Through the Eyes of a Toddler

I’ve heard the old cliche, “Kids say the darndest things,” about a million times in my life. And the voice in my head has always responded with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so what.” Kids don’t have political, social, moral filters; I get it. They will totally embarrass you at the most inopportune time by blurting out just the wrong thing. But as a trip to the grocery store taught me the other day, the “darndest thing” more often is some surprising shift in perspective that makes a parent stop and rethink for just a second the way s/he views the world.

So my first “darndest thing” moment happened in the grocery store. I was cruising the veggie aisles, looking for some good grilling eats, when I saw some very fresh, local corn. As I started shucking–I love that grocery stores have finally figured out that people want to see what they are buying and put trash cans next to fresh corn so people can remove the husks before they get home–I gave a cob to the crumb cruncher. I took my time explaining that this was maïs and it was yummy, so we were going to take off the husks so we could grill it and then eat it.

He watched me remove the husk off the first corn cob. As I ripped into the second, he looked at me, pointed, and said:

“Banana.”

My first reaction was to correct him. I got about two seconds into explaining once again that I was holding corn not a banana and then I just stopped. I started chuckling to myself. Duh, I must be an idiot to not recognize the similarities:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • They are long and skinny
  • They are eaten with hands
  • They have an inedible skin that must be peeled back
  • They are found at the grocery store
  • They are sweet and tasty
  • They can be made into bread
  • They give the dog the poops

And that is how a toddler’s brain works. It’s the darndest thing, isn’t it?

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10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

For as much as I traveled with my kid as an infant, traveling with him as a toddler is a whole new ballgame. Or so I learned at times painfully recently during an overseas excursion. Not everything was different–the key was still having enough liquids, snacks, and toys within reach at any moment–but I learned enough new stuff that I think it might be worth sharing my Top 10 insights.

