Last year at this time, after almost four months in Paris, our family was still finding its way. Especially little Adele, who was three-and-a-half when we moved. As I’ve written about before, Adele’s first months at French preschool were tough. She spent many hours crying and clutching her lovey for dear life. Those were hard days.
But one year later, Adele has blossomed and is each day becoming a little bit more la petite francaise.
She has her “French lady walk” down pat (a seductive, hip-swinging swagger) and even does an impressive pout a la Parisienne. She liberally sprinkles French words into her English vocabulary and floats seamlessly between the two worlds. It’s been amazing to watch.
Some of it can be worrisome, too. Like the time we went out for Vietnamese (the best pho in Paris is in the 13e), and we caught her “smoking” a bean sprout (albeit backwards..) “just like the teenagers do, Mommy!” Eeek.
She’s hyper aware of the world around her and has absorbed certain French-isms more than the rest of us. She’s learning to eat skillfully with both knife and fork in hand and has a love of French bread that borders on excessive. She has mastered the native inflection to her voice and even adds that unmistakably Gallic, “…unh?” at the tail end of her sentences. After years of speaking French, I have yet to nail that one.
And so I wonder what it will all mean as I watch her grow up a little bit French? It’s a culture I appreciate in so many ways: its food, art, celebration of history and beauty and the smaller pleasures in life. The French prize intellectual debate and parsing ideas, things we hope to instill in our kids, too. And there’s so much more.
But when I think about the lessons and priorities I hope to share with Adele, there are aspects about womanhood in Paris that trouble me, too. Like the obsessive focus on appearance and weight. (Not exclusive to France by any means..) And the whole befuddling (and somewhat reductive) game of seduction between French men and women. There’s an element of artifice to it all that gets a bit exhausting and sometimes leaves me longing for a dose of California ease. Then there’s the way women relate to one another and the (dare I say it?) subtle hostility I sometimes sense among them. Do they share the camaraderie I so value with my own friends? Or is closeness in friendship just defined differently and therefore just feels foreign? Maybe because I’m the etrangere, that’s one aspect of life here that I’ll never completely get.
Of course I know I’d have as many (although perhaps different) worries no matter where we live. That’s just what it is to be a parent.
As for Adele, only time will tell. For now, she’s an irrepressible just-turned-five year old who may just be the funniest person I’ve ever met. (Except her Aunt Marla. Maybe that’s where she gets it?)
So, to celebrate her birthday this year, Adele compiled a list of 14 kids to invite to her celebration. (What a difference a year makes!). Maybe it’s because she didn’t have a real party last year. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for a party myself. Either way, we decided to throw her a real fete to remember complete with a French birthday party animatrice, puppet show, magic, make-up and balloon animals.
Here are some shots of my sweet Adele. Thanks for indulging me. I’m one proud maman.