Earliest Advice for New Moms from a Mothering Novice

All week I’ve been making a mental list of the mommy advice I’d want to pass along to my friend E., who is having a little girl in just about a month. She and I were together in Paris less than a year ago, when I was 23 weeks pregnant and she was considering the idea of getting pregnant. Now I have a 7 1/2 month old boy, and she’s about to cross through the veil as well. In addition, another one of my dearest old besties, A., is welcoming a baby boy later this year.

So here are the things that I knew absolutely nothing about 7 1/2 months ago, and would want to pass on to any new mom (or dad):

  • Your instincts are the very best guide. Moms and babies evolved together for millions of years. You will know what your baby needs, better than anyone else.
  • There are four things that you will need to care for yourself. They are: water, food, rest, getting outdoors. You should ideally have plenty of ALL FOUR every single day. If you’re feeling low, immediately do your four-finger checklist: have you had water? have you had food? have you napped with your baby? have you been outside? Addressing these will almost certainly fix your problem.
  • Banish the word should. If you hear yourself asking if you “should” be doing something, and especially if you find yourself stuck in the babycenter comment boards researching it, you just need more sleep, or water, or food, or all three. Should is a watchword for needing self care. Refer back to my two points. You know what your baby needs, and you need the four things.
  • Babywearing is the most important parenting thing that I knew nothing about prior to being a mom. Get yourself a Moby or a Boba or some other soft stretchy wrap and use it from day 1. Have a friend show you how to do a solid Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC). It will give you free hands, help you go to the bathroom, keep your little one close and kissable. And even more importantly, worn babies cry 50% less, sleep better, and are happier. You will love it.
  • Babywearing has an incredible resource in a YouTube channel made by this amazing rainbow-haired dutch woman. It’s called Wrap You In Love (she also has a website). Check it out. Start with the FWCC video either for a stretchy wrap or a woven wrap. You will watch her videos again and again. She is awesome.
  • Graduate to a woven wrap as soon as you’re ready.
  • Never buy anything new, especially wraps. There are a million buy-sell-trade groups on Facebook for everything you need for a baby. Start with the Babywearing on a Budget group. And the Cloth Diaper Swap. And the Hanna Andersson b/s/t.
  • Hanna Andersson makes the best pajamas.
  • Kellymom.com is the go-to place for any questions having to do with breastfeeding and pumping.
  • If you have ANY TROUBLE breastfeeding, go see the lactation consultant at your local hospital or birth center or wherever. Like, immediately. An ounce of prevention is worth 700 pounds of cure. Like, don’t even wait until it’s “trouble.” Just go if you have any questions at all, period. Just go for fun. Lactation consultants are worth their weight in gold—or in breastmilk, which is waaaaaay more valuable than gold.
  • Feeding yourself will be your greatest early challenge. Put food in the freezer, but also think about the most nutrient-dense food items and keep them on hand. Key ones are coconut oil, avocados, quinoa. Get a Costco size jug of coconut oil and put it in EVERYTHING.
  • Coconut oil is also great for baby’s butt. It has natural antibiotic and antifungal qualities. Keep a little bowl of it on your changing table.
  • Keep bone broth in your fridge and freezer in quart sized jars and drink it like water. It will give you a punch when you need it.
  • Your weight will drop off with breastfeeding, so don’t sweat that. In the meantime, eat super fatty foods that are healthy (see above), in great quantity. You need them and the baby needs them.
  • The first 3 months are the hardest. Around 3 1/2 months you will feel like you come out of water. Remember that it goes incredibly fast and you will survive the hardest parts.
  • Completely ignore people who tell you not to sleep with your baby. We evolved sleeping with our babies. You will not roll over on your baby. You and your baby will sleep better when s/he is in bed with you. It is an incredible joy to sleep with your little one.
  • Thirsties Natural All In Ones (NAIOs) are excellent no-fuss cloth diapers. Buy them used. There’s a b/s/t for that.
  • If you have to buy diaper stuff new, use nickisdiapers.com. They’re great.
  • Burts Bees and Weleda make good butt pastes. Butt paste will discolor a cloth diaper but if it doesn’t have petroleum in it, it shouldn’t mess up the absorbency.
  • Blue Dawn is best for stripping your cloth diapers when you need to. (Google it. You’ll need to, eventually.)
  • Low water (high efficiency) washing machines do NOT work well for cloth diapers. The old fashioned deep tub, top-loading, lotsa water types are best. If you have an HE washer, do a lot of reading before investing in cloth diapers. Because it’s a huge, lame hassle and you may not be able to make it work.
  • Steer clear of anything with fragrances. There’s just too much scary stuff that’s unknown. Use the EWG app to scan barcodes if you need a quick rating. But really, who needs anything other than Dr. Bronners Baby?
  • Disana wool diaper covers, if you properly lanolize them, are the most amazing waterproof (pee-proof) diaper covers in the world. Combo’ed with a bamboo fleece flat, they’re also the best overnight diapers. Yeah, there’s a b/s/t for that, too. Lanolizing is easy if you know how to do it. YouTube can teach you.
  • Get The Baby Book by Dr. SearsYou’ll consult it 10 times a day for the first 10 days, 10 times a week for the next nine weeks, and weekly from there on out. It’s gold. (Their The Baby Sleep Book is pretty good too.)
  • Baby massage is an awesome way to help your little one wind down. And it has proven health benefits for mom, too. You don’t need anything fancy, just some almond or jojoba oil, and away you go. Start by asking baby’s permission, even she s/he is very tiny. S/he’ll let you know if she doesn’t want to do it. The Baby Book has the basics. You’ll find yourself doing it every day.
  • Get a copy of one or both of the following: The Continuum Concept and Our Babies, Ourselves. Go back to point the very first point, above. We evolved with our babies. When you are wondering what you or your baby needs, ask yourself how you would have answered this question living in the forest 200,000 years ago. Go with that answer.
  • Ignore people who tell you to let your baby cry it out. (See the two books immediately above for more on this.) Check out this book: The No Cry Sleep Solution.
  • Wool socks for babies are impossible to come by. If you break down and buy the Smartwool ones, buy the toddler size and try to remember not to dry them. They shrink.
  • Etsy is rad.
  • There are a million zillion kinds of carriers for your baby. You’ll probably want a soft structured carrier as an early go-to, in addition to your stretchy wrap. Common brands are Ergo, Lillebaby, Tula, Onyababy, many others. Try them on, fit is more important than brand. Further down the line look in the Babywearing on a Budget swap and pick up a mei tai (or mei dai) and an onbuhimo.
  • Find a weekly babies-and-moms group, either through your local hospital or birth center or somewhere else, and make a point of going. The people you meet there will become your friends, and their children will become your child’s friends. And it will help you feel normal and supported.
  • Watch out for fire-retardant on pajamas. It’s a real thing. They poison baby sleepwear. This is a worthwhile thing to do a little reading on, and a reasonable place to spend a few extra bucks for the organic cotton pajamas from the expensive brands that don’t have fire retardants on them. (Except, there’s a buy-sell-trade for that. Oh, and get on the Hanna Andersson email list because there are always sales.)
  • Also, fire retardants are absolutely everywhere. Crib mattresses, etc. Watch out for it.
  • This Alaska Public Media archived podcast from the show Outdoor Explorer has good info about getting out in the elements with a baby.
  • Hape is a great brand for wooden, developmentally appropriate toys.
  • Lamaze makes great nursing bras. But basically you can get nursing bras from Walmart or Target online and they’ll meet all of your needs.

