Victoria Jelinek

The Baby Diaries 19
December 25, 2013, 2:43 pm
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“There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” Erma Bombeck

vin chaudWhen my first nephew was a child, I remember thinking that Christmas was definitely for children. He “oohed” and “aahed” at the Christmas lights, the decorations, the colourfully wrapped packages, and his excitement for everything was so palpable that it became infectious for us grownups, making our Christmas truly joyous and warm-hearted.

Now I have a child of my own. And I’m in the French Alps, which is an idyllic setting for the holidays. It’s snowing here as I write, and the chalets everywhere are emitting tufts of smoke from their chimneys. There are Christmas lights along the streets, and a huge Christmas tree in the village square. Moreover, there are all sorts of activities in honour of the Christmas season: Pere Noel (Santa Claus), will pass through the village on a sleigh Christmas Eve and Christmas day; the local community centre hosts animated Christmas films most evenings; there are carollers and little musical concerts with flutes and violins and even accordions; snow “sprites” will ski down the slopes all day Christmas Eve; there is a torchlight ski with the children from the local school skiing in decorative formations down the slopes; there are Christmas story readings at the local bibliotheque (library); and, of course, Midnight Masses in every chapel and church that dots the countryside. Additionally, each of these celebrations provides the additional luxury of vin chaud (hot wine) and chocolat chaud (hot cocoa), courtesy of our local mairie’s office (and our various habitation taxes – fees we pay to live in the province). I intend to take my son to most of these events, even if he can’t quite grasp what is happening. My hope is that some part of his brain will register the festivities, the gathering of people in song, music and celebration, and it will begin his love affair with this season of the heart. At home, I find myself singing the classic Christmas songs to him, such as “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas” in anticipation for his understanding the pleasure of this season.

But I may be optimistic. Just short of nine-months-old, my wee one is able to pick up a toy and throw it, but not to crawl over and grab it, so I’m not sure if his sensory register is sophisticated enough to make any connections between the specific time of year and the celebration. He’s also eating a mushed up version of Christmas dinner, that doesn’t quite give the same pleasure as loading one’s plate full of gorgeous, especially tasty offerings…ah well, it’s an excuse to attend the festivities and to eat to my heart’s content!



The Baby Diaries 15
November 4, 2013, 9:17 am
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There is nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise and look like your passport photo. Erma Bombeck

lego cameraIt’s time to get my son his Danish passport. The American one will be a bit delayed given the dossier I must prepare first, but I’ll tell you about that later.

First we must get a passport photo. One that manages to capture his full face and both ears. Sound easy? Not on a six-month-old who moves constantly – involuntarily and voluntarily. Moreover, there are no “Snappy Snaps” shops or quick photo shops in our provincial French town that are familiar with various countries’ diameters and take photos all day for passports. In fact, there is one shop in town that touts its abilities to do passport photos but which is not a photo shop.

So, my husband, young son and I set out for the store, having carefully printed the specifications for the shop assistant. She was very sweet and helpful, but not competent in photography. There was a tiny little room at the back of the store in which to take the picture. With my husband, me, the baby, and the shop assistant in there, we were literally cheek-to-cheek. We laid the boy on the floor, as he’s unable to sit up completely by himself. I tried to keep his head straight so that she could get a full frontal, but of course my fingers couldn’t be in the picture so his head would only stay direct for a moment or two once I removed my hands. The shop assistant repeatedly tried to get my son’s full face, with both ears showing, and his eyes open (thank god for digital) but she’d fuss with the focus for so long between each-and-every shot, that just at the moment she’d take the picture, he’d move. Very exasperating. Additionally, she had to go and serve clients of the gift shop when they came in. After thirty minutes or so of this (consider that time with an infant is like the Bermuda Triangle in which things seem way longer than they actually are, and we were in a room the size of a small closet), we chose the photo most likely to work for the Danish authorities and she assured us she’d print them and cut them to specifications and have them ready after we went for a coffee.

