We celebrated my birthday this week, with steak and roquefort butter and key lime pie. It made me pensive, as milestones tend to do, and specifically I was remembering two years ago, when I turned 25 and was six and a half months pregnant. My growing belly broadcast a reality that I couldn’t fathom. I was someone’s mother.
Clara didn’t have a name. We’d made the choice not to learn the sex of our baby, for the surprise of it, which meant she was “the baby,” a big question mark. The birth loomed off in the unknowable future and I viewed it with dread and disbelief. Motherhood was great and beautiful in theory, and I loved kids and was a big supporter of having them.
In reality, the liminal stage between post-grad and parent was painful. It looked like fear and regret, blood tests and vomiting, loneliness and scrolls through reddit pregnancy forums.
This birthday, 27, I am five months pregnant with a boy. We’ve named him Silas James. The future is uncertain as ever but the emotions surrounding this pregnancy (always a liminal stage in itself) couldn’t be more different. We don’t have to make the major leap from not parents to parents. We love this baby already, in a way that’s not merely theoretical or supposed. The familiarity of the process is comforting. What’s more, on good days or bad days or any day, there’s a funny, cuddly, almost-two-year-old to snuggle with.
In other news, the country continues to observe le confinement. Most shops and all restaurants are closed, and there is a 7pm curfew and 10km distance restriction (preventing us from going to Lyon, which is disappointing). But happily, it was announced last month that Villefranche is one of the most dynamique cities of its size despite the lockdowns and restrictions. Villefranche has retained 83% of its pre-pandemic foot traffic. In this brief reportage, people cite the convenience of having a kilometer-long main street and good relationships with businesses as some of the reasons why Villefranche has continued to thrive. We love living right on Rue Nationale; it’s one of the reasons we decided to take the leap and buy our apartment. Of course, now that stores have been closed again for several weeks at the time of this writing, the dynamism of the downtown has definitely taken a hit.
As always, I’m cooking a lot and appreciating the fact that we have neighbors with whom to share meals or a drink at a moment’s notice (both easily and legally). Last month we met Catriona, the latest addition to our English-speaking island. She’s an Irish college student living and teaching in Villefranche for the school year, and I admire her grit for sticking out her assignment, school closures and all. We joke that she’s Clara’s best friend because Clara was instantly at ease around her and lights up whenever she’s here.
I’ve been visiting the local market regularly and paying attention to seasonality. Perfect Gariguette strawberries are as sweet as candy and will cheer you on the gloomiest day. Last week I bought my first poulet fermier, a chicken straight from the farm. The butcher lopped off its head and feet with a cleaver and asked if I wanted to keep them or the organs. I declined. I need a French grandma to teach me what to do with them. I slathered the chicken with Caesar dressing and roasted it, then served with lettuce and fresh baguette croutons. Highly recommend.
A few other highlights over the past few months of cooking:
Paprika. This five-dollar app is life-changing. In one streamlined platform you can plan your meals, keep your grocery lists, and, my favorite part, save all your favorite recipes. The app pulls the recipes from the web in a matter of seconds, and you can update them with your own notes. I find it’s great for concentration to be able to cook from my phone without ads flashing and videos playing. I’ve also noticed that I’ve become a more streamlined, efficient cook and shopper thanks to the app. No more wasted trips to the store. I get all my groceries on foot, so I really appreciate this.
Instant Pot carnitas. The instant pot was a birthday present (thanks grandma!) and I’ve just proved I can use it without any explosions. Juicy and quick-cooking, these carnitas outdid my favorite recipe of three years.
Key lime pie. Especially when pregnant, I crave all things sour and citrusy, and have been dreaming about making this pie for the past month as a birthday treat. Alison Roman’s recipe from Dining In didn’t disappoint. It is supremely tangy, with a crunchy, salty crust made with coconut oil and graham crackers (I used McVitie’s, easier to find here). It was a timely pie to make as Victor had already planned to give me an electric citrus juicer and I was able to squeeze every drop from the limes. We start every morning now with orange/blood orange juice, so much cheaper than the jus d’orange pressé from the boulangerie and absolutely luscious.
Chorizo pasta takes just a handful of ingredients and has crazy flavor. I add several handfuls of greens like spinach or broccoli rabe to the sauce.
Alison Roman’s eggplant parmesan is worth doubling. I made this twice in one week.
Baked camembert. In 20 minutes you have a delightful treat that makes a random weekday lunch special. We like drizzling olive oil, honey, and thyme on top.
Clara is proving to be a delightful toddler. In the past few months we’ve taken her on picnics, hikes, to a farm, and on her first Easter egg hunt. Chick basket in hand, she toddled around the park collecting eggs that we’d grab out of her basket and hide again when she wasn’t looking.
We’ve seen Clara’s comprehension of words and routines grow greatly over the past few months. I’ve really enjoyed watching our family pidgin language develop. No one on the outside would understand it, but in our family, “two” means “more,” and to signal it, you hold up one finger.
Clara is eager to help us with whatever we’re doing, and I’ve read recently that it is precisely this tendency that you want to encourage in order to have a pleasant, easy-to-live-with child.
For decades, scientists have documented a surprising phenomenon: In many cultures around the world, parents don’t struggle to raise helpful, kind kids. From ages 2 to 18, kids want to help their families. They wake up in the morning and voluntarily do the dishes. They hop off their bikes to help their dad carry groceries into the house. And when somebody hands them a muffin, they share it with a younger sibling before taking a bite themselves.
You can find kids like this in a huge range of cultures, scientists have documented: from hunter-gatherers in the Arctic to farmers in the Andes, from pastoralists in Kenya’s savanna to fisherfolk in the Philippines.
I realized there are two key practices that parents all around the world use to teach children to be helpful and cooperative. And yet many American parents (including the one writing this essay) often do just the opposite.
Are We Raising Unhelpful, Bossy Kids? Here’s The Fix –Michaeleen Doucleff
When I happened upon this article, I realized that we were already doing what the author recommends, but there wasn’t anything particularly intentional about it. Reading this encouraged me to add more ‘subtasks’ into an average day and to encourage Clara’s efforts to help. She used to reach into the dishwasher and hand me a spoon to put away, and now, a month later, she helps me unload everything (after I quickly remove any knives). She can fetch her own bowl and bib, and get the cat a treat. She also helps me unpack the groceries, item by item, and in some fashion, she helps fold the laundry. She helps her dad “paint” and goes with him to the boulangerie, where she hands over the coin in exchange for a baguette. I’m thrilled that helping us is (at least right now) as fun for her as any toy.
Entertainment-wise, two things have stood out lately. I’m still thinking about psychological thriller “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” by far the most original and interesting film I’ve seen all year, from the director of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s one of the most true-to-life portrayals of a person’s interior life that I can remember seeing.
I raced through the book “What She Ate” by Laura Shapiro, which looks at the lives of six famous/infamous women in history through the lens of their relationships with food. What did they like to eat? Who did they cook for? The book gives an insight into Eleanor Roosevelt’s frosty marriage and young Eva Braun’s relationship with Hitler, among many topics.
Last thing, for now. Another seemingly-endless liminal stage has come to a close: the renovations of our top floor. Four months of Victor’s blood, sweat, and tears went into this and we are celebrating! I am writing this from my new perch: a sunny window seat just long enough to stretch out in. Meanwhile, Clara pads across the pretty new parquet as fast as her feet can carry her. Thanks to yesterday’s installation of a baby gate up here, we are both tranquille.