Dear readers, I’m pregnant again. I wish I were saying this to elicit congratulations and by way of launching a new column about pregnancy -- and I am, at least, doing the latter, but the...
We do our best — really. Every year, we go into the holidays eating healthfully, raiding the winter greens from our garden, concocting healthy soups, wearing our scarves (and yes, I’ve even gotten better about making my son wear his coat — for more on this, see my Paris blog on his runny nose…) And every year, about one week from Christmas, it all falls apart. Even when we put a healthy dinner on the table at home, he’s already eaten too many pecan sandies and mint chocolate brownies at the school winter faire to do anything besides pick at it. And try as I might, I never manage the resolve to say no to all of his holiday indulgences — perhaps because I’m not saying no either. Try telling your son to lay off the cookies when you’ve just stuffed your third scoop of peanut butter blossom cookie batter into your mouth.
It’s 6pm, after 33 hours of traveling home from Vietnam (yes, I counted, for good measure), and I step into the Austin Airport. I’ve been gone for 10 days, which feels like double any time I cross the international dateline from where my son lives. He’s seven now, and occasionally I try out the theory of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” for an exotic girls’ trip or for work, but when he reports via Skype that, “Mommy, I can’t find the fun in life without you,” I’m ready to go home. So when he’s not at the security exit, jumping up and down, I’m surprised. When neither he nor my husband is at baggage claim either, I am, admittedly, slightly disappointed — and slightly irritable.
So its been a while since I’ve blogged, and I have to admit, I was inspired again by a new, unlikely and unpleasant phenomenon. Safely returned from Paris, and after throwing caution to the wind on many occasions (steak tartare, soft cheese, you name it, a pregnant woman’s nightmare), it wasn’t until I hit a beautiful, fresh, nameless café in Arizona (nameless to protect the innocent and guilty☺) that I ordered a chicken walnut salad. I’m not a poultry fan, I admit, but going back to my roots in Chinese medicine, and feeling a bit tired in the desert heat, I thought the chicken could bolster my system a bit, while the salad could cool me off – I can dream can’t I?
“Here. Blow.” Another mother gives my son a kleenex and makes a motion to her own nose which she hopes will facilitate the exchange. My son looks up at her blankly. “Blow,” she says again. “Its not good for them to have so much mucus in their nose.” The people-pleaser/health worker in me agrees instantly, and probably with more fervor than I actually feel to save some face.
The truth is, I didn’t even notice that his nose needed blowing (there wasn’t any thick oozing gunk halfway down to his lip, and isn’t that the universal time for a tissue?).
Well, I’m back from an extended summer vacation – if by vacation, I mean having to entertain my amazing, precocious and only OCCASIONALLY demanding six year old 12 hours a day. Now he’s safely back in school, where someone else, in this case a beautiful young French woman named Katell, can be his intellectual and social coordinator — someone with infinite patience and a salary that rewards her infinite patience (although surely not enough!). Aaahh, I might dub the month of September Mommy Vacation, and renamed Summer Vacation ‘Summer Onslaught’, just so I stop mentally confusing the two and pretendingthat summer is something it’s not.
My family likes to travel. Ever heard the expression ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’? Well maybe that’s us. Because as much as we like to ‘keep it local’, there are days when we still try to gather as little moss as we can. Enter the summer road trip. Even while we work and play for the summer in Paris, we still feel due for the occasional roadtrip. Monet’s house in Giverny? Here we come. The cathedrals at Chartres and Rouen? Well, who knows why they make my family turn newly devout, but there it is, we have to have a look. All a good hour or so from the City of Lights… or more, when you decide to absorb the local color and take the back roads to get there. Our first mistake. Because even though my son had never shown signs of carsickness before, I should have known in a diesel car (that lets you know by the smell that it’s diesel) on a one-lane farm road, my son would take after me as a child and become carsick.
My son has taken to attaching the phrase BBC America to everything that he says. “This is BBC America, announcing Aidan has to go to bed,” “This is BBC America saying I’m still hungry and won’t eat the rest of the ratatouille.” You name it, it has become newsworthy. And not just newsworthy, but worthy of a hard-hitting, sophisticated news slot – he adopts what I think might be a British-type accent to go along with his pronouncements (I know it’s BBC America, but it’s his show) and coupled with an enthusiasm to match that of a game show host, cadences intact. Think Bruce Forsythe meets Anderson Cooper, and a little bit of that Furniture Center guy yelling, “we want to save you money” thrown into the mix and you’ve got a taste of the veritable Anglo socio-cultural smorgasboard that my son evokes as he narrates his every move.
I wish I were the perfect Mother-Ambassador of perfect children’s health (and Mary Poppins, with Elle McPherson’s body, and Einstein’s mind), but for anyone who has read my blog, I think quite possibly the jig is up. I drink coffee, I eat the occasional cupcake (the whole thing, all by myself) after a raw or macrobiotic dinner (my husband tells me that in the business of selling groceries, there’s actually a name and a marketing plan for me, labeled “Indulgent Health Fanatics”), and I know that my child is sensitive to wheat and dairy, and probably does not need extra sugar, ‘sensitive’ or no. And, very much like my five-year-old son, I cannot always spin out the consequences of my decisions beyond the moment.
Its difficult to live in a different country, I’m not going to tell you it isn’t. Maybe the difficulties are part of the fun of it for me – turning everyday routines into grand adventures. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my blog for Grocery Geeks.) There’s really a natural high involved in taking a city that I don’t know very well and learning its nuances, and even, maybe, possibly, finding a niche there.
Some of it however, feels less like a natural high and more like a natural disaster. Less in the category of bungee-jumping type adventure and more in the category of dental surgery type adventure, is when my son wakes up in a foreign country with an ear ache.
… Rewind to 3 nights ago to get the full effect…
When I was a little girl, my mother was not allowed to go to the grocery store. My father, instead, did all the cooking and shopping. He had retired early while she still worked, so this decision was both pragmatic and ahead of its time. On the rare occasions when my mother did go to the store with us (never by herself), she would invariably roam the aisles, with childlike wonderment. We would lose her somewhere after produce and before the condiment aisle, where, deep in reverie, she would explore and contemplate the ‘new’ introduction of diet drinks, snack packs, and all the goodies from which she had been shielded. My father cooked fresh and healthful meals, and naturally omitted all foods, including cheetos and lima beans, that he deemed unhealthful (the former) or unpalatable (the latter). My mother did not interfere with these well-advised decisions; she just browsed, much the way one would browse on Rodeo Drive or look at paintings in the Louvre.
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