I love you, ladies. Your babies will be the best things ever to happen in your lives.

XOXO Erin

The World Seems Big

Sitting here at 40 weeks + 2 days, I’m amazed at how big the world seems. You’d think that my view might be narrowing, that I might be getting more and more focused on this imminent moment and utter transformation. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. As I sit here with my computer propped on a big pillow tucked under my even bigger belly, I’m barely even thinking of the baby, the pregnancy, the journey ahead. It’s a Saturday morning and my mind is skipping off down all its regular rabbit trails. Political reporting, musings on the nature of life and love, and a general sense of the enormous expansiveness of the future and all the possibilities it holds. Before we decided to have this kid, and in the first phases of my pregnancy, I was very worried at the idea that I might lose *me* in all of this. But I no longer fear that will be the case. I’m just as much me, just as quirky and neurotic and full of a rich and beautiful inner life as I’ve always been. Sure, that will shift like the world tilting on its axis. But this is not the end. Nothing will prevent me from being me, no matter how small and darling and needy and frustrating and loved that thing may be.

Two Days, Two Weeks, a Lifetime

I sit here, two days before the baby’s due date, feeling stupidly inarticulate. You can insert every truism and cliché here. We are experiencing them all. And they feel so damn profound. I wish I had a greater mind, a more extensive literary canon under my belt, something to fuel some unique insight, some earth-tilting observation.

Instead, we’re waiting. Could be two days. Could be two weeks. After that, a lifetime. After 8 1/2 months of feeling superb, walking miles a day, and generally loving pregnancy, I have developed a kinked up sacrum that keeps me from walking very well, and have reached that “done” phase that everyone tells you about. It seemed unimaginable a week ago but—truism!—you reach a point when you want it to all be over. I guess I’m there.

Other not-so-unique experiences: Chris has finally to the guest room so we can both get much-needed sleep. My food intake has accelerated. Rubbing pressure points and applying essential oils does not result in instant labor.

Things that I am relishing: I don’t want to do much other than knit, and that’s okay. I haven’t lost “me”—I still feel feisty and politically and intellectually curious (I spent yesterday morning listening to Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and totally enjoyed myself). Smoothies are a wonderful way to ingest leafy greens and chia and flax seeds and homemade kombucha. Chris gives very good back rubs in just the right places. I can say “no” and feel no guilt about it.

Moochie is miserable. She doesn’t understand why we’ve abandoned our regular walk cycle. She spends the better part of the day between 10:30am and 4:30pm looking miserably at me, letting out huge sighs, and trying to tempt me to throw her grotesque Garfield toy for the 1,001st time. (“No, trust me! It’s really fun! Just throw it!! THROW IT DAMMIT!!!”)

