Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Phobic Mom Attempts French Parenting

Full disclosure: I'm not a huge fan of the French. If you are French, please don't be offended, I have liked almost every French person I have known personally, and if I knew you, I would probably like you, too. I just don't like The French. This is probably because I studied their language for five years without much success. I wouldn't say I was unable to speak French, I would say I was never brave enough to speak it to any French people. Because for a people who claim to want everyone in the world to speak their language, they certainly aren't very encouraging of those who try. I do like their food, but I will order it in English, because if I want to be mocked by a waiter, I will just tell him so and tip accordingly.

Given my Franco-phobe inclinations, when I saw the author of a book about French parenting on the morning show circuit (aka news for stay-at-home moms and others who lack the brain cells to handle a real news program), I instinctively rolled my eyes. But after listening to several interviews with her, I think I may have found an actual, non-frivolous French contribution to human civilization. Mind you, I haven't actually read the book, because as you know, I am no longer literate since having children. I am dictating this blog entry to an iPhone app, and the iPhone has in fact replaced a large portion of my brain. But from what I can tell, the French approach to their children is pretty much the same as their approach to the rest of the planet. They say, Bonjour, I own this place, despite any evidence to the contrary, and you will fit into my world and make adjustments for me, not the other way around. In global politics, this isn't always that enlightened. But in parenting, I have to say, it's BRILLIANT. And for a country whose entire foreign policy is based on who speaks the best French, the French approach to parenting is also quite pragmatic. How sensible to assume that the actual adult parents are in charge and the little tiny people without jobs are at THEIR mercy? Mais bien sur! And how much less exhausting to assume that children must entertain themselves, sleep when adults sleep, eat when everyone else eats and generally conform to the established way of life? Why didn't I think of that?

Here's the problem: I didn't think of that. Now, I'm not a total pushover, I do discipline my kids, and especially in the area of sleep--because, let's face it, me without sleep frightens Satan himself--I have doled out tough love. But in waking hours, if they have not broken any of the 10 commandments, including the lesser known commandment Thou Shalt Not Throw Rice From Thy High Chair Because It is Murder to Clean Up, I have typically catered to my children's constant need to be coddled, picked up, held, entertained, fed every 2 hours, and generally treated like the divas they will no doubt become. The reason is very simple. Some people spoil their children because they just love the widdle biddy babies, who are just too adorable to touch the floor so I'm just gonna put em in a little bowl and eat em with a spoon. As everyone knows, I don't like small children (although ironically it sounds like I might like French small children much better), I am generally numb to the cuteness. What I collapse under is the psychological warfare. I don't know what it is, but when Lawson is throwing a fit because I have crossed the room to get a kleenex, and Charlotte is rolling on the floor doing her "I don't have a friend to play with me and this is as tragic as politicide in Zimbabwe" moan, I feel my head will explode. I just want to MAKE IT STOP. So I have spent the last four years carrying children around who are old enough to run a 5K, going on group outings to the toilet, making dinner in the dead of night for the next day, getting dressed in the living room, and buying jillions of toys in the vain hope that this would be THE ONE that holds the key to my freedom. The only toy my children play with is the toy I am holding in my very hands demonstrating for them. Of course, the cycle feeds on itself, the end result being that I have two of the most helpless, emotionally needy, and endlessly draining children on the planet. But only when they are around me, everyone else reports to me cheerfully how "easy-going" they are. This just reinforces what a complete dupe I am. Essentially what it means is that a person who can't even walk, talk, or control his bowel movements has successfully brainwashed a well-educated, self-respecting adult into believing a healthy, normal toddler will have a seizure if he is more than 5 feet away from said adult at any given time. I might as well send my life savings to a televangelist.

So I have made up my mind to remake my family into a French family, or at least a creole family, or maybe a family that speaks bad French. I think it's too late to go full-on French, I don't think I could handle the hell that would unleash. But I'm taking baby steps. Today i informed Charlotte (about 20 times but whatever) that I had chores to do during Lawson's nap, and she would have to play by herself, which she opted not to do in favor of following me around the house whining incessantly, which is apparently way more fun. I also informed Lawson this morning that I was going to sit on the couch and read while I drank my coffee instead of holding him, which I did for at least 10 minutes, until one of my ear drums burst from his screaming, then I went ahead and picked him up. But tomorrow is another day. With any luck, we will be French-ish by Bastille Day.