Saturday, April 30, 2011

French manners

I would never date this woman, my French colleague said to himself when we first met.  I was just introducing myself to him at the time.  Apparently, my voice hurt his ears!  Although one and a half years after that, we started dating each other and four and a half years after that, he became my husband.

My French boss would have loved me, too, I am sure, if I had listened to him - he once praised me for speaking softly.

Many Westerners don't like people speak with excitement.  Americans though, show more tolerance to kids running around in public places.  They usually give understanding comments, even engage to harmless conversations, or at least genuinely happy smiles to the parents about our excited kids.  The French, however, have very little tolerance for our little monkeys.

Yesterday at this cafe inside the Paris Charles de Gaulles train station, our 4 and 2 year old kids made a woman angry.  The kids just got off a long flight from Newark to Paris, the father and I had not slept the whole time.  Thus, we sort of decided to chasing after them would cause us more.  So we let them release some of the energies while we were waiting for our food.  The kids were playing "ring a round the rosie" and I assumed the French would be like most of the Americans who would find them cute and lovely.

However, this woman didn't think so.

She was trying to read.

After failing to get me to shut our kids up by sending me signals of her annoyance, she proceeded to "Shh" at Mia and Remy, who now already sat down at the table drawing - to my credit, I succeeded to get them back to their seats, but unfortunately, they continued to speak excitingly.  Once the "shh" failed to change the situation, she muttered to her partner and pointed to other two older boys who were reading books quietly.  I assumed she was complaining to her partner that our kids were not behaving as well as the other boys.

Then the woman stood up and got ready to leave.

Trying to be a good mother, I took this opportunity to teach Mia not speak to unintended audience.  "Mia, look, the lady did not appreciate that you are making so much noise.  Could you keep your voice down, please."

She looked at the woman, turned her head to me, and said, "no, Mama, I think they are just done with eating.  They have been sitting there for a long time." True, smarty, I thought to myself.  I, too, wondered why they had not left long ago.  Seeing how busy the cafe was and how many people were waiting for seats at the door!  They too, had their own share of insensitive to other people's needs!

But I said to Mia, "Keep your voices down anyways, see, these other two boys?"  But in my defense, those other boys were a bit older.

Now I am puzzling about whether that woman was annoyed by me who obviously failed to do my job as a mother or by Mia and Remy who were speaking English loudly.  If it is the former, she knew only half of it.  The father IS French, too!  Plus, they spend 5 days a week, 10 hours per day in the daycare, don't you think they need to play rough to survive a daycare life?

"They grew up in Chinese orphanage, we just got them from China." I wished to tell her that with a big smile on my face while she walked by us on her way out.

Just so you know, we Chinese women are not that uncivilized.  Speaking gently was in fact required for all Chinese woman, among many other good manners required of us.  It was just no longer a common practice for Chinese women anymore at the time when I was brought up in 60s and 70s.   China became a very crowd country so we had to shout out loud when we talked.  I must admit though, I often speak with strong emotions, this makes me even louder than average.

My mother, however, was not brought up this way.  She was told "as a girl, you should laugh without showing your teeth, speaking with a low voice (笑不露齿, 话不高声), and speak only when spoken to." I knew that because she often said this to me when I was little.  I guess she knew that my unfeminine features would bring me trouble to get a man to marry me.

Chinese who are younger than me are a lot different now.  They do speak softly and understand this particular Chinese tradition should never have been banned along with other ones, such as footbinding!

A few minutes after this episode, I had two opposite cultural shocks at the platform while getting on the train.

After about an hour and a half wondering about the Paris train station, that French husband of mine suddenly realized we needed train tickets instead of our online ticket purchasing confirmation letter to get on the train to Lyon.  So, he said, "I am going to get the tickets now, wait here, it'll only take a minute."  Few minutes passed, he returned and said, "The automatic machine did not take my credit card, I need to go to the ticket office."  Then he disappeared in the sea of French-speaking people.  By the time I slowly moved Mia, Remy, and the luggage inside the ticket office, he was still standing in a long line behind at least 20 people.  Seeing the long line did not move an inch for a while, I said, "We will miss our train."  Fabrice consulted his watch briefly and said, "Forget it, let's get on the train now." 

