Victoria Jelinek

The Baby Diaries 24

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

Boy-George-001A friend invited me to go and see Boy George in Chamonix last Friday night. Yes, that’s right – Boy George of the Culture Club fame, the iconic girlie-man in the pop band of the 1980’s – was in this wee village DJ’ing, or ‘spinning.’ When I remarked on how bizarre it was to have Boy George in town to my husband, he tried to give it the ‘big un’ about how Chamonix is a cosmopolitan place, a destination for many, and that I underestimate its appeal…that Boy George probably saw it as an opportunity to go snowboarding for the weekend, hang out in a “cool French Alpine village,” and do his DJ’ing. Hmmm. I later found out he was paid 15k, which makes more sense. Curious to see what he looks like now, and a little anxious to prove to myself that I’m not only a rapidly aging mother, I agreed to go. Then I found out that he wasn’t scheduled to begin till 1am. If I’m up at 1am these days it’s cause my little tyke has wet or pooped himself, had a ‘night terror,’ is hungry, or has indigestion. Moreover, if I’m up at 1am these days, it means that when my day inevitably begins at the crack of dawn, I’m going to be even more fatigued than usual. Not wanting to disappoint my friend, however, or myself, I decided that on the night of the show, I would go to bed at the same time as my son (shortly after dinner), then wake up at midnight and go to the gig. All went as planned, I got a few hours of sleep, got dressed, made a coffee for myself, took an ibuprofen, (god I’m lame), and set off for the nightclub.

Nightclubs still smell like the teen spirit of my youth – sweat, alcohol, hormones, and the close, stale smell of an interior that never opens its doors for a spring-cleaning. This one is downstairs in a cave-like space below a two-story magazin. I couldn’t help but think that if there were a fire none of we club goers would be able to escape and it’d be a tragedy noted on the AOL homepage. Many of Chamonix’s expat ‘society’ were out for the gig – middle aged, middle class, dressed up in heels and ‘hip’ tennis shoes, already drunk in celebration of being away from their respective hearths-and-homes, in denial of the next morning and the demands of children and the household. Boy George didn’t come on until 3am (he must have been snoozing before his set, too) and he looked good: he had a sequined butterfly flower makeup design on half of his face, eyeliner, white foundation make up, and a pink, glittery fedora, with a simple black suit. Like the rest of us, he’s put on a bit of weight over the years. There was a charisma and energy around him – you could sense him moving through the crowd even before he entered the DJ booth. Immediately there was a tight knot of people around the little booth, which would have made me claustrophobic. Hyper-realistically, cell phones were over the heads of everyone standing around him as they took pictures and made videos. Boy George didn’t do much other than bob around while his partner actually DJ’d, then he, himself, started spinning. He chose ‘poppy’ riffs, which were good, and the music he chose had an energetic, non-aggressive beat, but after awhile, it was repetitious, and, well, boring. I wasn’t the only one to think so either ‘cause the club drained of folks pretty quickly. That said, maybe the crowd left because they were knackered in the small hours of dawn?

The Baby Diaries 9

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.

P.J. O’Rourke

angkor-watI took my baby boy to the lovely Welsh assistante maternelle today. She’s still undecided about whether she’ll return to being an assistante maternelle after the last three years in which she’s spent under the famille garder while raising her young son. Even so, she’s kindly agreed to watch my boy for a few hours a day, a few days each week, while my husband is away working as an accompagnateur, and I’m grateful.

So today I dropped him off at hers for the first time, went home to write, and attempted to have something to eat at a leisurely pace. But all I could think about was how I really am a different person now that I’ve had my baby boy and this unsettles me. I feel as though I’m more emotionally tender, and consequently more vulnerable than I’ve ever been in my entire life. A little person depends deeply on me now and I am completely responsible for him. I realise, now, that my life has been relatively carefree thus far. I’ve cared about jobs, work, boyfriends, husbands, sure, but ultimately I’ve always been free to do as I wish. To go out to a dinner at midnight. To sleep till 10am. To miss the last train and take the night bus home or stay with friends. To travel to exotic places with my only concern being to get the correct inoculations beforehand. To leave a job or a place or a man because I’m unhappy. To do most personal things on an impromptu basis. To do most things selfishly.

I’d been so cavalier before having my boy about putting him into care as soon as it was possible so I could resume my professional interests. I was so cavalier about taking him with me on travels to places I want to visit and revisit in the second and third worlds. But now that he is in day care and not with me, I find myself feeling nervous, agitated, and I have an enormous, nebulous sense of guilt. As for traveling to obscure locales with him, I think ‘No way!’ I suddenly fear excessive heat, uncomfortable lodgings, bad water, food poisoning, malaria, typhoid and hepatitis!

I’m not the easy-going mother I’d hoped to be, taking my child everywhere with me and not particularly concerned about dangers, and more carefree. I fear I am conventional. That said, maybe things will change with time as he ages and becomes less vulnerable? Although, from what I hear from my elders, one’s child never really seems grown-up even when they are. Maybe as I learn to trust that my boy is happy in care, or at least not unhappy, I will be able to relax and concentrate on other things. Maybe with time I’ll better remember warm days and nights, exotic food, and the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, rather than its heat, poverty, and potential for bad stomachs.



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.