  1. European airports rock. If the children’s play areas in London’s Heathrow airport and the nurseries at the Geneva airport weren’t enough, I can confirm that the airports in Geneva, Rome, and Naples offer priority lanes for parents traveling with children. Brilliant. The catch, though, is that some airports only allow one parent to go through the priority lane. While that kind of stinks for the parent who has to go through the regular security lanes, my experience has been that they move much more quickly than their American counterparts.
  2. There is a no Fly Safe zone. I had first heard about the Kids Fly Safe harness from a friend who swore by it. It seemed genius enough to me–a lightweight, packable, easy-to-install alternative to having to lug a car seat on the plane for a squirmy toddler–so I shelled out for one for our big European adventure. Although the website says its FAA approved and there’s a big section on using the contraption in the U.K., I hadn’t finished adjusting the anchor strap when a flight attendant for our British Air flight came over and asked if I needed help. I told her I was fine; I was just finishing adjusting the harness. At that point, she told me that I was not authorized to use the harness on B.A. flights and would have to remove the device. So glad I paid out the nose for expedited shipping.
  3. Formula is still your friend. I can’t remember the last time my kid touched formula–it had to have been eight months or more–but I threw in a handful of leftover single-serve packets of Enfamil into our mini cooler (that’s still a travel necessity) just in case I got desperate. Turns out we hit a patch of turbulence on one flight that left our flight attendants buckled in their seats just as our kid had a thirst attack that plain old agua couldn’t quench. As he came within an inch of a true toddler meltdown, I frantically scoured my bag for a lone juice box to no avail. Then I remembered the formula packets. A couple of quick shakes to get the powder to dissolve and–voila–we had a happy kid again. (Incidentally, on the juice box thing, Target’s Market Pantry brand carries smaller size juice boxes that meet the TSA’s fluid ounce restrictions–or at least come close enough that no one cared.)
  4. Infant tickets equals infinite problems. After a very rough start to our vacation, we were very careful to arrive super early to all of our inter-European flights. And it was a good thing because, for some reason, our Alitalia tickets never got coded to indicate that one of us would have an infant in arms. I didn’t anticipate this to be as big of a problem as it turned out to be. In the U.S., ticket counter personnel just clack on the keyboard and the additional ticket for baby is spit out. Not so much in Europe. We spent nearly an hour on each leg of our journey to/from Italy waiting for some airline customer service people to execute. At one point, one woman had to pull out a handwritten manual to find directions as to what to do. We also got tagged with a lap-baby fee of 10% of the cost of the ticket–of course not the price I paid online weeks before but what it cost at that moment, two hours before the flight. Awesome.
  5. Don’t get sucked into the romance; public water fountains are nasty. I have seen enough movies set in Italy to find it charming that most Italian cities and villages still have public water fountains, wonderful works of art and sculpture where locals still take pause to wet their whistles daily. And few things can amuse a squirmy toddler more than big chutes of water. So, as my kid was splashing in the fountain, nearly dunking his head under a spigot in an attempt to get a drink, I took pictures to capture this quintessential Italian moment. I regretted it all the next day when my kid came down with some sort of bug that had him throwing up and spiking a serious fever. While I secretly relished having nothing to do other than hang out while our kid basically slept all day–I finally got to read a magazine in peace, stretched out in the sun on a lawn chair with a nice cappuccino–it did significantly cut down on our sightseeing; I think we lost about 2.5 days, all told.
  6. Don’t be ashamed; kid leashes are humane. I was always skeptical about child harnesses. While I could see the practicality, I was never sure about how comfortable I was with them. And then my mother-in-law bought one for us. (I’m pretty sure this is the one she bought, although ours is a much darker brown, so I think it’s cuter.) My husband and I took it for a test run on a weekend in New York City. All it took was being in Times Square at rush hour for us to become converts. I can’t tell you how awesome that thing was every place from the security line at Heathrow airport in London to the winding, cobblestone streets of Amalfi, Italy, where motorbikes and cars zip down alleys most people would assume would be pedestrian only. The bonus was our kid loved the monkey; he wanted to cuddle with it in bed. Needless to say, it was never a problem to get him to wear it. In fact, he asked for it.
  7. For the love of car services. I always considered a private car a luxury. That is, until I started traveling for work and learned that the most reliable way to ensure transportation to the airport in early morning hours in my neighborhood was to hire a car. And it totally opened my eyes. It takes like 75% of the stress out of traveling. And trust me, my sanity is worth the $100 or so it usually costs. So, when I realized that Amalfi was still around 35 or 40 miles from Naples, I went to work on booking a private car. Fortunately, our apartment rental company–Summer in Italy–was awesome enough to have some tried and true suggestions on good car services. Amalfi Car was awesome. We used them several times during our trip and they were reliable, reasonably priced, and totally flexible; they even let us cancel last minute–no charge–when the bambino got sick. Not to mention that we learned that car seats are more of a suggestion than a regulation in Italy, so it was nice to be assured that our kid would be strapped in as we hugged the Amalfi Coast’s crazy curves.
  8. Pennywise and a pound foolish. I’m not all about being stupid with money–lord knows I like a good deal–but I’m at the age where I’ve given up on doing the more complicated thing just to save a buck or two. I don’t get enough vacation days to screw around like that. So, I’m willing to spend a little more for guarantees and efficiencies–basically anything that takes the work out of traveling, especially with impatient children or husbands. So, when I was evaluating apartments to rent on the Amalfi Coast–I assure you, it’s cheaper than you think and you don’t get slapped with all the incidentals–I ended up opting for the slightly more expensive place that had the better view of the sea. And considering we were sequestered in that place for nearly three days when our kid got sick, I was so glad I went for the full sea view rather than partial. That terrace alone made having a sick kid actually palatable. And I can’t even imagine what we would’ve done without wifi, considered an amenity rather than a staple in most European nations.
  9. Pay for the childcare, dammit. I see so many families travel together and it kills me that most parents never actually get a parents-only night out out of the deal. It’s not really a vacation in that case. It’s just an extended stay at a theme park or glorified playground. Most parents who go without a real date night on vacation cite cost as the main factor. But let’s get a little perspective. You’ve just spent thousands of dollars to go on vacation. If $100 is going to break you, you probably shouldn’t be on vacation. The second most-cited reason is that the parents don’t trust strangers to watch their kids. It’s a valid concern–and a one I don’t take lightly. But again, some perspective, please. We leave our kids with strangers all the time–at the gym, at daycare, at birthday parties, at home with new babysitters, etc.–but it just feels more familiar to us. Reputable hotels, resorts, and rental agencies are equipped to deal with this type of request. And let’s be honest. You’re parents. You’re probably not going much further than the hotel bar and you’ll be drooling into your wine glass by 11:30pm–unless you are like us and end up going to a very weird, very young after party with a bunch of semi-local Italian people. But that’s another story. Just get the sitter and enjoy an evening knowing you’ve got no laundry to do and no bed to make in the morning.
  10. Novotel? Do tell. I had always considered the European hotel chain Novotel a bit on the cheap side when it came to lodging choices. Sort of like an Embassy Suites or something along those lines. But I ended up booking us a room at a Novotel near the airport in Geneva because we were arriving from Italy late in the afternoon and leaving fairly early in the morning for the States; the hotel was really close to the airport, had a free shuttle, and was very reasonably priced. After staying there, I can say I thought it was awesome for families. First clue? The lobby had a play area, complete with blocks, books, puzzles and even an Xbox. The restaurant had high chairs–often a rarity in European bistro restaurants–and even a kids menu–even rarer than high chairs. There was a pool, although it was too early in the season to want to use it. But the cherry on top was the playground in the back of the hotel.