Out we went and rushed to the platform.  When the four of us and our troublesome luggage made it there alive, someone was wheeled right in front of us, everyone stepped back to make room to let the woman in the wheelchair to get on the train.  We all waited at least 3 min for our turn.  That's the longest 3 mins of my life!  I was totally impressed by the French at this point since they are often very chaotic at train boarding.  Yet this did not shock me as much as the following few minutes - the woman who was assisted to slowly and carefully getting on the train now could magically get out of the wheelchair walking as fast as I did inside a moving train!

And this was not the first time I encountered this. 

Last summer, we met a guy must be at his 40s wheeled some one who looked at his 70s to the train station.  We were in a rush to get on the train but when we saw the guy approached, we stepped back.  Patiently, sympathetically, even respectfully, we waited.  The younger man cried so hard once he helped settle the older guy that tears were running down his face.  He must have been very worried about leaving the old man in the train all by him self, I thought.  Moved by man's tears, I began to worry about this old guy.  So much that I kept my eyes on him, in case he needed help.  As soon as the train left the station, the man stood up and walked about inside the train, steadily and easily, without any assistance!

Being shocked by what I discovered, I called my husband's attention, "Hey look, he can walk all by himself!" Fabrice looked at me as if he saw an idiot.  He said, "Of course he can, what is wrong?"  Well, did he forget how long we waited for our boarding because of his incapable of getting out his wheelchair?  Still puzzled by what I just found out, I asked, "How do you know that he can walk without assistance?" Fabrice said naturally, "Because no one else got on the train with him."

True, stupid I who didn't think of that!

In the US, I see people who are capable of walking use wheelchairs too, at the airport.  But Americans don't act frantically when they are boarding.  To see that chaotic French at train stations become quiet and patient immediately when they see "handicaps" was indeed shocking.

They do have good manners!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crying and diaper training

It seems unfair to only write about Mia/Zhuzhu's crying, especially this is just something that she will grow out of. But you know, I can see some hard time ahead of me when she will become a teenager. I'd better start to prepare now. I figure she may read this when time comes and decide to cut me some slack then.
Good sleep leads to good mood, everyone knows, right? But do you know what leads to crappy morning at dropoff for little kids? Let me tell you, that is diaper-free night.

Zhuzhu has been diaper trained for ages. In fact she was diaper free so early in her little life that caused us troubles sometimes. Because she refused to do her business in diapers at young age, say 16 months or so, yet her tiny bladder did not allow her to hold more than few ounces of urine. It was quite troublesome to take her for any longer-than-an-hour trips.

What did we do to train her? Essentially any Chinese mothers do to train their infants, which is also what my mother did when she was training my younger brother. I was 10 when he was born so I had the opportunity to watch and learn - except that I modified to a version that does not require holding them - I put our little girl on a potty since infancy. I am not kidding, as soon as I was able to stand up after I was out of the hospital, I started to do that at each diaper change. You can imagine the horror in the faces of the grandparents when they saw an infant with a floppy head sitting on the potty. My parent-in-laws, sister-in-law and her boyfriend, and one friend of the PIL, all came from France to visit us for 6 weeks while Mia was born. They were not the only ones who were shocked. The cashier at the baby-r-us store had to inform me that the baby bjorn potty I purchased was for 2 year olds. Yes, I know, I told her. She obviously thought that I was crazy seeing my holding an infant.

Luckily, Mia was highly cooperative, she peed or/and pooped 9 out of the 10 times while sitting on her potty, which amused the daddy and my Aunt, who came to help out after the French relatives were gone. They soon joined the force and together we formed a diaper training team. No exaggeration here, by 3 months, Mia rarely had poopy diapers. By 5 month, even when had a severe diarrhea on her first trip to France, she used exclusively the potty. She was able to sit alone on big people's toilet with the help of an adapter at 7 month and happily play with rolls of toilet paper. I honestly believe if it was not because we had to send her to the daycare at 5 month, she would have been diaper free then, just like every other Chinese baby. Although I believe our parents must have cheated, because our Chinese baby pants are crotchless, they can just open the legs wide and do the business whenever and wherever. I clearly remember that I wet my bed at collage, but this will be a story for another day.