When we returned, she’d put the four photos in a nice little envelope ready to go. We took them and left, thinking all was well, we’d seen the photos already, but then discovered a major error as soon as we got home. The photos were 4”x4” and even at this grand size, they were literally filled with our boys face. No distance or perspective. No space around his face. No full face with ears in view. Just our boys face filling out the entire, huge photo. A passport page is smaller than one of these photos. We went back the next day and went through the whole palarva again, and again there were no useable photos, but she did manage to cut the ones that might work down to a passport-sized photo. To be on the safe side, we opted to go to a little photo shop similar to “Snappie Snaps,” just outside the Danish Embassy in Lyon. We literally plopped our son on a seat with no back, and the guy took a picture before I’d even wiped my brow, and it was perfect! Wow. Guess there is something to specialising and, after repetitive action, getting your endeavours right. Now just to get the passports for him…

The Baby Diaries 6

It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter. Marlene Dietrich

water trough FRMy close friend of 20 years has come over from London to help me with the baby while my husband is off to work as an accompagnateur en montagne for the first time this summer season. E was a highly paid nanny for many years, working for an illustrious broadcaster and a journalist, respectively, before moving to another profession. Shortly after arriving at my door via transfer from Geneva, she exclaimed that she’d expected me to look like the crazy cat woman from The Simpsons, but was relieved to discover me showered, dressed, and composed. She told me that as she’d been traveling from the airport, gazing out the window of the van, she’d kept noting it was ‘gorgeous, gorgeous scenery, yet completely not Victoria’s natural habitat.’ C’est vrai, mais je dois etre ici pour maintenant.

E happily cooed and exclaimed over my ‘beautiful, beautiful’ boy, and he immediately took to her with her large bosom and animated face. We went out for lunch and a walk, which is a mission with an infant in tow because one must bring every conceivable item one might need for an excursion. Lunch was a good catch up. E made me laugh by not even attempting to speak French with the waiters, instead, she irreverently mimed her needs, such as putting her hands to her lips and making the noise ‘num, num, num, num’ to indicate she wanted to eat. I work so hard to be polite to the French, aware of their disdain for the outsider, and am often met with blank or disdainful looks for my efforts. When I began breastfeeding the boy at the table, E quickly raised my scarf to shield the world from my breast, which she declared is like a woman in National Geographic: “Jesus H Victoria! The size of that nipple! It’s the size of my little finger! Good grief woman, cover that up, you’ll cause a traffic accident!’ That said, she stopped nursing her own boy when he started giving her (what she thinks were) lascivious looks. After lunch and during our walk, my boy pooped three times. I worried we’d run out of nappies and wipes and have to wipe his bottom on the grass, or dip it in one of the basins provided in the countryside for the animals to drink from.

Over the course of her stay, E has been most useful as a sounding board for my thoughts and worries. I can completely be myself with her at a time when I’m not sure who I am anymore. She advocates a mother maintaining her sense of self and her own interests, even as she puts her child, or children, first, which I’m receptive to. E encouraged me to have fun with the boy, and to do things the way I want to, and when I want to, in order to ‘create the child you want.’ To this end, she’s encouraged me to let him cry and not to jump at his every cry, in order to retain my sanity and to allow him to soothe himself. She’s been teaching me to get him to sleep alone. Thus far, I have had to hold him, or sit touching him while he falls asleep, and its almost as though he has a sensor because he realises when I move away and then wakes up. E has shown me to sit with him for a moment or two, coo and talk softly to him about sleep, and then slowly move away. The first couple of times I’ve tried this he cried, but E encouraged me to stay away for five minutes, go in, assure him, then leave, and repeat in ten minute intervals. It’s really difficult to hear your baby cry for you and not to go to him, but it’s well worth the liberty of being able to go and do things while he sleeps. That said, I still check on him every two minutes, despite a baby monitor at hand, causing E to laugh at my expense and telling me ‘You won’t be like that for long! You’ll let sleeping dogs lie soon enough!’ Further encouraging some semblance of autonomy for us both, E has also taken to feeding the boy with formula once in the night so that I can sleep. This is very helpful, I feel revived, and my boy doesn’t seem to mind. During a trip to Italy, she taught me to simply let him cry when we’re driving, particularly as stopping just makes a journey tedious. Knowing I’d need some logic to back up my doing this, she would remind me to note the checklist: ‘Is he hungry? Is he sullied? Is he ill? Is he cold or hot? If none of these apply, he just wants you and there’s nothing to be done for it while you’re driving…’ I do see the sense that an attentive mother is not the same as a hovering mother. And that a happy mother contributes to a happy baby.