So, there they are–the 10 things I didn’t know about traveling with kids that I learned the last go round. And as a bonus tip, I’ll tell you that European daylight savings is not the same day as U.S. daylight savings. Yup, had to find that one out the hard way.

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Bon Voyage, Baby!

I’ve finally crawled out from the rock I’ve been under. It’s felt like forever. And kind of like exercise, it takes a lot of motivation to try and get back onto a blogging schedule after a hiatus. Fortunately, I’ve been MIA because I’ve been having fun rather than avoiding my life. Or more exactly, I spent one week preparing to go on vacation, two weeks on vacation, and about two weeks plus trying to get back to normal life. Seriously. I only finally put the suitcase back down in the basement last night.

A two-week vacay to France and Italy would sound like a dream to many. But as soon as I drop in one not-so-tiny-anymore detail–the baby–that dream would dissolve very quickly into a nightmare for most. My husband included. Our plane hadn’t even left the tarmac and he leaned over to me and said, “We’re never going on vacation again.”

Although he was the one who had insisted we travel with the baby, I will cut him a break and say he had no idea what he was getting into. He’d actually never traveled by plane (or car, for that matter) for any distance with him before. That was clear as he was packing entertainment items (earphones, iPad, DVDs, etc.) and I was strategically stuffing toys, snacks, and diapering items into every free inch of carry-on space.

And if I’m totally honest, the trip did not really start out on a good note. I got out of work late and there was an unplanned, hour-long detour to my husband’s work to get some paperwork signed. But the stress went through the roof when we arrived at the kennel and it was closed. Whoops. I forgot to double check the hours. Minor detail?

I’ll spare you the frantic details of the couple of hours leading up to our flight and leave it that my husband did ultimately make the flight after racing to find an alternative dog boarding situation on the fly, albeit he arrived soaked with sweat and disdain for me. I believe the first thing he said to me when he sat down was, “Don’t talk to me.”

If only the crumb cruncher could’ve understood that. In the kid’s defense, he was exhausted. It was an 11:30pm flight and he was way past his expiration date. But while I love my child, I will say he was absolutely miserable. We were those people with the inconsolable, screaming child on a plane. I think I might have even tried to clap my hand over his mouth at one point when we passed the 30-minutes of tantrum mark. Eventually the kid racked out (oh, the virtues of that additional seat we purchased). And wouldn’t you know, a couple of vodkas and an Atlantic Ocean later, my husband was talking to me again by the time we landed in London for our layover.

But while I only narrowly missed my own toddler-tantrum-inspired, mommy-meltdown moment on the plane, two weeks overseas with a toddler really wasn’t bad at all. That’s not to say we didn’t have a few “moments” where something was definitely going to give. There were several incidents where our child dramatically threw himself down on the ground, kicking his feet and crying, in several town squares. And a couple bus rides from hell. A near drowning incident. And a nasty, fever-y, vomit-inducing bug that kept us pretty much sequestered in an apartment for three days.

But it was also really fun. Having a kid in tow while traveling forces you to slow down and just enjoy the little things. As much as the panoramic views from the top of Mont Blanc or the gardens of Ravello, some of my favorite vacation memories are ones where we were just hanging out, watching our kid have fun with other kids. He had a blast with a boatload of kids at playground in Chamonix; he got silly with a little Giovanni at the airport in Rome; and he totally endeared himself to a mom and daughter on the beach in Amalfi by collecting rocks for them. More than most adults, kids are so not afraid to mix it up with the locals. Playground fun is so universal it totally transcends language barriers.

But I also really think it was good for the kid to hear strangers speaking other languages. The first day, I swear he had a little lightbulb going off about the fact that he could understand French people. And it cracked me up that he started making more “French” sounds. For example, the sound a firetruck makes in French is “pin-pon, pin-pon.” And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it melted my heart that on our last day in Italy, the kid started saying, “Ciao!”

