Category: Childhood

You’ve been schooled

DH and I decided to finally face the real world when it comes to our kids’ education. Unfortunately, I will not fall asleep and wake up when they are 18 and hopefully somewhat educated. I have talked a little about the anxiety raising among my parent peers about school options in this post. I tried to brush it off and then one day my nanny said: ‘Everyone is asking me about what G & P will do next year? Are they going to preschool?’ EVERYONE is asking, apparently. I still resisted  the issue until P told me one day: ‘D is not playing with us in the morning now because he is going to school. He is a big boy now, you know’. D is 1 month older than G & P…

DH and I thus sat down with a bottle of red wine and stared at each other for about 15 minutes in silence because we knew that whatever we do it is going to skin us alive. French readers, public schools here start at age 5 here with a handful of them offering a pre-K (age 4) so it means it’s all privately funded. Everything comes out of your very own pocket. Full time preschool (9am-6pm) could cost us up to $100,000 for G & P, part-time preschool (9am-12pm) up to $70,000 because you’ll still have to pay the nanny to care for them…You understand the silent staring now?

Anyway, we found an alternative option that looks like the Eldorado: they start taking your brats age 3 and they are way cheaper than any other preschools in the neighborhood. But the Eldorado comes with a price: pledging to pray God. Yes, I am actually considering to put my kids in a Catholic school. DH, a raised Catholic, has no issues with it; Me, an occasional heretic (I did once think that God should be a woman and should look like Madonna in her Express Yourself period), has more reservations. Don’t get me wrong, on most days you would seriously confuse with me with a devout Christian e.g. Do to others what you would like them to do to you etc. I even worked for a Christian nonprofit…in another life. It’s the religious institutions that I have a beef with but that’s another conversation, another blog post.

So we went to an Open House, DH to listen to their educational programs and me to count how many paintings of Virgin Mary there were in the school building. We took the kids with us to see how they felt about it. And because I knew I could always rely on G’s Creep-O-Meter. The boy is freaked out watching Tinkerbell so I knew that an overly Holy surrounding would send him running towards the door. He was going to be my wing boy. Turns out it was not the praying corners with kids’ writings asking God to help them be good friends with their classmates (I am not kidding) or statues of Virgin Mary that got me concerned but the Parents. Talk about going back to school…All the stereotypes were there: the A student mom who was on her open house Number 10, the too cool for school dad with suspenders who preferred to take his daughter to another side of the school rather than share a play area with P and I,  and the overly dressed up mom struggling to keep a hang on her children…OK, the last one is actually me, but in my defense I had to dash to my little sis birthday dinner in Midtown right after the school visit. Still I am pretty sure that this did not look good, especially when I almost stumbled onto another child while chasing P with my heeled knee high boots…

We left rather impressed with the program’s principles and philosophy: well thought, well designed and ….well sold, obviously. DH and I were bugged by something though. All the children were ‘invited’ to play with the classroom toys during the presentation and G built a huge boat with lego blocks for the first time in his life and was beaming with pride and excitement. He looked around for his dad who was on the other side of the room and screamed:’ Daddy!!!!!!! Loook, I made a big boat!’ That’s when the director of the program (who I am sure, secretly hates children) told the parents to try to shush the kids down during her presentation. She said this, minutes after going on and on about the importance of celebrating children’s achievement. It was a tad ironic and a shit load of WTF. In the cab on our way home, DH and I agreed that we will try to get them in next September but meanwhile we were happy to have a nanny at home  who beams with pride every time G sings screams ‘Old McDonald had a farm’ very loud. These kids will get restrained soon enough; I am happy to let them loose for now even if it means they still cannot differentiate colors and letters like most of their friends in preschool. Life should be simpler; at least for P it is. When we asked P what she thought of school, she replied:

– ‘I LOOOOOVE IT! It was super!’ 

– ‘Why?’

-‘They gave me cookies’.

OK, then.

