Although quite Cuban in heart, body, and soul, for the last handful of years I have felt an affinity for the French culture (and apparently last name – Legrá is a French last name I’ve been told)
I fell in love with Paris when I visited after college and have since to make my way back. The city’s mixture of city and suburb, old and new fills its streets with the exact romantic charm that you see in any movie about Paris. Some of the small streets look like my favorite streets in Manhattan, lined with cobblestone, trees and cafes. Pointed signs that look more like a movie set than real directions point to different streets and to the Eiffel Tower. I love Paris.
But besides the quaint city appeal, what is it about Paris, about the French culture that draws me to a place I hardly know? Let’s state the obvious so we could move on. Wine. We all know that I revel in that vice on occassion. Apparently, so do the French. Guess what else they love… cheese. Me too! The stronger and stinkier the better. The French are also bon vivants (this is a waaaay fancier word for “big time Foodies”). And I want to note here that they are not just foodies for foodies sake. They are picky about what they put into their mouth. They hardly snack. They don’t eat while watching TV or sitting in front of a computer (did you know that this makes you more likely to overeat since you are not paying attention to what or how much you eat.) Mike and I could be the presidents of Bon Vivant Inc.
But for me, the main attraction to the French comes from their way of being, their laissez-faire attitude about life and living. So they drink, smoke, and eat happiness. They are satisfied. And that word – satisfied – is a big word. It comes with a sense of fulfillment, of being content with what you have and not dissatisfied with what you don’t. Recently I have read that it is this lifestyle that allows the French to raise well-behaved, independent, gourmet eating, sleeping through the night at two months, nature-loving, contentedly sitting and enjoying their own company babies. Yes I said all of those things in a book called “Bringing up Bébé,” a book about French parenting not focused on feeding times, birthing plans, or appropriate meals but rather about an American mother discovering the wisdom of french parenting.
“In the U.S. sometimes I have the feeling that if it’s not difficult for you, you have to feel bad about that,” one character in Bringing up Bebe says. I don’t think this is a pressure that is purposefully put on mothers but I do think there is some truth to it. I know even before I became a mother it seemed that in order to be a good mother you had to give up things, you have to sacrifice in order to be doing it right. This has often made me feel, especially in Santo Domingo with an easier lifestyle (having help and taking time every day to write and work), guilty. Mommy guilt kicks my ass. But not all moms meet guilt in the parking lot after school. It seems French mothers feel that there is no need to sacrifice but to balance being a mom along with all of the other things you are. Balance, for them, is one of the most important things you could do as a mother and as a woman not letting any one thing in life take up your whole life; not your work, not your marriage, not your kids. Whew! What a weight off my shoulders. All of this time, I have subconsciously thought this this but up until this point I was feeling horrible about not devoting ALL of my day to our baby. I felt terrible that I wanted my time, me time, while other mothers were so happy to be with their kids all of the time. I looked at myself as doing something wrong (remember… guilt kicks my ass daily) although the French have opened my eyes to the fact that as long as you’re doing what is right for you, you can’t be wrong, just happy.
The book also talks about how babies are much smarter than we think, how they can rise to meet our expectations, how we have to let them learn to sleep (or do anything, really) on their own, and how even babies enjoy their privacy. How would you feel if every time you went to sleep and woke up your mother was hovering over you? It says that the French build confident,self-reliant babies who enjoy their own company because babies who learn to play by themselves during the day- are less worried when they’re put into their beds alone at night.
All of this resonates with my philosophy of how I wanted to raise a child but thought it was me being selfish and still wanting a life that would no longer be mine Because most of what I ever heard about being a mom started with, “It is the most amazing gift but be ready to give up (fill in the blank). And my favorite part of the book so far is the one that reads, “The Frenchwomen I meet aren’t at all blasé about motherhood or about their babies well-being. They’re awed, concerned, and aware of the immense life transformation that they are about to undergo.” This solidifies it. I am completely aware that our baby is priority. I am dizzy with how much I love her and obviously concerned, otherwise I wouldn’t question myself everyday. I am aware that my life has become different but doesn’t mean it has changed.
I don’t have to be a different person. I don’t have to sacrifice everything in order to be good at this. And I don’t have to let guilt bully me around about still wanting to be who I’ve always been. I can still be a balanced woman, a loyal friend, a happily married wife, a struggling writer, a solid flirt, a constant photographer, an animal avenger, but now I just have to make room for one more… a French mother.
Et Voilà, I’m French. Wine drinking, cheese eating, child rearing and all… and definitely balanced.