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. Sure, I made some travel faux-pas, but hopefully I can learn from them so the next trip will be even better. But overall, I can’t complain.

My husband, however, has a different take. After two wonderful weeks abroad, I asked him on the plane home, if he’d want to do another family vacation anytime soon. “Nope,” he said. “I was serious when I said we’re never going on vacation again.”

We’ll see about that.

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What a Parent Will Do for a Kid

As the work week is rolling to its close, I’ve been thinking about our plans for the weekend. A hair cut and color are a must. And I might squeeze in my fingers, toes, and eyebrows, if the line isn’t too long. (One of the drawbacks of scheduling maintenance on Saturdays.) The gym is a must; I’ve been way too lazy this week. A birthday party for one of the kids at daycare is a possibility. And then there’s harambe.

I first found out about harambe when a dad posted on the neighborhood new parents list serve, asking if parents would be interested in supporting some music and dance classes for kids at a local, dare I say alternative or independent, performing arts space called Bloombars. Of course parents jumped all over it. In fact, response was so positive that management added a Saturday class (and now possibly two!).

So, my husband and I took the kid to try it out last weekend.

Harambe is a Swahili word that supposedly means come together. And come together did parents and kids of the neighborhood that Saturday. Stroller parking was limited both upstairs and out front. (There’s something cute about watching dads lock up strollers on the bike rack.) Pillow seating on the floor also was scarce, so we picked out spots on the wooden pews that lined opposite sides of the room. It was starting to feel like a very strange episode of Modern Family, only we weren’t family.

Then Baba walked in. A giant black man with dreads past his butt and an island accident, he certainly made an impression. He sat down on the stage, grabbed a couple of bongo-type drums, and distributed a bunch of the other instruments–tambourines, bells, percussion stick things, and even something that looked like a gourd with beads wrapped around it that made a pretty cool sound when you shook it. Oh, and there was an electric keyboard on the stage, which I thought was totally out of place–at first.

As he gathered the “scholars”–that’s what he called the children (love it!)–he told the parents to not worry about their kids doing their own things because it would all work out somehow. This was totally reassuring to me because my kid had made a beeline to the keyboard and was banging–very loudly and sometimes with his foot–on it as Baba was talking. But Baba kept on smiling and got the show on the road.

Turns out harambe is not a spectator sport for parents. Not only is clapping and instrument playing a must, but so is singing. And dancing. And generally circling around the room. If I’m totally honest, I felt awkward because I didn’t know the words to many of the songs. Part of me also was totally on edge, as I was waiting for our kid to smash some other kid with a tambourine or something as I was in a conga line on the opposite side of the room. But I was rolling with it because watching this diverse group of kids get into the music–or not, as was the case for a few–was hilarious.

But it was totally fun and with the $7 donation, which is why I’m so planning on going again this weekend. And our kid loved it. I don’t think there was an instrument he didn’t have his paws on at some point and he only stopped jumping to pound on the keyboard from time to time.

However, I would be kidding myself if I didn’t say that at a certain point as I was walk-walk-jump-jump-running-running around the room with all the other parents that I wondered if any of my long-time friends would even recognize me anymore. I mean, I barely recognized my husband as the group headed into the so-called “welcome song.”

As the title might suggest, it’s a song where everyone is introduced. I can’t exactly remember the words, but I do know that there’s one part of the song where everyone claps and sings, “Welcome, so-and-so, welcome so-and-so,” and then there’s some line about that person becoming a new friend. There must’ve been 15 parents (at least in the room) and we did them all. Just when I thought the pain would stop, we did all the kids’ names, too.

But there was something both hilarious and heartwarming about this whole motley crew of parents, stomping around a room for the pure entertainment of their children. These people were probably lawyers and lobbyists, contractors and managers–true professional types–and yet they could’ve cared less about how cool, smart, or rich they looked at that point in time. Because the truth be told, we all looked like idiots. And it was awesome.

 

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The Cutest Cookie Monster Ever

My kid is picky eater. He has no go-to foods. He won’t eat the same thing for two meals in a row. And he is very adept as saying, or more often screaming, “No!” when you get too close to him with a forkful of food. So, getting him to eat–and I would say eat healthy except that I’ve had to lower my standards–at mealtimes is always an, umm, adventure.

