Wednesday, July 17, 2013

France, avec bebe

During our week in Grenoble, Patrick was pretty busy with his conferencing, so Heiko and I had a lot of time to explore on our own. We had some quality time at the French playground, exploring several parks (though, the suitability of the non-playground parks for children was debatable, the ground seemed to be composed almost entirely of cigarette butts and broken glass), and wandering around the large pedestrianized centre of the city. I had a number of opportunities to observe French parenting in action, and some time to reflect on Bringing up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman's book on the key differences between American and French parenting philosophies, which I wrote about before.
Some of the anecdotes that she relays in the book were not really reflected in what I saw (that is the nature of anecdotes though, n'est ce pas?), and some were. For instance, though much used, the playground was not a site of much chumminess between parents, not even casual conversation. This was a bummer for Druckerman, who had hoped that having a baby in France would lead to new French BFFs and insider Paris tips. For me, I didn't much mind, since my French is in such a bad way, but it was noticeably different from the Fort Collins playgrounds we frequent. It was also awkward at times. For example, in a train station in France, Heiko caught the hand of a pretty little French girl who appeared to be about two. The thing that made it weird was that she was holding her dad's hand, and I was holding heiko's hand, which meant that we formed a strange hand-holding chain. The kids didn't seem to find it awkward, just holding on to each other in stony silence. But those moments of exploratory hand holding felt long to me as I tried and failed to catch the eye of the stranger at the other end of the chain.
Also true was that I didn't see anyone breastfeeding anywhere. Well, that isn't quite accurate. I sighed a little sigh of relief when I noticed a woman breastfeeding in the playground, but when I got close enough realized that she was English. So that may be a reflection of the low breast feeding rates in France (or at least short duration of breast feeding).
I will just take this topical opportunity to say how lucky and happy I feel to be nursing on this trip, however out of fashion it may be in France. Nursing is super effective at comforting and quieting Heiko during all of our train and plane travel, and settling in to all the new places we've been. It is also the most convenient and portable snack ever! And finally, 500 extra calories a day for a nursing mama? Pretty awesome given that I have been a baguette, croissant, wine, cheese, crepe, pannekoeken, and chocolate eating monster.
But back to France. One thing that was super annoying was that apparently the French don't believe in high chairs (these pictures were from the only place we did have a high chair - at the highly touristy Bastille restaurant. Note also the orangina in the lovely glass bottle). At one restaurant we were offered a car booster seat, which was humerously disfunctional, jetisoning poor Heiko out of the chair with the slightest movement. Have you ever tried to eat with a super squirmy one year old on your lap? As a result, Heiko's stroller was used as a crappy highchair stand-in, which means that now it is covered with the ghosts of many croissants and cheeses past. Quelle domage. The other thing is that most restaurants don't even begin thinking about serving dinner until 7pm (and still, it seems to be regarded as kind of tacky to eat dinner at that hour). So, the basic message seemed to be that eating out is not for small children. The few babies that I did see at restaurants seemed to be simply sitting around in their "push chairs", tolerating everything rather obediently, which was indeed Druckerman's observation too. I would describe Heiko as pretty good with restaurants, but the long and laid back French dining style was a challenge. No matter. We did lots of self-catering in our "aparthotel", and certainly high quality ingredients and delicious wine were easy to find.
Speaking of food, one of the other big points that Druckerman makes is the essential difference between eating philosophies of French and American parents. She claims that the French feed their babies and children exactly four times a day. This is true of both breastfed and food-eating children. I think it was something like 8am, 12pm, 4pm (gouter - snack), and 8pm. In contrast she claims that American parents can be seen offering snacks at all times, whether it is the squeezie pack of fruit at the park or breast milk on demand, etc. This bit is definitely true - I have been encouraged by our doctor to feed Heiko "a lot a lot", and that beloved Dr. Sears, father of attachment parenting, strongly recommends allowing children to graze on food throughout the day. He actually sells a glorified ice cube tray called the "nibble tray". Well, we don't have a nibble tray, but I do try to offer snacks to Heiko, and even now we still BF on demand. I suppose Druckerman's point was that food is used to placate North American children, while food is viewed differently and not used as comfort in France. It all sounds very civilized of course, but at its core is a kind of disciplinary philosophy that I'm just not on board with. Plus, I can get the between-meals-hangries with the best of them, so it is beneficial for everyone if the snacks are abundant.
But anyway, my long winded point is just that I saw snacking! In France! Land of no snacks! I saw squeezies in the playground! So there we go. Disputing anecdotal evidence with anecdotal evidence.
And with that, I should cut this off. France was fun. It made me feel a tiny bit inadequate as a parent and as a person, since the French are just kind of a superior people. But it was fun to take in all that civilized ambiance, and to realize that I'm pretty comfortable with the choices we've made about bringing up Heiko, no matter how un-French they may be.

1 comment:

  1. II had forgotten that you had read that book. I recently read it too, mostly to know more about the eating and sleeping parts. Randomly, Leo goes to the pediatrician's office founded by the French doctor in NY the she interviews In the book, and they really push for sleep training early. I'm still undecided on how we will proceed on that front (Leo is, so far, a great sleeper).

    I found the thing about breastfeeding weird too.

    Lastly, in discussing this book with my mom, her comment was "we'll, the French aren't exactly known for being great people."