I managed to plant the veggie bed, and the flower planters. And the potatoes. I have about a dozen house plants that need to be repotted, but that is definitely in the “not going to happen” category. (I have that on my list for Brendan Greenthumb when he comes.) I have some work projects that I’d still like to finish, but I don’t feel particularly committed to them and they’re non-essential. Chris keeps reminding me that I don’t have to do a single thing right now, and I’m appreciative of that. Brendan does the same. “Take it easy, sister. And I mean it.” Very hard when you’re the offspring of our mother, but I’m making an attempt.

I tried to send thank you notes to everyone who sent us anything, and pray I didn’t miss anything. Our nursery is full of lovely, thoughtful gifts.

Basically, we’re ready!

A Child in This World

I’ve been uncertain for years about the morality of bringing a child into this world. Now, standing on the cusp of this transformation (but really having already made it), my questions feel all the more real, and equally surreal. I am not without conflict, nor am I certain in many parts of my mind and heart that I’ve made the right choice. At the same time I’m utterly certain of the rightness. I find this illustrative of one of the things that fascinates me most about human minds and emotional capacities—that we can hold two (or multiple) utterly conflicting realities in heart and head at the precise same moment. For example, that we are safe and also in peril (see: our current political situation). That the weather in my northern home is far too warm these days, but that it feels so good when the sun warms my skin. That we are safe in the arms of our lovers, and also are never safe but in our own self-reliance. Or, in this case, that my child seems almost certain to experience unimaginable* chaos in the arc of his lifetime, but that he should still be brought into this world, and be welcomed here, and that we will be able to guard him from it. (*More on the imagined unimaginable in a bit.)

I’ve previously shared the way that very old buildings in Europe evoke a sense of my insignificance in a way I find extremely powerful. Really, experiencing antiquity of any sort reminds us how tiny and ephemeral are our own lives. Even the briefest contemplation of history—whether academically, through travel or discussion, at the knee of our elders, or through fictional doorways like film and literature—makes it apparent that any sense of wellbeing or safety that I/we hold at present is fanciful. And it need not just be a view of history. We can look at the present—Syria or Iraq for example—and see humans whose lives were materially similar to ours just 15 years ago, who now live in chaos, violence, disease and peril that would have been unimaginable (there’s that word again) prior to that time.

Yet regardless of the peril of the moment in time or history, we—We, capitalized—continue to bring babies into this world, to invest in them all our heart and hopes, and to imagine that we can keep them safe, and that their lives will be worthwhile and well lived. We have the capacity to be so reasoned, so analytical. And we also remain animals, driven by deep, biological imperatives of reproduction and nurturing. And for all our intellect and spiritual awakening, we cannot keep ourselves from this thing. We neglect the one choice that would keep our children most safe—which would be to leave them resident in our imaginations, un-conceived, pre-created. Concepts and dreams rather than real humans born into the near certainty of harm.

We’ve made an incredible journey in humanity and health and technology in the span of two or three human lifetimes. Depending on where you sit on the globe, you are well fed, enjoy leisure time, experience peace, are sheltered from violence. But we’ve also carved very close to many ecological and epidemiological tipping points. We’ve drained millennia-old aquifers, have used antibiotics with such poor restraint that there are terrible super-bugs lurking through human and animal populations. We’ve also become a much more “vector” friendly world—with flights delivering disease intercontinentally in mere hours.

In the Western world, we’ve become complacent about the robustness of our political institutions in a way that has weakened them and has made it less likely that we’ll live free of violence, free of armed conflict. Our current presidency is a terrifying testament to the thinness of the veneer of civility, of generosity, of humanity; and also of the real dangers posed by a single megalomaniac given the power of office and the power of the bully pulpit. The seemingly overnight resurgence of anti-Semitism utterly baffles me, and also reminds me that our illusions of safety are just that.

Dark times rise on the heels of periods of great peace and enlightenment. President Obama has said that the arc of history bends toward justice. That may have been true in the past 100 years of Western history, but I do not see that as a given when viewed over the historical timeline of humanity. There is no “given” here. Plus, as we move with complacency farther and farther into this changed climate, we push ourselves closer to that edge. We remove the resiliency of our natural systems. We ensure larger swings of climate and weather and pestilence.

And then we have babies. And ask them to live in this world.

I’m thrilled for the arrival of our son. But feeling this way doesn’t inoculate me against the certainty of his uncertain future. Which is where the question of “unimaginable” comes back. None of this is unimagined. We have a great tradition of writers and thinkers to learn from, as we envision the future our children might live in, and think about how to prepare them for it. This Goodreads list is a great start in the realm of fiction, and many of my favorite books in this line are on it (Station Eleven, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series, The Dog Stars, The Passage series). There are also great non-fiction books to consider. I’m weaker in this area, but I think Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us is as good a starting place as any.

I have many more thoughts on this—like, for example, what skills do I teach our little one if I believe this is, in fact, the world he’ll come to inherit? But enough for one day. A gentle snow is falling outside and my yard is full of songbirds and our overwintered hummingbird, and it’s time for me to move into that space of quiet maternal contemplation. Holding two things in my head again.

On The Eve of the Départ

Since first I booked this trip, people have been asking me, “Why are you going?” I’ve had lots of quippy answers: “Mama’s last gasp,” or “Because I can,” or, “To get away from Alaska in the winter.”