But lately things seem to be getting better. I think that daycare is helping the whole mealtime drama. All the kids have to sit down at their little pint-sized tables for breakfast, lunch, and two snacks, which are given on a precise schedule. So, the routine is definitely helpful, but more than that I think just seeing all the kids enjoying their turkey hot dogs or pasta with red sauce makes him want to do the same.

My husband and I have been trying to make a bigger effort to have us all eat together–versus what we normally do, which is feed the kid, put him to bed, and then figure out what we’re going to eat. We’re hoping that we can model the good eating behavior he seems to be picking up at school.

So far, I’m not sure we’re being successful. Our child has yet to eat any of the same food as we have prepared for ourselves. And he in no way has showed any more interest or patience in sitting in his high chair while we enjoy our meals. In fact, he is increasingly becoming intolerant of sitting in the high chair, which is a Stokke and about the least looking high chair you can possibly get. Basically it’s an retro-styled adjustable chair that you strap your kid into so he can sit at a big person’s table. Instead, he prefers to crouch on one of our dining chairs, fork in hand.

Point in case was the other night. After his fork flew across the table, we decided that it was time to let the kid loose, even if he hadn’t eaten a bite, if we were going to be able to finish our dinner without losing it with all the screaming, crying, and carrying on this kid was doing.

No sooner did his footie pajamas hit the floor than he was pitter-pattering into the kitchen. I hear the cupboard door to our snack stash open.

He came toddling out of the kitchen with one of those 100-calorie packs of Nutter Butter cookies. He gave them to me and said, “Cookie.” Except he says cookie iwith a French accent so it sounds more like “koo-key” rather than “cuh-key.” I took the bag, said mercy, and put it on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

He returnd with a package of Oreos. He toddled over to my husband and handed them to him. My husband took them graciously, said thank you, and put them on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

This time he returned with the whole box of cookie packs.

Not exactly how I had hoped dinner would turn out, but it was admittedly entertaining. Even if we couldn’t laugh out loud for fear of encouraging him.

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This Is My Life

The highlight of my last weekend was Sunday brunch with a bunch of friends. These of course were the same group of friends that, back when we were baby free, we used to go and spend nearly every Saturday together at a bar watching college football. Now, we’ve all got kids under three. And those afternoons (and if I’m honest, evenings) spent with pitchers of beers, big screen TVs, and lots of cheering are so far gone.

But mornings with mimosas are still an option. So, we had to get up at 7am on Saturday to get to our friends’ place by 9:30am to start imbibing. But it was worth it.

I’ve never had so much fun before noon–or at least since I’ve been a mom. My friends are amazing cooks–I’m obsessed with these jalepeno-stuffed mushrooms wrapped in bacon that they make–so that was the first plus. And mimosas, at least in my mind, are like sunshine in a glass. But what was the best was watching three toddler boys run around wild on a playground in the backyard until they near collapsed. Oh, wait, mine did. In a shopping cart in the grocery store. Not 20 minutes after we left.

Second best was watching the dads trying to turn a respectable family brunch into a man day. But tried as they did to conjure up their youth with a couple of cocktails, they couldn’t escape the fact that they’d turned into dads. Conversations about sports, new bars, and women–the staples of a single guy’s conversation–were replaced with debates over toddler discipline, language development, and more children.

But as I sat in my friends’ kitchen, gabbing with the girls (and stuffing my face with those yummy mushrooms), I realized just how different all of our lives were. And I couldn’t help but wonder what our single friends were thinking about how much our lives had changed.

I wonder what their tolerance is for all the talk about keeping the remotes out of little boys hands or trying to get the kids to eat something more than chicken nuggets and french fries. Do they feel like they went to another planet when the conversation turns to having another baby? And how interesting to them is all the venting about the annoying things spouses do?

For now, our single friends are very kind and accommodating to just how consuming having kids is. And they genuinely like seeing our kids and playing with them and of course catching up with us, the parents. But I wonder if they feel somewhat alone in a room full of parents. As parents, we can bond over anything kid-related–diapers, tantrums, daycare, sippy cups, kids videos. You name it, we parents can talk about it. But what we can’t talk about are new movies, restaurants, bars, or clubs–pretty much anything you would do after 7pm. So, maybe our friends go home from a morning brunch with us and thank god they are still single and don’t have to worry about any of the things we seem to spend a lot of energy stressing about.

But while I hope our single friends can still see the single people we were in the parents that we are, I’m okay with the fact that I’m a bruncher rather than a bar fly anymore. It’s nice to be home by 4pm after a really nice day.

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Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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