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Getting ready for school 🙂

Mood of the day: the Frenchie

Very strange weather. Last week I was boasting about New York’s Indian Summer to all my European mates and this week is a mix bag of rain, thunderstorms and tornados alerts, Fall breeze, hot and sunny afternoons etc… As the French say, ‘c’est n’importe quoi!’ (It’s anything…and everything). So I decided to just mix Summer and Fall:

– my favorite summer jumpsuit from United Colors of Benetton. It is as comfy as pajamas. And it has helped me a lot to hide my bump in the early days of my pregnancy with L, after I gave birth to L and …now.  Yep, it is kind of the same bump, and it looks like it is here to stay, the kids even named it. They call it ‘LE BEBE’ (the baby)…

– my mint pumps from Nine West

– a scarf by Day Birger et Mikkelsen

– and my most precious item of clothing: a trench coat from Louis (Vuitton) that I literally snatched away from some skinny gal during a sample sale (back when my cousin was working for LVMH). I am not proud.

Every fashionista has read at least one article or two about French women’s (supposed) natural and effortless chic. My little brain went French woman + scarf + trench coat = BINGO. Except that how effortless chic can you really be when you can no longer freaking close the trench coat???? Oh well…

On a side note, I met up for a coffee with Lou, a childhood friend from France, who was visiting New York with her hubby. We haven’t seen each other in about 18 years and it is was shocking how easy it was to just pick up the conversation and run with it. Great feeling. It was also funny to talk to someone who knew you as a child and as a teenager but then missed your adult years because they say things like:

‘It’s hilarious because I would not have pictured you with a husband and 3 babies. You were so adamant about not getting hooked up with anyone, so independent!

-‘Back then you already seemed rather unaffected by shitty stuff that would happen around you, like floating above the crap.’

I guess I did change but not so much 🙂

French trench

French trench 2

I am …

When I woke up this morning, I really felt like I had drunk 5 cosmos, smoked 20 fags and as if a body snatcher was crawling out of my limbs pulling away my bladder with its teeth… I was feeling old, basically. And then G stood in front of me wearing only his underwear, exposed, and shouted with gusto with his arms wide open: ‘Mama, I am perfect!’ . Could this just be the Botox cocktail I really needed?

To be honest, I did not know how to react to my son’s proclamation of self-love. My first thought was: ‘where did he get this from? We never use the word ‘perfect’ in this household…’ And it was quite a sobering epiphany. Where I grew up, perfection simply can never be attained. Is it because French education breeds  generations of analytical, self-aware but pessimist, overly critical and eventually gloomy adults, as suggests Patricia Druckerman, author of Bringing up Bebe, in this article for Vanity Fair.fr  (sorry this one is in French only)?

I, indeed, remembered 2 instances in high school when the goody two shoes girl I used to be thought : ‘what the fuck?’ My history teacher’s preferred saying used to irrate me. He was gloating every single freaking time he said it: ‘18 is the grade the best student deserves, 19 is the teacher’s grade and 20/20, well …is God‘. It was not even a catholic school so you’ll understand my confusion there. And then my English teacher, while giving me back my very final high school exam paper, said with deep regret: ‘Pfff….I do feel bad that I have never managed to give you a 20/20 in the 3 years that I have taught you…‘. She have me a 19.75 !!! How absurd was it? To this day, I am still not sure what I was supposed to take away from this off the cuff remark.

But perhaps it was not my education but it was my ‘Battle Royale’ like home. For those who have never watch this Japanese cult movie, here’s the synopsis: ‘A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school have been forced by legislation to compete and kill each other in a Battle Royale‘… Of course, I am not sure there was ever a winner in my home because it seemed we were never good enough anyway. Lao style. You would say something that really makes you proud and my mom would snap out of her daydreaming and would say: ‘I think my larb (Lao meat salad) has too much fish sauce in it‘. What the fuck ???? Congratulations, compliments, and nice words in general are NOT in my family DNA. In fact, something really weird happened this week. We were on a Skype session with my mom and P was talking to her and suddenly my mom blurted out: ‘I love you P’. I think my ears must have blocked it out. But DH later said: ‘did you her what your mom said? That was touching, right? I mean, has she ever told you that she loved you?’ I laughed: ‘Nope.  Are you mad? What do you think?’

