Sunday, April 23, 2006

Time capsule: Baby's day in Bordeaux

[This is a description of baby Nico's day back in 2001, written for a family reunion.]

Our day starts when Nicolas wakes up (around 8:15). If it's been a good night, mommy greets him with a big smile as soon as he starts making little awake noises--otherwise he has to start crying before his mommy can drag herself out of bed to get him. Daddy gets up and makes tea while mommy nurses Nicolas, and then we have tea and cookies in bed. Daddy changes Nicolas's diaper then starts up the computer and reads some of the news of the day. After that, he kisses mommy and Nicolas goodbye and catches the bus to go to the university and teach his classes.

Nicolas usually goes back to sleep for a little while while mommy eats her breakfast of cereal and milk. When Nicolas wakes up, he nurses one more time, then he goes into the baby pouch and mommy and Nicolas go shopping. Usually we go to the grocery store, but sometimes we go to the bakery to get fresh bread or to the copy shop to make xeroxes of various forms that need to be mailed to various offices of French bureaucracy or we run some other errand(s) in town.

In the baby pouch, Nicolas has a great view of everything since his head peeks out of mommy's jacket just below mommy's head. He loves to look in all of the shop windows and smile at all of the people we pass. The passers-by smile back, and almost every day someone comments on how cute he is.

[note: The picture above was taken earlier, when he was too small to be put in the pouch facing outward.]

At the grocery store, we load up our groceries into our own little caddy that we wheeled from our apartment. In the US, we wouldn't be allowed to shop with such a thing (it's a little like a big tote bag on wheels) because it's opaque, so it's hard to tell whether or not we're shoplifting with it (obviously we're not...). But here everyone uses them since otherwise it's hard to get all your groceries home without a car (which we don't have) even if you live only a few blocks from the store (like us). Almost everyone who shops here lives only a few blocks away, mostly in little apartment buildings that have shops on the ground floor. The people who live in the suburbs go to the bigger grocery stores that have big parking ramps or lots on the outskirts of town.

If instead of going to the grocery store we go into the main shopping district--to buy new baby clothes or something like that--we are almost always stopped by market research people who want us to take a survey. We tell them that we don't speak any French (not true!), which works very well. We also frequently see the Mormon missionaries stopping people. (In fact we see them all the time since they live two buildings away from us.) They have never tried to talk to us, but if they do, we plan to pretend to speak only Italian.

[note: This was before I took up this crazy hobby of reading about Mormonism on the Internet, so at the time I didn't yet have the idea that it might be amusing to talk to them.]

When we get home, we check our mail and often find something interesting like the New Yorker or a letter from mommy's Grandma. Our apartment building has seven apartments in it, but they don't have numbers. Each mailbox just has the names of the people on it, and the factrice (mail-lady) sorts them according to the names. If she's there when we get home, she recognizes us (just like in the Sesame Street "People in Your Neighborhood" song!), and gives us our mail directly. This works surprisingly well. A couple of times people have addressed us letters to "Carol and Emmanuel"--with the "and" in English--yet the letters find their way into the correct mailbox without any problem. Still, there must exist buildings with more than one resident of the same name, and I wonder what they do in that case...

The tricky part, then, is getting up all those stairs carrying several liters of milk and water, plus other groceries and a 9 kilogram baby. (Here in France we measure things in such quantities--you get used to it.) By Bordeaux reckoning, we live on the third floor, but by U.S. reckoning, it's the fifth floor, and some of the floors have extra high ceilings. You may wonder how they can calculate it as being only the third floor. This is because, for starters, in Europe the ground floor does not count as a floor. Then, in Bordeaux in particular, if the next floor does not have an extra high ceiling, then it doesn't count either. It's just the "entresol" or "in between floor".

When we get to our apartment, mommy fixes lunch for Nicolas, which is usually baby food and yoghurt and a cup of formula (he refuses to drink out of a bottle), and then (hopefully!) he goes to sleep so mommy can prepare her own lunch of ham, cheese, whole-wheat bread, and milk.

