Thursday, December 11, 2008

Magical Moments and Milestones...

There are too many to even try to put down here, and at the risk of sounding like a complete cliché, I have to say that these special moments with Emma are unforgettable -- I know, I know, it's getting old, hearing all the Proud Momma statements, but I just can't resist! Emma's 4th month has officially become pretty eventful, as we found her first official tooth yesterday morning -- yep, my suspicions were confirmed! I had thought she had been acting a bit strange lately, not quite herself, what with the general fussiness, not just in the evenings, as usual, but at other moments during the day. And then there was the drooling and the chewing on darn near everything -- not just Sophie La Girafe! Thanks again, Linda, for that wonderful gift -- I don't know what we'd do without it these days! She gnaws on that famous giraffe enthusiastically, until it drops out of her hand and she gets frustrated wondering where it has gone until Momma picks it back up for her again. She hasn't yet hit that stage where she does it on purpose just for the fun of it -- BOY are we looking forward to that one! I remember my little brother doing that...

Already last month, at her 3-month check-up, I mentioned to the pediatrician my suspicions about possible teething, and she said that of course all babies at her age are discovering things by putting them in their mouths, and of course drooling pretty regularly -- which I do realize is true. But the accumulation of signs just led me to believe that more was going on, and that our little peanut was going to be precocious in the tooth department in any case! Last weekend she had a low-grade fever and inexplicably fell asleep on her activity mat in the early evening, not long after waking up from a nap... Another sign! Plus, she has been nursing differently for the last week or so -- her behavior has changed, and I know that this is pretty normal as well, depending on the baby's mood, etc. She has been pulling away at my breasts while nursing and then pulling off pretty regularly, looking up at me like she doesn't understand what's going on -- as if I could explain it myself! As it turns out, I read that when a baby is teething, he/she has pain when nursing, as the sucking puts pressure on the gums as well...

So when she grabbed at my fingers yesterday morning in bed and started sucking away at them, I let her go at it, until I felt the sharp stab in the front part of her mouth -- YIKES! That's when I went in for a closer look and, lo and behold, discovered the tooth! And it even looks like the one next to it is coming in as well. Bottom front, of course. Poor thing...

Right now she's been going through a lot of moodiness, which is understandable, and I do hope we'll get through this pretty fast... It can vary from one baby to the next, and I know the teeth all come in gradually, so I just hope it will be in spurts and not constant months of teething pain!

Just the other night we had one of those magical moments that I had to write about as well: after her evening bath in the kitchen (how incongruous does that sound? But we don't have a bathtub...), I usually get her dressed and finish up all the little toiletry stages, including cleaning her ears, nose and eyes with saline. Sometimes I'll use some lotion on her, but in general I try not to use too much in the way of "extra" products -- she really doesn't need them! She smells good, baby-good, just the way she is, if you ask me, without the help of any products. I turned her over on her belly for a moment and put her arms forward, as I've tried to do on occasion on her tapis d'éveil, and whereas usually she flails her arms out to the side as if she were swimming, this time she lifted her head up high while pushing on her arms and looked at me. I clapped my hands and said, "Bravo, Emma Bear!" And she burst out laughing, so proud of herself! It was just perfect.

I've tried to capture some of the "lifting up" on camera, but it's been pretty tough so far... I managed to score one, but unfortunately it was blurry. We'll keep trying!

Yesterday's 4-month visit with the pediatrician went well, and Emma was a champ, as usual. I half expected her to be fussy, precisely because she hadn't been doing so well lately, and on top of all that, she hadn't had a real nap since early in the morning, and after falling asleep in the stroller I had to wake her up to see the doctor... But she smiled and sailed her way through the exam, so I worried for nothing... She's weighing in at nearly 16 pounds now (7.150 kilos) and is 68 centimeters long -- she's getting bigger and bigger! She hardly flinched for this month's first shot, but did cry a bit for the second one. Luckily next month there won't be any more vaccinations before we leave for our trip to the U.S. -- thank goodness! The doctor confirmed that she has two teeth sprouting, and we discussed other little concerns of mine... When we left, Emma fell back asleep in the stroller and Momma ran her around the neighborhood for some errands -- I was about exhausted as she was by the time we got back home!

