Saturday, 19 July 2014

If you're not eating the French way, you're doing it all wrong.

Louloute was born in Australia, she's spent most of her three short years running over Australian soil and breathing Australain air. Yet when it comes to food (apart from a mandatory vegemite addiction) she is all French. More than that, she is Marseillan. Bread, tomatoes, fish. Chocolate and macaoroons, berry covered meringues. And cheese. All kinds of cheese. Which is fortunate for her.

She will not be cheese-shamed for refusing to partake of the platter passed around after Sunday night dinner with the family. (It was a long time ago, I was young and ignorant and I didn't know that I didn't have a choice. You don't say no to cheese) But her love of cheese aside, I fear I am raising a cheese shamer rather than a shamee.  I'm not sure if it is her blue Marseillan blood or simply being three but Louloute cannot eat for talking about eating. When it comes to all things food, she has an opinion about everything. And this, I have learned, is decidedly French.

Louloute was fifteen months old when we first journeyed to France.  Travelling on the fast train from Paris to Marseille, as midday approached I pulled out our trusty 'Fridge to go' and proceeded to feed Louloute the odd assortment of toddler friendly, travel ready food bits; bread, cherry tomatoes, cheese and a yoghurt. Distracted by the task, I did not notice the look of abject horror on the face of a fellow traveller.  She sat across from us, her dark knit dress flawless, her hair cut in a sleek bob. Everything about her screamed Parisian chic, everything but her slack jawed expression.

"Vraiment le yaourt avant le fromage?" According to our French friend(?),  despite the fact that Louloute sat perched on my knee and (somewhat) still and was eating (reasonably) neatly and with little fuss as the train pitched us back and forth, Madamoiselle was not impressed. What followed was a lengthy discussion between her good self and The Marseillan, debating the correct eating etiquette (apparently there was one): yoghurt before cheese? Dairy followed by dairy? The absurdity! While I struggled to follow their fast French, the conversation ended somewhat abruptly with The Marseillan shrugging and myself cringing under the weight of Ophelia Devore's open stare.

This time around, I will be more careful. I am prepared, I've done my research. I won't let myself be cheese shamed, not by a stranger on a train or a well meaning aunt at a crowded dinner table. I have my lists, two in fact. One is a careful record of the do's and don'ts of food in France, a guide to prevent me from making another mistake. The other a list of four letter French words to use when I do.  On second thought, maybe I won't need both lists. Maybe just the one will do.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A list of lists

Right now, my life is all about lists. I have a Master List, which is essentially, a list of lists.  From here my lists are organised from the obvious (to do, to pack, to beg/borrow/steal) to the more obscure (exactly which Little Miss books need to be packed)
These lists are then divided again into sub lists which contain more specific detail, such as the quantity and colour of the underwear Louloute will require and an itemised record of Choupette's (most necessary) teething tools.
Needless to say, travelling from one side of the world to other, from winter to summer and night to day with two tiny people requires some forethought.

My least favourite list is my risk assessment (list).  Basically, this is a list of anything and everything that could go wrong from the time we leave the house (flat tire, traffic delay, car seat poo explosion-we all know they're the worst) to the plane (Choupette refusing to sleep, Louloute refusing to sleep, them both refusing to sleep and the subsequent hours and hours and hours of having them both not sleep) to the airport (they lose one of our bags but not just any bag, the bag with Woofie, Louloute's favourite stuffed friend and constant companion resulting in a breakdown in the arrivals hall. At least by this time we will be in France so perhaps the meltdown won't translate?) to the car (see above) to the whole time we are in France and then back until we drag our sorry selves over the threshold some three weeks later.

While the makings of this list is the stuff of my three am wide awake worries,  I must admit I feel better knowing it is all written down in black and white.  Because the best part of this list is not the 'what could happen' but the 'what to do if something does.'  Near each potential mini disaster is a strategy to best subvert, or at least survive, it.  Poo explosion in the car? Clean it up! (Ok, that one was easy) Meltdown  from an overtired seven month old on the plane? Pass out those tiny bottles of tequila stashed in the overhead to your fellow travellers along with earphones and an apology. No bag + no Woofie? Hand Louloute over to the relevant baggage claim handlers and have them explain the situation, no doubt Woofie will turn up pretty quickly after that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have item 23 from sub list 3, (linked to risk assessment scenario 14) to attend to (i.e. equipment needed in the event of an airplane toilet freak out/refusal situation; the flush scares me)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Monkeys, monkeys everywhere!

Her eyes were wild, lighting from the park bench to the nappy bag and back again as she stalked the length of the playground. Watching as she toyed with the hot plastic of the swing, scowling and ill content, I ran through a mental checklist: was she too hot? Tired? Or maybe... Hands in my pockets, the accidental rustle of a forgotten muesli bar wrapper and her head snapped towards me. Uh oh. "Louloute," I stammered, my hands gripping the pram, "I think we'd better...."
"Monkey!" squealed Louloute gleefully, her grimy hands reaching.
"Cgurchguchhhh" the monkey replied, it's teeth bared.
"Goooooooooooooo!" I screeched, lunging forward with the pram and dropping the empty wrapper to buy us the precious seconds needed to escape.

Monkeys. In Kuala Lumpur, they were everywhere.  Batu 
Caves, Kanching Waterfall, the parks and playgrounds we visited on a Sunday morning and, quite literally, our own backyard.  But these monkeys weren't the cute furry Curious George types. No, they were more the slightly crazed Cujo variety.  There was something about the way they watched you, silently, from a branch high above your head.  Or the way they ripped apart a stray orange peel while sitting in the middle of a children's playground that was really quite unnerving. Safe to say, I didn't love the monkeys. Louloute  however, loved the monkeys.