Then mommy has to get to work writing Java programs. The company has paid for a fast internet connection for us, which is very convenient, and allows mommy to work from home so that she can take care of Nicolas. This has good and bad points. The good thing is that Nicolas doesn't have to go to day care. The bad thing is that mommy and daddy have to work afternoons, evenings, and weekends all the time in order to get in enough hours and finish their work.

When daddy gets home (usually in the early afternoon), we have afternoon tea and pear-cake. Pear-cake is a little like banana bread except with pears instead of bananas.

Mommy and daddy spend the afternoon working while Nicolas sleeps and/or plays mostly quietly. His new trick is rolling over, and lately he won't play on his back for more than a second without rolling over. Sometimes Nicolas helps us work by typing things on the computer. Of course since Nicolas rarely wants to play quietly for any length of time, daddy often has to take care of Nicolas instead of getting his own work done in the afternoons (or on days when he doesn't teach) so that mommy can work and/or take a shower. If Nicolas really doesn't want to play independently, daddy takes him on a walk in the stroller. They usually go to the bookstore or to a café or to the park a few blocks away (the Jardin Public) to see the ducks and turtles.

In the early evening, mommy feeds Nicolas his baby food and formula while daddy squishes up some banana for him which mommy feeds him for dessert. (Actually, this used to be his dessert until we discovered to our chagrin that bananas cause constipation in babies. Now his dessert is prune juice.) Then daddy makes dinner, which is usually something delicious and nutritious like chicken and lentils or salad and magret de canard. Occasionally, however, daddy is too tired to make dinner, so mommy straps Nicolas into the pouch and we go out and get take-out food: pizza, Chinese, or sushi. Mommy and Nicolas go instead of daddy because mommy doesn't get out much otherwise, and Nicolas loves to go out--he complains a lot if he's stuck in the apartment too much. The people who work at the take-out restaurants all recognize Nicolas and always play with him and comment on how cute and smiley he is.

After dinner, Nicolas has his bath. He's usually got a certain amount of baby food still sticking to him even though we try to wipe him clean as much as possible. Then we start the process of trying to convince him to go to sleep. This usually takes until around midnight, and entails about two more nursings. Then daddy goes to bed, and mommy does too if she's feeling really tired. Otherwise, she does some more programming until around 2a.m., and then goes to bed. Then, since Nicolas is such a good sleeper, he stays asleep until the next morning when it starts all over.


Cyn Bagley said...

Wow.. this is a cute post... AWWWW

Sonal said...


Nice post, I am going through the same phase. My daughter is 4 months old, and I feel as if all new moms go through the same stuff..Just that I wish I could get a work from home option like you, I am a Java developer with 8+ years of work ex, but things are yet to change in India with respect to working women!


C. L. Hanson said...

Hi Sonal!!!

It was really fortunate for me that I was able to work from home when my babies were small.

Ultimately I found that I didn't want to work from home in the long term because it posed a lot of serious and annoying difficulties (especially in terms of communication -- getting clear answers about what my modules were expecited to do and getting my system at home configured to match the other developers without the help of a sys admin...). But now my situation is a little more flexible since my youngest is three years old (this piece was written a few years ago). It was wonderful to have the opportunity to be at home all day while my kids were small.

It's too bad that such options are harder to find in India. One thing I've noticed from working with indian programmers, though, is that there seem to be a higher proportion of women among them than you see in Europe or in the US. One of the Indian women I worked with at a previous job was a mom with a son who had written a popular tech/programming book in India, so things can't be too dismal... :D

Eric said...

What a beautiful post! I work out of the home when not traveling, and I can totally relate to the odd "work-while-you-can" hours. Still, I wouldn't trade the valuable time with the little ones...

If you have any more "time capsules" you'd like to share, we'd love to read them!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Eric!!!

Actually I do. I wrote another short piece back when I was weaning Nico, which I posted here.