Book review – ‘French children don’t throw food’ by Pamela Druckerman

I’m a reader. I like to read for entertainment but also I always look to books to help me out when I’m looking for direction. Becoming a mammy for the first time nearly 3 years ago was the maddest, most intense thing that ever happened to me and I flailed around for a good long time before I settled into my new identity. Along the way, I talked to mammy friends and relations, and I found myself drawn to books about parenting.

 

One day, a mammy friend lent me her copy of ‘French children don’t throw food’ by the American author and journalist, Pamela Druckerman. I liked it, it’s written in a personal, chatty style. She details how she met her husband and moved to Paris. It doesn’t contain any parenting advice, but outlines the author’s personal observations about French parenting and the ways it differs to American parenting.

 

Here are some of her conclusions – French mothers go on instinct, they are less conflicted and less worried about choosing a parenting style. Here the Irish mammy in me was going ‘huh?’ I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet in Ireland either. I know I’ve never worried about my parenting style. I think a lot of what she writes about will resonate with American mammies, and maybe less so with European, never mind French parents.

 

In France, there doesn’t seem to be any rules until you ask detailed questions. It’s only when she digs deep that she discovers the ‘cadre’ or framework, which is how French parents describe being very strict about certain things, but giving a lot of flexibility with other things. It seems that French children are given a lot of freedom but expected to behave well too, for instance, children are given the same menus as adults are and throwing food is not allowed.

 

One thing that really stuck with me is her description of watching other parents or caregivers in playgrounds. She was stunned to see the French adults around her sitting down on the benches and chatting while their charges played. Apparently, this never happens in American playgrounds. Apparently there, the parents are up at the top of the slides, helping the children along.

 

This got me looking around Irish playgrounds, and what I’ve noticed is this, mostly Irish adults will hover around their children, sometimes, but not often, you see a grown man lurching around, hunched over, on the top of the climbing frame. Very rarely do you see parents sitting on the benches chatting. It seems we Irish playground visitors are halfway between France and America on this.

 

Well I like the idea of sitting down every once in a while, and I also think it’s a good thing to let kids play on their own, without any instruction, every once in a while, so inspired by this book, I’ve been encouraging my daughter to explore by herself, whenever we’re in a playground, which happens a lot. I’ll plonk myself down on the nearest bench and wave over at her every so often. If she asks for help climbing up on something, I tell her, ‘if you need my help, then it’s too big for you’. And do you know what? I think it’s made her more adventurous. She’s gotten used to the idea now and she’ll mostly wander round exploring by herself, and chatting to the other kids. I’m still called over when the swings are free, but that’s ok.

 

I’d recommend this book as an interesting, thought provoking read. For all those moments of leisure time you have. Haha.

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Who am I?

For the last 3 years, the most resounding answer to this question has been ‘Mammy’. But I am other things too, and over the last year I have been juggling so many parts of my life that anything that was not mammy related got dropped. Things that are important to me and my sense of myself, like running, reading and writing this blog.

Since my last post over a year ago, I got promoted in work, which meant extra responsibilities. I found out I was pregnant with a much longed for second baby, which was fabulous but exhausting, there are no naps on pregnancy number 2, with a 2 year old needing your attention. Life was great and hectic and busy, and there was no time for ‘just me’ things.

My little man is now 4 months old and I’m starting to reclaim tiny corners of my life here and there.

2 weeks ago I decided the time had come to put the running shoes back on.

Last night I picked up a book that’s been sitting on my shelf since I don’t know when. A friend bought it for me, I think it was at least a year ago. I actually had to blow the dust off the cover. Oops, not much time for housework around here either…

And now I’m sitting at the laptop, apologising for my absence and writing again.

Things I did not expect when I was expecting

Sleep. It’s what all new parents are obsessed with and what people love to ask you about as soon as you’ve had your baby. How much, when and how often, the topic could keep you chatting for hours when your baby is only hours old.

I expected that. I expected the 2am wakeup calls for food and snuggles. When baba was little. When I was still on mat leave.

What has hit me like a tonne of bricks is the fact that sleep can still be elusive now that my daughter is 1 and a half. This I did not expect. This no one told me about. I’m back to work months now. People expect me to show up in a suit and be efficient. My baby is a little person now and is well settled into her crèche and she goes off to sleep every night with mostly very little fuss. And in fairness, she does sleep some nights straight through, all the way to…6am.

But once or twice a week, she’ll have a night where she’s just awake for a few hours. Her favourite times seems to be anywhere from 2-5 am. She’s generally not hungry, or thirsty or in pain, I’ve discovered after much half-asleep experimentation. She usually just wants to chat.

I think it’s things she forgot to tell me earlier, or just that she’s so excited about something that happened that day. It can be hard to tell what with it being 4am and me being more than half asleep.

I bring her into the double bed in the spare room and lie there half comatose while she babbles away at me, occasionally thumping me in the eyeball to make sure I haven’t drifted off to sleep.

At some stage she’ll tire herself out and snuggle into me. On those mornings I wake up with one little arm around my neck and a mass of golden curls in front of my face, and I thank the universe and any gods listening with all my heart. Because although I never knew that my sleep would still be dictated by a crazy little person a year and a half after they arrived into my life, I also never knew that my heart could expand so much and that even at 4am I could smile at how adorable someone was.

That I did not expect.

Happy Yeats Day!

This day 151 years ago WB Yeats was born. Celebrating with one of my favourite Yeats poems

A Prayer for my Daughter
William Butler Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wisc.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Screen time under 2

So we all know the recommendation for no screen time under the age of 2 and we also all know how unrealistic that really is, but a recent holiday has left me wondering have we gone too far in our use of apps and cartoons as distractions for our little ones.

Myself, himself and the little one recently had a long weekend away, staying in two different hotels, in Ireland.

I’d arrive at dinner time with the changing bag and a bag of toys and books. No more glittery clutches for me. Also dinner time is now 5.30 but anyway…

The book and a small selection of her favourite toys kept her going for a while but when you’re 1 and a half and you’re in a new place you have to explore! So myself and hubby took it in turns to accompany her as she set off to explore.

I’m old enough to remember the 80’s when you’d wander far and wide and just check back in with your ma for meals. I know those days are long gone but I was still pleasantly surprised to see that older kids are allowed to roam around a bit, in pairs and checking back in every 15 minutes or so. We made loads of pals in the first hotel. Every night we’d bump into other kids and have the chats with them as they all made friends.

My little girl loved playing with the other kids and ran around having a ball.

Then we moved on to a second hotel and it was all different. The kids around us were handed smartphones or tablets at the start of the meal and didn’t look up until it was time to go. At one stage my little girl even approached another girl of similar age, trying to make friends, but the other girl was too engrossed in the phone.

Lookit, I’ve only the one baba to worry about and everyone has to do what they can but when there’s loads of other kids around surely we should be encouraging them to all play together?