There are more thoughtful reasons that can be pointed to. That I love Paris, and spent a magical year of my life here once and wanted a chance to revisit that, and to check in on my status with this language that I once knew so well. Or, that I am having unfettered time off for the first time in a very long time, and that I wanted to check in with myself, and that Paris is known and easy and, grâce aux Tilliers, an inexpensive place for me to do that. Perhaps more honestly: because I have been in year after year of rolling and monumental upheaval in my life, and I’ve been so damned busy, have felt so plagued by this unrelenting chaos of the pivot and the loss and the change, that I’ve had very little opportunity to step back and see what would arise in absence of constant doing. And given that I’ve wildly charged forward, one foot in front of the other, so that now I stand in open air past the edge of the cliff, I wanted to know whether I am Wylie Coyote, doomed to plummet to earth, or whether I might perhaps be a bird. Or whether, perhaps, the cliff was an illusion, a trick of the eye or a construct of the mind, and instead I stand with two feet on solid, holy ground.

I came with a triad of tasks (or practices?) to assist me in this process and to provide the structure (the cadre) for what may come. They were: write, read, walk. Added to those were two ways of living a good of life that I wanted to embrace: marvel and eat. Upon arriving, as I’ve previously shared, I added a fourth practice to my cadre: yoga.

Combined, I’ve used these six things to structure my time here in Paris. Ever wary of the Type A tendency to *set up a plan* and then *execute on that plan* and then *punish oneself for failure to adhere to that plan* I didn’t demand a lot of myself on any of these fronts. Rather, I figured time spent in pursuit of some combination of these things was likely time spent moving in the right direction.

And I’ve found that this was generally a beautiful way to proceed through these past three and a half weeks.

I confess, happily, that my greatest fidelity was to the practice of eating. Paris is a wonderment of delectable, magical creations. There are simple sandwiches on baguettes that would make you weep at home; sweet pastries like Paris Brest and buttery pastries like croissants that (dare I blaspheme) transubstantiate from air to cream in your mouth; street crêpes in the cold at 10pm like weighty, fragrant hand warmers. I befriended the monsieur who is the regular server at the brasserie downstairs from my house. He teases me by calling the baby petit Donald, makes sure the kitchen keeps the raw egg off my carbonara, and waves each time I walk by en route to the Metro. Market, restaurant, home for cooking—all have been a joy.

My second greatest fidelity was to the walking. Nearly every day since my arrival I’ve set off across the city, with or without destination, to let Paris unspool its unique wonders before more. Yesterday evening, walking with my friend Ellie, we happened into the street made entirely of shops that sell linens. When Felix was here last week it was the street with shop after shop that sells model cars and trains. There’s the street with shops that sell Japanese tea pots. And the one with shops that sell only items related to Tintin. There’s the moment when you emerge from a small alleyway to find yourself on the edge of the Seine, your view filled by the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris, above all, is a city for walkers. You need no itinerary, you need no destination. You need practical (though chic!) shoes, and it’s all there before you.

In true American fashion I have a little step-counting gizmo, and so I know I have logged an average of about 11,000 steps a day, with my biggest day being 22,000 (or about 8 miles) and my smallest being about 5,000.

I’ve also read every day, though my subject matter has been inconsistent. I’ve tried to pick up the daily paper Le Monde at least 3 or 4 times a week, and have been enjoying French politics, as well as the French view on our own. (Little known fact: my college thesis was on the French papers’ view of L’affaire Lewinsky, and what it revealed about differences in American and French political mores.) I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior while I was here, and have started yet another book by Margaret Atwood. I also read most of Bringing up Bébé, started reading St. Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will, and have spent a lot of time in daily commune with the Gray Lady, the Washington Post, and the Guardian.

Writing has been a little more tough, though I’m generally pleased with what I’ve been able to do. I’ve nursed a desire to write for years and years, and know that a major thing standing between me and it is the discipline to sit down and put pen to paper every day. Somehow I don’t count blogging, though I suppose it is in fact an act of writing. If you include it, I’ve been able to write with some attention on a bit more than half of the days that I’ve been here—and happily most of those were true pen-to-paper days. I may never do anything publishable or worthy of a greater audience, but I do get joy when I find a moment of flow in the creation of a story.

Yoga, as previously reported, has been wonderful. And then there’s the marveling.

Ah, Paris.

It’s impossible to do anything here but marvel. When the simplest bus ride takes you past a half dozen beautiful, timeless buildings and monuments. When the windows are full of confections and delights. When the busiest avenue gives way to a crooked tiny street that spills out onto a square crowned by a temple that took three centuries to construct à la main. When the marché is filled with old women with wheeled shopping baskets, into which they slip whole rabbits or duck medallions wrapped in pork. When the rain begins to fall and a garden of umbrellas blooms before you register the drops on your face. When the neighborhood church is built upon the original stones laid down in the 11th century, then modified by the faithful in the 13th century, and again in the 16th, and protected from les révolutionnaires by residents who insisted the edifice belonged to them, not the Church. When construction crews in green work suits replace cobblestones in the same pattern that they were laid down 200 or 400 or 600 years earlier. What is there to do but marvel?

So, on the eve of my departure, I ask myself, have I found what I was seeking here in Paris?

