About the author
The only parenting book I read before my almost-four-year-old son Leo was born was Pamela Druckerman’s 2012 Bringing up Bébé. As an American transplant raising kids in France, Druckerman observed that the French child is not the sun in the familial solar system. I prepared myself to nurture and prune a bien-élevé (well-mannered) toddler—the kind that wears smocked Liberty print dresses, sits and colors, and eats braised endives while her parents hold forth about a new podcast. The book’s thesis and the key to a civilized French household: the parents are in charge, not the children. “C’est moi qui décide,” is the French mother’s last word to her obstreperous child.
I thought of Druckerman’s credo several years ago when I accompanied a friend and her two-and-half-year-old to get ice cream. “He only likes strawberry,” my friend told the teenager behind the counter. “And it cannot contain seeds.” This part, my friend repeated in the sort of non-negotiable tone that a pop star’s tour manager might demand the absence of carnations from a dressing room flower arrangement. Obviously ill-versed in the toddler mood-swing, the teenager informed us there was no more seedless strawberry ice cream to be had. Gamely, if naively, she suggested strawberry frozen yogurt that would be made on the spot with actual strawberries —!!!—and their seeds. Reluctantly, my friend agreed, and then proceeded to meticulously de-seed every spoonful as her son suspiciously appraised her efforts. As I watched, I thought of all of those French children surely quietly, gratefully, tucking into bowlfuls of seed-ed cassis sorbet, and I smugly told myself—with the superiority of the childless—that I would never be one of those mothers who tend slavishly to the demands of their offspring.
Then I had Leo. And I have been his butler (I mean mother) for almost 4 years. To my relief, he is all for a seeded ice cream, which is not to say that he does not have other, let’s call them, eccentricities. It occurred to me that things might be taking a problematic turn when Leo was about two, and I found myself carrying a breakfast tray upstairs so that he might enjoy a morning bed picnic. He sat in my bed in his pajamas, reclining against more pillows than you’d find in a guest bedroom in a Nancy Meyers movie. I had long nurtured a Downton Abbey fantasy, but here I was, cast in the wrong role.
Master Leo just needs a little bell!
But he already has one: at about 18 months, I’d attached a plush musical pull-toy to the edge of his crib. Instead of playing it before going to sleep, Leo took to yanking on the string—prompting a Brahms’ lullaby to sound—upon rising from his nap, ostensibly ringing for service. “I’d like water!” he’d say. As I’d scurry downstairs, he’d call out, refining his order: “Freezing cold!” Now, whenever I hear Brahms, I feel a Pavlovian urge to leap to my feet and beeline to his side, like a flight attendant heading towards a first-class passenger who’s just buzzed for beverage service.
I HAD LONG NURTURED A DOWNTON ABBEY FANTASY, BUT HERE I WAS, CAST IN THE WRONG ROLE.
“Master Leo just needs a little bell!” a friend suggested, laughing. But he already has one: at about 18 months, I’d attached a plush musical pull-toy to the edge of his crib. Instead of playing it before going to sleep, Leo took to yanking on the string—prompting a Brahms’ lullaby to sound—upon rising from his nap, ostensibly ringing for service. “I’d like water!” he’d say. As I’d scurry downstairs, he’d call out, refining his order: “Freezing cold!” Now, whenever I hear Brahms, I feel a Pavlovian urge to leap to my feet and beeline to his side, like a flight attendant heading towards a first-class passenger who’s just buzzed for beverage service.
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