At Batu Caves, strapped to the back of The Marseillan, she squealed with delight as we climbed the stone steps and the creatures darted between our legs.  I flinched as she beckoned them with plump fingers, desperate to stroke their filthy fur.  More than once I dragged her from a park swing as they descended, en mass, a pack, hunting for food in an urban jungle. On a visit to Orangutang Island in Penang, I was not so much nervous as sad watching Louloute converse with the babies in their nursery, separated by a thick plate of glass.

I was not sorry to say goodbye to the monkeys after our time in Malaysia came to end, however we were not to leave them behind, not completely.  Louloute insisted on a monkey themed party when she turned two (and while I didn't enjoy making the monkey face cake, I did eating it) and the stuffed monkeys which were crammed into our suitcases for the return journey home still hold pride of place on her bed. And these monkeys, the non stalking, non snarling, non teeth baring variety, these are my kind of monkeys.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

You will not go quietly into the night...

Travelling with a toddler, you won't go quietly into the night. This I learned on our first long haul flight with Louloute.  11pm, a crowded departure lounge, our cherubic child perched precariously on the back of an elderly woman's seat as she performed her own rendition of Humpty Dumpty.  (Yes, we were the parents of 'that' child but allowing Louloute to tear up the airport was worth the scathing looks from some, she was asleep before take off and didn't wake until lights on seven hours later)

And it's not just the noise factor.  Travelling with a blue eyed babe in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries has got to be the quickest way to make friends.

Case Point 1. On a two day stop over in Abu Dhabi, ingeniously booked for the middle of June, we abandoned our 7am excursion to the park as the mercury oozed past 44 degrees and headed to the roof top pool.  Where we found ourselves swimming with some local, maybe, businessmen and their, ahem, colleagues? The men were rich and fat, the women's make up sliding from their skin as they swam in their (see through) underwear.  Honestly, they were very friendly and very determined to hold my baby (the fact that they were smoking was the least of my worries). Fortunately Louloute was having none of it so we could only smile and shrug (all the while silently thanking our distrustful daughter) and everyone parted on the best of terms.

Case Point 2.  Shortly after arriving for a six month stint in Kuala Lumpur, an early morning play in the park turned into an impromptu paparazzi session as Louloute, innocently swinging away, was suddenly surrounded by a gaggle of school children chattering excitedly as their cameras clicked, immortalising our two year old's chunky thighs and cheeky smile.  This was the first of many photo shoots and Louloute came to enjoy her minor celebrity status, striking up friendships with supermarket cashiers and scoring her weight in kinder surprises.  I'm (not really) ashamed to say that we used this overt interest in our child to our advantage wherever we could; as soon as she could hail a taxi, we rarely had to wait for one, passport queues were occasionally skipped and then there was the free chocolate.

Yes, travelling with a toddler is noisy, it's often exhausting and usually means that four hour stroll through the Musee d'Orsay will need to wait a few more years, however it's not without its benefits.
And I would trade a quiet night for a passing friendship with a friendly local (and yes, a handful of chocolate) anytime.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How to cure a fear of flying.

I used to have no fear of flying. I'd fly anywhere with anyone and as I settled (squashed) into my stuffing popping seat, nary a broken tray table, permanently collapsed arm rest, or suspicious draft at my feet which may or may not be coming from a hole in the side of the plane (difficult to see as my overhead light wasn't working), could raise an eyebrow.
No, my fear of flying was born after meeting The Marseillan. Perhaps knowing this was 'it' made me more aware of my vulnerabilities but suddenly I felt I had too much to lose.  Of course it was irrational and I knew that marrying my Frenchman would sentence me to a lifetime of jet lag but I accepted this because I love to travel, even as I hate to fly (oh and I love my husband too)

And although the fear was compounded with the birth of Louloute, it didn't stop me strapping on the baby carrier and filling her baby passport. Ironically, flying with Louloute I discovered the least sweaty, most steady version of my airborne self in years. I had to be calm and I was too sleep deprived to deconstruct every engine surge. Now two months out from our next big adventure, when an accidental viewing of an Air Crash Investigations advert causes my stomach to cramp, I remember our last sojourn (a midnight flight from KL with an almost two year old Louloute who was too big for the bassinet yet too small for her own seat) and take comfort in the knowledge that I'll be flying twenty two hours with a 
three year old and an infant. Yes, I take comfort. I suspect 
that with two overtired babies, nappy changing at thirty thousand feet and sticky fingers everywhere, I'll be too busy trying to save my sanity.

So, is travelling with kids the way to cure a fear of flying? Any other ideas?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Don't say cheese

How to take the perfect passport photo of your petite ange.

Step 1. Take your child to your nearest Kodak store and pretend not to notice the retail assistant balk at your request for passport pictures of your petite ange (who may or may not be licking the glass display case as you speak).

Step 2.  Place your fourteen month old on a stool surrounded by bright lights, mirrors and shiny things and ask her to sit perfectly still.  Direct your tiny person to look straight into the big black camera pointed at her by a strange bearded man, ensuring she keeps her head straight, mouth closed and eyes open. Did I mention she is fourteen months old? Hold your child with one hand while dancing Elmo over the camera with the other.

Step 3. Catch your child when she grows bored after approx. 30 seconds and attempts to swan dive off the stool.

Step 4. Repeat.

Step 5. After several failed attempts and countless useless images, admit, to beardy's undisguised relief, defeat. Go home and do it yourself!

The Marseillan managed to take a great passport photo of Louloute which met the ridiculous requirements of the passport people. We recently had Choupette's photos taken, this time at Australia Post and it was much easier, although at four months old she was a little more complient. Propped up in her pram, the kindly gentleman simply placed some white card behind her and managed to take the perfect (baby mug) shot.

(This is not it)