The answer is uncertain. Given the luxury of unfettered time, ample money, regular contemplation and good daily exercise, any person is likely to feel at ease. What has me much more curious is whether I can return home to the regular disruptions and delights of daily life and maintain a strongly centered self. Can I find me amidst the disorder and the deluge, and keep a strong axis at the center of my spinning world? Can I be a helpmate and a mother and still step out to find solitude? Need I go so far away, so radically, in order to put my hand on it?

I am no great philosopher. I’m not even that good of a student any more. At this stage of my life I operate from instinct and impulse, and occasionally cobble together some evidence to support my gut. Today, my instinct and my impulse tell me to go home. Put down strong roots. Welcome the arrival of our son. Assume—and insist—that I will always be able to find myself, come what may.

In this sense, then, j’ai réussi

I Feel Safe in My Pelvis

I’ve been going regularly to a yoga studio here in Paris. I first found it by googling “yoga prénatale,” and then by reading a little more about each studio, and then by choosing one that seemed about right and within reasonable walking distance. The one I happened into, called Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche, has been one of the most fortuitous finds of my Paris stay.

I like yoga, but generally do not have a well established, regular yoga practice. I’ll go through surges, but then I’ll have many long months where I have no practice at all. Like many American women and men, I have a pretty good foundation in it, have taken classes in many different lineages, and am reasonably fluent in some of the core concepts. But I’d be lying if I said I were really a student, in that take-it-to-the-next-level kind of way.

Here in Paris, though, I’ve been going 3-4 times a week. It has given me a little community anchor, and I’ve also found it fascinating to dig into a regular practice with a belly that is daily getting larger and more cumbersome. I think the French people find me to be a bit of a curiosity—a third trimester American plopping down in the middle of their class—but that’s fine by me. (Plus, there are a lot of other Americans there. The French seem to like yoga, but I think the Americans flock to it like aliens to the beacon of the Eiffel Tower.) I’m loving yoga like I’ve never loved it before—digging into this wildly changing body and the strong mind and attention that is building with it.

One of the most enchanting things about yoga for me right now is the very fact of studying it in a foreign language. Despite my high level of competence in French, following the cues requires a focus that is completely unnecessary in my mother tongue. This has the side effect of quieting an otherwise busy mind. There is no room for mental wandering when I’m working to determine whether she just said to spread my toes or touch my big toes together. (Or do something with my shoulders—who knows.) More than once I’ve opened my eyes to find myself with my arms over my head when everyone else is starting cat-cow. So being in the studio provokes an intensity of attention that I’ve not previously experienced in a yoga practice.

The other thing that I find fascinating about French yoga instruction is the focus on the pelvis. The French call it the bassin. They use the term in the same way we use the word core in talking about yoga in English-language classes. But, in one of those oddities that makes studying foreign languages a never-ending joy, the actual concept of the bassin is compelling in a way that the term core just really isn’t. When I hear the word core, I think of a focused center. It’s a place of power and resilience. Strength, surely. It’s forceful, firm, solid—very American. Bassin is a word that cradles. Perhaps it’s my current frame of mind, but its implications speak to me of support rather than strength. Of grounding and holding rather than holding-upright. It’s the basin that holds our organs, our bellies, our energy and, for certain of us, our babies.

I went to get a massage the other day from a woman whose card was given to me by a random lady who overheard me talking to the concierge at the yoga studio. Her name is Evelyne and her card reads “Thérapeute de l’Ame et du Corps”—which translates as Therapist of the Spirit and Body. The massage was fascinating, not least of all because she started it off with a whispering session with my belly.

At the end of my massage, as I was coming back out of my drifting snoozy place, Evelyne whispered a few instructions to me, almost a mantra. I had to email her after to get the words again because my half-asleep brain only retained part of it. I knew she was talking to me about my bassin and wanted the exact words.

She emailed back that the mantra she had given was as follows: “Je me sens en sécurité, en paix dans mon bassin.”

I feel myself to be in safety, in peace, in my bassin.” Attempt to translate as you will—pelvis, core—and it doesn’t quite make it. But think the of the bassin as the cradling home of everything we carry, the rooting-down place between our bodies and the earth, this basin, this womb-writ-large, and it’s an incredibly powerful phrase.

So. The study of language, this time via yoga and massage. It opens up those soft differences in world view—strong pillar vs. cradling basin—that are accessible only through learning a language that constructs the world in a way that is different from your own. These are the small doorways we walk through to discover another culture.

My Place is In the Resistance

Yesterday I got to participate in the Paris Women’s March. Yesterday women everywhere got to participate in Women’s Marches everywhere. And men. And children. And, despite the downplaying by the new president (first a snooty jab, then a trite conciliatory whine), this massive showing suggests that people are not happy with the tone and direction our new president has struck.

Amen to that.

I read an article a couple of weeks ago about a person whose name I no longer remember, but he was a celebrity of sorts, and he was talking about baiting Trump on Twitter. He basically argued that it’s likely that Trump is one of those social media users who spends all day looking at their own posts and the performance of said posts, and at all the lovely things people are saying about them. So this guy was saying, why don’t we just tweet at him? He’ll probably see the messages.

I have to admit that I had some trepidation about the idea. For two reasons. 1: Trolls. 2: What if I (and a bunch of other people) tweeted something at Trump and got him all riled up and then he did something stupid like start a war with China or blow up a Russian city with some nukes.