Don’t get me wrong, DH and I are all about positive reinforcement or should I say positive realignment (yeah, his family can be as fucked up as mine) and we make sure to value our kids’ good deeds and successes. But I realized on second thought that what G said this morning put the light onto something else. It was not about me saying that he was good,  it was about him having the balls and candor to say ‘I am perfect’. When was the last time you heard a grown up say something that ballsy about themselves? And say it in an unapologetical way , without caveats or a ‘hahaha I was kidding’ afterwards? Fuck that. Maybe that is why I feel so old. Maybe it’s not the wrinkles or the extra fat or the yellowing teeth. Maybe it’s the audacity for self-appreciation that is missing. So to finish off my very tiring and stressful week I am going to play G’s game and be ballsy myself. Here’s my ‘I am’ list:

I am very funny.

I am resourceful.

I am kind.

I am real.

What’s your list?

And here’s little G in all his ‘perfection’ 🙂

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Letter to teenage redlipstickgirl

Come on girls
Do you believe in love?
‘Cause I got something to say about it
And it goes something like this
Madonna

A fun and moving letter by Jhanis to her 7 year old self and this beautiful response from Stephen Fry to a letter 16 year-old Stephen wrote to his future self inspired me. I decided to write to a certain young, naïve and angry redlipstickgirl. I was not sure at which age I’d like to talk to her and thought, why not do a series? In this first installment, I am writing to teenage redlipstickgirl (14-16 year old). I put these years together because a lot of shit was going through my head then. It is a scary exercise but I promised, when redlipstickmama was born, that I was always going to push my own boundaries  in my search for my new self and nothing and no one may be spared. So here it goes.

Dear redlipstickgirl,

You are spending a lot of time, way too much time, in your bedroom. It is covered with ugly wallpaper with windmills print. This ugliness is too much to bear and you are staring at glossy posters of Madonna and Norwegian boy band A-ha, dreaming of a country far away and wishing to flee the boredom of la Banlieue Parisienne where nothing, absolutely nothing, happens. You fucking hate la Banlieue. Surely, there has been some major cosmic fuck up because you cannot belong here. You think about how Madonna supposedly left her home and arrived in Times Square with $35 in her pockets to become..well, Madonna. You think, can it be that during her pre-fame stay in Paris, she had a fling with some Asian dancer dude and I am her long lost child? Breathe deep, girlfriend. Madonna is really not your mother but you will live in a far away country one day and you will give a go at your own American dream. It is going to happen so for now perhaps you could open that window of yours to enjoy the sun and listen to your neighbors mow their lawn even though you hate it. By the way, in twenty years, you’ll still hate that sound; it will still put you in a weird spleen. Something even weirder, in your mid-twenties you will start to proudly boast that you are from La Banlieue in the middle of snotty cocktail evenings where people talk about social justice but never suffered from exclusion themselves. Also, there is this very cool moviemaker Matthieu Kassovitz who will shed some light on La Banlieue in the movie, La Haine. It’ll make you feel sad and angry and you will then realize that perhaps you grew up there and survived it just to tell others.

No one chooses their family. And one day, you will actually accept yours. One day, your mom will stop gambling your family home playing Black Jack and your dad will stop threatening her to use a Samurai sword if she does not give it up. One day, in about 15 years, you will look at their vacation photos in Laos and you will be shocked to see them very much in love and holding hands. Surreal? It is true though, it will happen. One day, you will not think that your dad is a tyrant but a sweet old man who will help you hobble out of the maternity ward after you delivered your younger son. One day, you will tell your little brother that you love him on his wedding day so stop acting like a crazy bitch and stop chasing him around the dining table with a kitchen knife. This image will haunt you for the rest of your life. Trust me.