Where was I? Oh, bad mood, right.

Mia has been in a bad mood in the mornings at daycare dropoff for a while now, showing an embarrassingly prolonged separation anxiety. I think part of it is because she was diaper trained too early - I mean if I could put diapers on her for her night sleep, she possibly would have been in a better mood. The evidence supporting my hypothesis is this: her bad mood coincides with the fact that she slept without diapers at both of her classroom transitions.

Yes, I did mention that she was diaper trained early at about 16 months of age, but that was only for the day. She started to ditch diapers for the night at 26 months. However, 4 months after that, she was transitioned to preschoolers' room that was full of strangers. She cried, almost every single morning at drop off. It was then I noticed that she had dark rings under her eyes. She is too young to have insomnia, I said the father. We need to get this girl to bed earlier. He agreed. But what worked was not only that, it was more likely because we put diapers back on her for the night.

It took another few months for us remove her diapers at nights completely, but it was well worth of the effort since Zhuzhu almost immediately stopped crying at drop-offs.

It was not too difficult for us to convince our 2.5 year old to wear diapers to sleep even though she ditched them for few months already. Now she is 4 and there is no way we could ask her to wear diapers at night.

Believe me, it's not lack of trying. "But Mommy," she says, "I am a big girl now, I don't need them anymore." "I know you have not had diapers for a long time, but could you please just put them on for Mommy?" I insisted. "No, only babies wear diapers. Those are for NiuNiu!" Having a 2 year younger baby brother makes it impossible.

Thus, she has continued to cry every morning at drop off for the last 6 months (or may be just 4 months, but it sure feels like FOREVER!)
This morning, however, Mia did not cry at drop off.

The daddy did his signature chicken dance at the daycare courtyard when he saw me walking out of Remy's classroom after I dropped him off.

"So, Mia didn't cry?" I asked even though I knew the answer. I expected this since she has bean eating, playing, and sleeping well, lately, to the point she even did not realize that she wet her bed one of these nights!

Knock on woods for this to last.

Her crying at drop off in the morning and sleeping without diaper in the night may not seem to be connected since one occurred 4 months after the other. My theory is that when little toddlers diaper-trained at nights, they stay semi-alert while sleeping. If life becomes stressful at this time, such as moving into different classrooms, they sleep even lighter - a vicious cycle that causes lack of rest and bad mood. 

This last classroom transition has been very difficult for Mia and us, but I feel today may be the day that Mia decides to give us a break. Because it seems like that she is fully aware of her crying annoyance. "I did not cry this morning when Daddy dropped me at school" She announced proudly on the phone in the evening when she was speaking to my best friend Ling who lives close by and comes to help out often. 

She obviously has been playing with us, this little weasel.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mothering - ongoing schooling

Mothering ability is what a woman born with, it is a heritable trait in all breeding animals, including us humans, agree?

This is also why I am now reading a book called freeing your child from anxiety*.

I started my journey to motherhood 4 years ago. To say that I am not proud of myself for being a good mother can't be further from the truth. However, what is more truthful is that motherhood has made me extremely humble. Although Julia has said similar things in one of her blogs before, I only realize the profound meaning of this progressively. The real deal is that mothering requires constant learning new tricks yet the funny thing is once you have learned them, your kid(s) moves on to another phase that demands new tricks! Needless to say that the best teachers are your own kids! All we mothers need to do is to observe, to learn, to understand their signs! I do pay a lot of attention to the signals that Zhuzhu has sent out to me. I believe that helps a lot. Believe me, I understand the experienced mothers' wisdom: relax, you will know what to do when the baby comes.

However, Zhuzhu has grown into a girl who can express her needs in words perfectly well now, why she still use cry to signal me her special needs and wants!