Also, how crazy is it that I’m wondering about whether I would have moral responsibility if 140 characters sent to the leader of the free world caused WWIII? Hello, and welcome to the funhouse of Trumpland.

Anyway, I decided to give it a try. This morning, baffled by the invisibility of the Women’s Marches on the feed of the Tweeter in Chief, I posted this to Twitter:

No response. No trolls. But 4 hours later he finally acknowledged the marches had happened. I don’t think I get any credit, but I’m going to keep trying.

Twitter aside, though, we’re all going to have to have a laser focus on democracy, liberty, a free press, and human and civil rights in the next 4 years. And no turning our heads when bullshit is happening. We have to call it. And fight against it. Figuring out the right steps for that has to start today.

 

One Thousand Small Delights

One of the beautiful things about a long trip is that your days are not rushed. There’s no list of must-do’s that run behind you with a lashing whip. Each day gets to pick its own pace, and a little tiredness here or a change of plans there doesn’t matter at all.

I’ve been grateful for this as I’ve picked my way through my last few days. I tend toward the indecisive—not in big decisions, but in the small details. Duck or risotto? Red or white? Musée d’Orsay or Louvre? I can get ridiculously hung up. It’s because there’s so much deliciousness in the world, so much to choose from. Making a choice feels like jettisoning one-hundred other delights.

To structure my days I’ve been starting by looking at the yoga menu from the wonderful studio east of here by St. Michel. I bought a ten-class pass to give myself some wellness anchors during my stay. The space is beautiful. It’s tucked in a little courtyard, and it’s full of light and kind women and warmed ginger water. Both of my instructors so far have been excellent. And there is something classically French in these classes as well. Both of my teachers have been poet-philosophers, taking time to talk about the physical and metaphysical journey of our practice, encouraging us not just to use our bodies, but to use the practice as a gateway to discovery and yes, as one of them said, perhaps even a doorway into the “spirituelle.” This is no fitness club Power Yoga, oh non. Nothing so quotidien as that for the French.

Yesterday, after much indecision, I settled on the Père Lachaise Cemetery as my walking destination. Actually, it was my walking origination. I took the Metro there and then walked through the cemetery for an hour, then back home. Père Lachaise is very famous, first for its beauty, and second for the dozens upon dozens of famous people who are buried there. They include Chopin, Ingres, Max Ernst and Jim Morrison, among others. You can get cemetery maps and spend your time hunting for famous people, but that has never been my style. Instead I just wandered through the aisles and pathways, absorbing what I saw, shivering a little bit in the afternoon chill, and having a solid contemplation of mortality, death, and decay. Acknowledgment of these three things has been jettisoned from our culture, and I find it to be much to our loss. They are powerful, transcendent concepts, and are universal to us all. We ignore them at our own peril. An old cemetery, with its various stages of recency and disintegration, bring these all to mind.

The other thing that brings this kind of impermanence to mind for me is great old cathedrals. When I was 18 and came to Europe for the first time I stopped in Paris for a day with my aunt before continuing on to Scotland. We did a very quick tour of some of the highlights of the city, which included a visit to Notre-Dame de Paris. I remember stepping into the cathedral and looking down at the stones that were grooved deeply with the millions of feet that had passed over them in 800 years. I was hit as if by a bolt of lighting—a coup de foudre—realizing that no matter what hardships or losses or celebrations my life might bring, nothing would be new. I would experience nothing that hadn’t been lived by thousands upon hundreds of thousands upon millions of people who had walked the Earth before me. My experiences might be exquisite in their pain or their joy, but they would be nothing, insignificant, against the weight of humanity. Countless, eternally forgotten people whose own footsteps had worn grooves in those age-old stones.

On the way home the evening light was low but Notre Dame was still exquisite.

notre-dame-de-paris
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Today I woke determined to purchase and begin the clock on a 6-day museum pass. I was fortunate to take many art history courses during the year I lived in Paris, and to be able to go regularly to the museums that held the very pieces we were studying. While I don’t feel compelled to see a gob of museums while I’m here, there are several that I enjoy tremendously. Obvious among these are the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, but also the Musée Rodin and the Jacquemart André. The museum pass lets me go for a few hours or half a day without feeling that I have to see it all. Likewise, it makes it easy to choose to go even when I have just a little time.

I left my house at 9:30 to head to the Orsay, but it’s market day in my neighborhood and I didn’t make it. Even though I have cheeses and vegetables galore, I wanted to walk through the market just to see what there was. An hour later I left with olives, veal, codfish, eggplant purée, green beans (haricots verts—I just love that name), and a little bag of lychees.

I’m so glad I stopped. First, because it gave me a chance to interact with fishmongers and butchers and olive-sellers and practice my French and marvel at their goods. And second, because it was so surprising to discover the prices. I bought a piece of veal big enough for my dinner for less than 3€, the fillet of cod for the same, and all my other vegetables and olives and goodies for less than 10€ additional. I loved queueing with the French grandmothers stocking up on meat and carrots for their big weekend meal with family. And I loved being in a culture that values food so highly, but also keeps it so affordable—even in a market in an expensive neighborhood in the capital city. The marché is such a common, normal thing in so many places. But for an American accustomed to shopping in the sterility and impersonality of a Safeway or Stop ‘N’ Shop, it’s a beautiful construction of a thousand small delights.

mackeral-and-dorado-and-atlantic-salmon
Atlantic salmon, yes, but still beautiful in display.
leeks
I watched a woman in front of me in line pick up and individually inspect each and every one of these leeks and reject them, before settling on one that met her needs. What did she see?