Talking about being a crazy bitch, I know you are about to barge into a neighbor’s house in the middle of the night to interrupt a cards game and rip your mom’s gambling partners apart. You will say something like that: ‘You selfish bastards, why did you drag her all the way here to play?  You know she is an addict. You know she has a 3 months old baby at home who is crying, a husband who needs to go to work at 5 am and 3 other kids who want their mama home. You should be ashamed of yourself, losers!’ Well girl, kudos, kudos. Do not feel embarrassed; do not let their uncomfortable chuckles unsettle you and just rip them apart. Because it will be one of the proudest moments of your life. Because sometimes when I feel weak now, I remember your courage and it inspires me… Also, if you have not done it yet, please take a container full of padek (stinky fermented fish that Lao people adore) and splash their faces with it. Also do know that some of these gamblers, when old, will redeem themselves in the eyes of their own families.  Funnily enough, some will continue to fear you as an adult because you will always be in their eyes the demented girl in her pajamas who barked at them and told them their sad truth  with all the anger and conviction of her youth.

On the topic of your body and how you look like…You have cried, not often, perhaps twice (and it’s already twice too many), because some stupid boys daily heckle you using a moron moniker ‘moustache’ or offer you a razor as a secret Santa gift. All this because you have facial hair. You spend nights cursing them and swear to get your revenge once you take over the world. Well, it is not going to happen sweetheart (sigh) but soon you will be able to afford wax and most importantly you will meet a guy who in the first 15 years of your relationship will never see your upper lip hair because he is totally short-sighted. Plus you will not even remember those losers’  names and faces. You also recently decided that you did not want to look like a tomboy anymore and started to wear very skanky outfits and stash your bras with tissues. I understand where you are coming from, and why you feel you have to do this. What bothers me if that you don’t actually feel great about it, you feel cheap, you don’t even like the way older creeps start looking at you on the street. Well, stay firm on your ground. There is no rush, my little tomboy. The curves will come eventually (and you will wish they had not), and with them a classier fashion sense too. Keep the red lipstick though, that’s a good style statement 🙂

There are other couple of things that really bother you at the moment: you still don’t have your periods and you are still a virgin. On the first point, your periods will come, then go for a while and then come back from time to time. You are never going to be one of these women who have their menstruations on the clock. It’s OK, periods are overrated so stop pretending you have them by putting some pads in your underwear, silly girl! As for your virginity, you think you need to have sex by age 17, just to get over it. It’s not a big deal and others have lost it before you and seem OK. I am not sure what to tell you: should you treasure your virginity more? Should you make this a bigger deal? I don’t know… but you have great instincts and you are going to choose your ‘first’ well: a sweet guy. That choice has helped me develop fairly healthy relations with men, I am sure of it, so thank you little redlipstickgirl.

You are also very upset because your best buddy got called ‘pede, tapette, trans-‘ (French for faggot, fannie, transsexual) by some high school classmates. You have never heard of the word ‘gay’ so you naively defend him and tell the bullies that ‘no,  he is not a fag, he likes hot girls‘. Well, he still does but not in the way you mean 🙂 The fact that you are so clueless is kind of sweet and kind of sad too. I wish adults would tell you more so you could engage with all these guys at school you think are a little weird but you cannot figure what their problem is. When you are older, a lot of your closest friends will be gay. You’ll know that men can love other men, rejoice that some can even marry and you will bite off the heads of anyone who dares to say they should not be allowed to. Strange, huh?

Finally, be proud of the little diary that I know you are keeping. You feel absolutely stupid writing all your dreams, pains, infatuations, and secrets. You should not, this diary is helping you more than you think. Unfortunately, I know that someone will find it, you will feel mortified and you will trash it. It is a shame because I really wish I could read this now so we could compare notes…

Love,

Redlipstickmama aka you in 20 year or so and with an additional 30lbs.

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