The days are just flying by... And at this point, I still can't see myself leaving Emma at home. I'm not sure what the future is going to bring, but I have some tough choices to make in the next couple of weeks... I know that for the moment, yes, my blog is one of those blogs, but -- well, that's my life right now! So please be patient and bear with me.

Oh, and I know I did get tagged AGES ago by my dear Lauren and Meredith at Poppy Fields as well, but I wonder if I should even bother taking my turn at this point? It's been so long...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Little Bubbles of Happiness

It goes without saying that I am beyond grateful for the arrival of baby Emma in my life... In our lives, really. But I am ever so thankful also for moments like the one I just shared with my daughter, in which she quietly finished nursing and stretched out like a cat, that milk-drunk look on her face, and then smiled up at me. I smiled down at her and the feeling of connection was so strong, I knew this was a moment I would remember forever. Perhaps not in detail, but just that special feeling of bonding, that exchange of smiles, that warm strength that comes from knowing how very much I love her. I wanted that moment to last forever, to engrave it in my heart to be able to bring it out in moments of difficulty and sadness.

Oh, yes, I am grateful and thankful for the joy that Emma has brought to our lives, to both her daddy and me, and to my whole family... The past four months have been a roller-coaster of emotions, in more ways than one, and I know that there is so much more to come -- I just hope I'm up for the ride! I'm working on becoming better organized, but I'm also trying to treasure these little bubbles of happiness we share together, because I know they are finite and oh-so-ephemeral.

But yes, thank you dear Lord, thank you Universe for bringing Emma into our lives. The magic is only just beginning.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Up in Arms!

Okay, I don't know where to begin with this, so I'll just get straight to the point: I've been trying to book a plane ticket for Emma and me to travel to the U.S. over the past few days, and Friday night I thought I was set after having found a great fare on -- but no, it was too good to be true! The next day I get an e-mail and a phone call telling me that the flight can't be confirmed at the quoted price on-line because in fact the "class" for an infant has been changed, or something or other, and that in fact Emma's fare will be 210 AMERICAN DOLLARS MORE -- supposedly for fuel charges!!?? In essence, her ticket will cost nearly as much as MINE, and she doesn't even get a seat! She will be sitting on my lap and may very well get a bassinet, IF I'm lucky enough to get a bulkhead seat.

Folks, as you all know, my daughter will only be 5 months old in December, and I decided to travel with her in January, after the New Year, because I figured that by then the fares would be much cheaper than traveling over the holidays. It wasn't absolutely crucial that I be in the U.S. for Christmas this year, as Emma is still really little, and I figured we would celebrate Christmas here with my boyfriend's family, and then just celebrate things a bit later with my family back home. In the future, further down the road, I hope to take Emma back to the U.S. for an actual Christmas, when she's older and can really appreciate the Christmas carols, baking cookies, the atmosphere around the holidays -- the whole shebang, quoi. This is pretty much the ONLY time I'll have to be this flexible about my travel times, too, because I'm not working right now. Once I go back to work it will be much tougher to figure out the best times to travel. And this time around I don't need to fly over on a particular date, so I was open to many different possible options.

Basically I was looking at flying over around January 8th and staying nearly a month at my parents' place. But I am BEYOND SHOCKED by these new supposed fuel charges... Does anybody know anything about this? Have you heard anything about this before? Suppposedly the woman at USAir told my mother (who called for me as well, as she was helping me to try to book the tickets) that this was some sort of new international regulation for infant passengers -- but WTF?!?! I thought the whole benefit of traveling with a child under the age of 2 was that the cost was much lower, and this is because she doesn't even get a seat! She weighs less than 15 pounds for goodness sake! How can they say this is for FUEL charges, both ways? Is this some money-making scam, the way the airlines are trying to make up for their own financial losses? Has anyone encountered this? I know I basically have no recourse, but I just don't understand how these Internet companies can quote certain fares and then 24 hours later call you to tell you that no, in fact your fare is NOT what you thought it was going to be, as the airline you're traveling with has decided to add this extra charge...