Here’s what my total tow looked like, once I was home again. All of this for less than $20.

my-market-delights
Vive la France.

I did finally make it to the Orsay. And while it’s all magical, I won’t bother to attempt to wax poetic about art. I will only say that it will never stop to amaze me that sculptors can peel away stone to find such softness within.

woman-in-repose
Pénélope de Jules Cavelier

And that museums hold the memory of a time when we talked more about, and lived more intimately with, Death.

death-and-the-young-woman
La jeune fille et la mort de Hans Baldung Grien

 

How Do They Know?

I had an interesting conversation with Chris this morning. I was telling him that I spend much of my day attempting to appear French. He was sort of aghast and said that it sounded exhausting. But no, I insisted. It’s like a cultural game. Can I observe acutely enough and adapt well enough to “pass?” I’ve been playing this game so long—shoot, I have a college major in this game—that it never occurred to me to do it any other way. But it’s a constantly baffling puzzle. Because, though I give myself credit for being 15 years out of practice, they always know. No matter what you wear, how cold a scowl you set on your face, whether you adjust your pace to be faster, or slower, wrap your scarf more and more eccentrically, or sit silently in a café and drink a tea, you are frequently (or at least I am frequently) pegged as an American. Tonight when I stopped quickly in the Monoprix downstairs to grab some mustard and olive oil the handsome young man behind the register had me in deux secondes. Yes, I had to ask him to repeat himself when he asked me if I needed a bag. But what couldn’t he just assume I’m a deaf Frenchwoman? What is it about me that screams American?

When I was in college, studying French, it was our actual coursework to try to figure out how to be French. We had one teacher who helped us deconstruct the placement of consonant sounds, to help us put them in the right place to sound more French. We Americans put our consonants at the end of syllables. So mon ami spoken with an American accent would sound pretty close to the way it’s written: “mon am-i.” The French, on the other hand, pull the consonant sound to the start of the following syllable. So correctly pronounced, mon ami sounds like “mo-na-mi.” Back in college, the kids that paid attention on that one specific day in class went on to blend better, to get that much closer to the intonation and lyricism of the French language. To get closer to the holy grail of “passing.” The ones who missed that day or who were busy doodling kept on sounding like Americans for the whole year. Those kinds of little nuances are that important.

I never had much money in college, so adopting French dress was never really in the cards for me. I had enough dough to shop at Kookaï, and buy crappy things that blew apart in a month. I had two pair of school shoes, brown and black, both brought over from TJ Maxx in the States. I had one pair of running shoes. I would work so hard during the week to understand the nuances of the language, of the culture, of the dress. I’d make every effort to fit my brown shoes into some Kookaï outfit and pull off something that was modestly sophisticated and sort of French. On the weekends, though, when I would pull out my Europass and go traveling, I would intentionally go to the other end of the spectrum. I had a pair of corduroys and a striped sweater and would don the running shoes, pull out a shabby fleece hat, and run with the American look. I did it because I had found that, as an American, the Europeans assumed you were stupid, which meant you could bend all sorts of rules. Cheating on your Europass by faking the date? Just speak loudly and pretend you only know English and they’d throw up their hands and let you off. Need to find your way to the hostel in Italy? Look like an American and they sigh wearily and point. It was a strategy—a costume I adopted to serve the purpose of the day.

So, back to Chris’s question… why am I bothering to try to blend? Well, honestly, it’s a good question! And I don’t know! He’s right, it’s probably more exhausting than it is beneficial. I’m not a college student studying French culture in intimate detail anymore. I’m a 39-year-old woman on vacation in Paris, having somehow made the jump from “mademoiselle” to “madame” in the years since last I was here. I’m one of hordes of foreigners walking the same streets and ogling the architecture and the incredible shop windows. Why try to pretend I’m anything else? Point taken. Old habits die hard, but I’m going to attempt to ease up a little on the compulsive self-analysis in coming days.

a-feast-for-the-eyes
The window of a tiny art supply shop on the way to the marché.
temptations
Another beautiful, if cruel, storefront.

In other news, it’s the biannual soldes here—the massive sales event where every single store attempts to liquidate the goods of the previous season to make room for what comes next. It is adopted by every Parisian vendor as if it were a law. And luckily for me, it means that beautiful French things are available at 40% or 50% off across the board. It’s especially lucky because I’m having to reboot my wardrobe every 3 or so weeks right now. So that means, a) I’m not going to splurge on anything luscious and outrageous, because I’m not a normal shape or size, and b) this is a really inexpensive time to throw down some cash on some clothes that work for a preggo lady. It’s also a dangerous time to walk into a baby store.