It's been more than 6 months now since Zhuzhu was transitioned into her "new" classroom. As far as I remember, she has not passed a day without crying. Every single morning she bargains for not going to school. So, after failed to find satisfactory tricks to stop her crying by searching online for hours, I decided to look for tips from this book to see whether she is experiencing any forms of anxiety. After all, I have learned quite a lot from the parenting bible - what to expect series.

Predictably, the Daddy said that I am being hypochondriac! 

Maybe a year from now I won't even remember how many times I hear this on Monday mornings "Today is a staying home day, mommy. Yea, Monday is not a school day, we have 3 staying home days." Could she stop trying? It's not like she had ever succeeded in this negotiation. I know, I know, this crying business of a little girl will soon pass. I shouldn't need a book to teach me how to deal with that. Even her pediatrician told us so - Mia is a girl, that is what girls do, she said. What? I don't see any other girls do that! Does our beautiful Zhuzhu have separation anxiety disorder? How long a loving mother can sit and wait for her growing out of it? Plus, the father is a frequent traveller, I can't avoid her tears at the drop-off everyday.

I have got to do something about it but I am out of ideas! It's time now to ask for books to help, since clearly, paying attentions to signs fails me this time.

What is your tips to get your kids to school happily?  Come on, don't be shy, I may even give you some of her golden stars if you have better tricks!

* P.S.  I don't remember the book being helpful, as predicted by the fabulous father!

Friday, April 1, 2011

So much for the power of golden stars

It took a whole month for Mia/Zhuzhu to earn her 5 golden stars, just between you and me, some of those 5 days, we had few whimpers and whines.  At least she has tried to show some level of self control.  We cut her some slack.  Shh...

It was Feb. 13th, exactly one months after the first golden star arrived Zhuzhu's night table and one week prior to her 4th birthday, we carried her total of 5 hard-earned golden stars to go shopping for dresses.  Oh boy, we all must have gotten out the bed from a wrong side that morning, none of us seemed to be in any type of right mood, particularly Zhuzhu.  All in my ears were, I don't like it, it's too dark, it's too small, it's not pretty, it's ugly, it's too short, it's too long, it's grey, it's yellow, it's red, but I like pink, it's blue, but I like green. I don't like yellow, I don't like it here...

Between chasing after our two year old Niuniu who was busy on kicking and running after balls and trying not to induce Zhuzhu's tantrum, the Daddy and I quickly aborted the idea of getting a dress for her.  She was right anyways, those dresses were indeed not so impressive, it's Old Navy, what do you expect?

Honestly though, we both, the Daddy and I, have lost the ability to do actual shopping for clothes.  Who hasn't nowadays, when you have the whole wide world right in front of you at your desktop?

So, we decided to go home and let her choose her dress online.

However, next thing you know, a mistake was made.  I am not a smart quitter who knows the perfect moment to stop.  So, instead of getting the little ones in their car seats, I dragged the 3 long faces - the daddy who was annoyed and unhopeful, Niuniu who was hungry, and Zhuzhu who was, well, you know how she has been! - into the store next to the Old Navy.  Of course, we found a big mess, as the French Daddy always says about American clothing stores.  Ironically though, it had a children's corner in which many dresses were arranged nicely by age group and "beautiful" according to a 4 year old's standard.  Zhuzhu fell in love with those dresses immediately.  The next 30 min became pleasant and productive: she tried on many of them, one after another, without being asked to do so.  And since she liked them all, I decided to buy 5 dresses.

In my defense, going shopping takes a lot of planning, time, and gasoline.  I was hoping the little Zhuzhu knew a little maths by 4, you see.  She should have known that she now needed to earn additional 20 golden stars to pay for all these dresses.  So I made her to promise me not to cry for the next 20 days.

Let me tell you, I am not too far from being right, she give us exactly 3 additional crying-free weeks! 

Two weeks after her 4th birthday party, which was 3 weeks after we bought those dresses, Zhuzhu began to be used to her dresses and started to make fusses at whatever chances she could find. 

I should have sticked to one as we had agreed to.  Big mistake, I call myself an educator, shame on me!

The guilt is all mine.  So long, golden stars!