen interest in the male anatomy (there was a reason she wanted to help get Hayden ready for bed every night).

2010 certainly was a good year for our little family.  As for 2011? Well I guess we'll see. Now our minds turn to the great adventure we have coming up in a few weeks.