My strategy for getting my solid walks each day has been to choose a destination, preferably far away, then use my feet to get there. Today’s goal was the Petit Bateau store on Rue Tronchet in the 8ème, right down the street from where I used to live. Petit Bateau is the über-French purveyor of extremely adorable baby clothes and oh-so-soft t-shirts for ladies. I used to live in their tops. They are luscious.

There are a dozen Petit Bateaus in Paris, but I wanted to go to the one on Rue Tronchet because it’s the one where I used to go when I lived here. It’s also where I bought little PB onesies for my cousin Thomas when he was born and my cousin Nick when he was just a little tike. It’s also just down the street from Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and I wanted to swing in and see what the soldes were like in the grand magasins.

To get there requires that I walk up to the Seine through the 6ème, where I’m staying, and then cross over the river to the rive droite. I made the crossing at the Pont des Arts, and skipped into the courtyard of the Louvre rather than walking alongside the river on this cold and windy day. I continued on through the Tuileries, Arc de Triomphe in sight in the far distance at the end of the Champs Elysées, and then turned right a the Place de la Concorde, toward the Madeleine church. The Madeleine, a massive, impressive structure in the neo-classical style, was also my Metro stop when I lived here. Rue Tronchet runs straight out of its back.

I had only bought one thing for the baby so far—a cute little otter onesie that Chris and I got at the Christmas market. But Petit Bateau was like crack cocaine. Up until today I’d been fretting that little boy things aren’t nearly as cute as little girl things. Within 2 minutes I had baby clothes dripping from my arms. I then exercised extremely good self control, putting everything back except for a little pack of so-soft onesies for 3-month olds, a cute pair of striped leggings for 6 months, and an itty-bitty newborn onesie that I’d like to put the baby in on Day 1. I am very proud of myself. And, thanks to the soldes, the whole thing cost a pittance. So much gratification for so few dollars.

I carried on up the street to Printemps which, along with Galeries Lafayette and the Bon Marché, is one of the three grands magasins of Paris—the original department stores upon which the fantasies and luxuries of women were built 150 years ago.

Printemps is completely inaccessible if you’re not filthy rich. Or, apparently, Korean. I don’t spend much time in cities any more, so I don’t know what’s going on with Korea and its economy. Or maybe they just love high fashion. But the whole store was full of Koreans, maps and signs were in Korean, and there was a “Korean welcoming service” on the bottom floor. Clearly something is working out for them.

I always feel incredibly lucky and wealthy in my life, and rarely pine for money. The exception to that is when you put me in a building full of designer clothes. I love designer clothes. I seem to have an uncanny ability to gravitate toward 1,600€ skirts printed with orchids, or hand-beaded gowns that fall to the floor and are made by 20 half-blind children somewhere very poor that sell for 4,000€. When I’m in a place like Printemps all I can think about is winning the lottery, or writing a really fabulously successful book, or seven. That get made into blockbusters. I would like, one day, to walk into the flagship Ralph Lauren store and just buy it all.

In the meantime, it’s a pleasure to look. There are some truly, truly beautiful clothes out there. And lots of Korean women here in Paris to buy them.

Speaking of beautiful, I had a great outing to the marché in the wee freezing hours of the morning. The lovely fromagière helped me find cheeses that are safe in pregnancy, and my refrigerator now has that lovely reek when I open it. Ah, France.

les-fromages

And finally, in the closing hours of my outing I hopped the Metro to get home. (This was after 7 miles of walking, mind you.) Two things I’ve delighted in noticing on the Metro are these: 1) The proportion of people staring at their phones is far lower than in the United States. 2) Instead of staring at their phones, people are reading. Reading REAL BOOKS. This includes, in particular, young people. (I’m sure they’re studying, but still.) Anyway, a man in his 30’s got on the Metro and stood next to me. And he was reading Albert Camus. L’Etranger. For real. It was fabulous. J’adore.

il-lit-letranger

Goodnight from beautiful Paris. Everything here is just as perfect as it ever was.

night-advnacing
Bonne nuit.

Settling In

Yesterday was taken up with organizing the small support details that will help me be at home here in Paris for the next few weeks. I found the boulangerie that I will be using (thanks to a great list provided by Gisela). I took the absurdly American step of finding a yoga studio, at the firm advising of my chiropractor back home. They also offer prenatal massage, so I’ll be going to a class today and then hopefully booking a massage for sometime soon. I also got my carte Navigo, which is the rechargeable Metro pass. It takes a little more effort than getting regular tickets, but means I can take unlimited Metros and buses and not have to deal with itty paper tickets all the time.

I set the yoga studio as my walking destination yesterday and then picked my way there via the cathédrales St. Sulpice and St. Severin. St. Severin was always a favorite. I hopped across the river to the exterior of Notre Dame de Paris, but was shocked to see a huge line snaking out of the cathedral. I’ll have to figure out if that is common these days and go back at a time, I hope, when the line is shorter. In the meantime, the view of the Seine from the petit pont was unsettled and settling, at the same time.

The turbulent waters of the Seine.
The turbulent waters of the Seine.

I had picked up a nasty chest cold while traveling, and have been eschewing attempts to make the time change, instead sleeping when I’m tired to make sure I support myself getting well from this cold. I’m not wholly better, but I think it’s important to take it easy right now. I’m looking forward to a day not far away when I can start my morning with a jog in the Jardin de Luxembourg.