With the extra taxes and fuel charges, Emma's fare will be pretty much as much as mine, and once again, she DOESN'T GET A SEAT! I'm trying not to get steamed over this, but it's definitely not working... I just got off the phone with my mother again, and we're both simply flummoxed by this whole situation. And they've got us good, these damn airlines, because we obviously can't do a thing! And here I was thinking that I wanted to be able to travel with my daughter while she was little, like everyone has told me, because it's financially beneficial, in addition to the obvious fact that it will be a nice way for us to spend time with my family back in the U.S. But NOW what are we supposed to do? Just bite the bullet? I have a feeling that we'll simply have to do exactly that, because we basically have no recourse. I'm just stunned that the international airlines can just UP and do something like this, out of the blue, and inform passengers about it in such a roundabout way, instead of doing it up-front.

Anyhoo, sorry for the rant. I usually don't get so up in arms and upset about things, but this is just extremely disappointing and unnerving for me, particularly since we're really trying to watch our pennies these days, with me deciding to take a few more months away from work with Emma at home. The last thing we need is to have to pay for an expensive airfare in JANUARY, pretty much the lowest season and what I would think would be one of the least expensive times of year to travel to the U.S. from France.

OK, I'm off to grumble some more to myself... And drag my butt to bed.

P.S. ~ On a brighter sidenote, Emma was adorable today -- gurgling away like crazy and being just the sweetest thing. She even took a 3-hour nap from noon to 3:00! It's her smile that makes everything else fade away into insignificance.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Progress... in More Ways Than One!

Right now I'm feeling the need to write about Emma and all that we're experiencing together these days: her discoveries, her reactions to everything around her, our exchanges... And I'm realizing that if I don't get some of this down, NOW, that I'll regret it later. I'm trying to recall now some of the things that she has done over the last couple of weeks that have really made me laugh or smile, thinking to myself how important it is that I remember that particular moment. For example, when I was lacing up my tennis shoes a few days ago, she looked up at me from her transat chair and just started giggling -- I haven't the slightest idea what made her laugh (maybe it was how big her mommy's feet are?), but it was of course contagious, and I started laughing too... She's been giggling more and more like that, but often for completely inexplicable reasons. She'll also laugh a lot when I'm playing with her little feet or goofing around with her before her bathtime. Sometimes she seems like she's outsmarting me, even now, and she blows my mind with her intuitiveness... Just last week I took her to the pediatrician for her 3-month check-up (which involved a second set of vaccination shots -- UGH!), and as I started getting her out of her winter coat in her stroller, she looked up at me as if to say, "What are we doing back HERE, Mommy?" Her lower lip trembled and she started crying. At the time, I couldn't figure out for the life of me what had provoked this reaction, and it was only later when I told my boy about it that he said, "Well, maybe she recognized the place where she was given the shots last month..."

I couldn't believe it! Granted, we're only surmising, and maybe she simply had a bellyache, but she doesn't usually get that trembly lip thing going on unless she's really upset about something. I'm always talking to her, just chit-chatting away, and my boyfriend commented to his father that I basically have a constant "monologue" going on -- and while he thinks this is hilarious, he also felt like it must be good for Emma. I hope so anyway! But the thing is, I'm almost always either being silly or talking in what I think is a positive tone of voice, so she has really come to sense when something is wrong. After nursing her early on Tuesday morning this week, we fell back asleep, as it was a national holiday here in France and Daddy was home with us as well... When Emma woke up around 9:00, Daddy brought her into the bed and we spent some time together before he took her to change her diaper. I joined them in the living room a few minutes later, but I was still trying to drag myself up out of sleep. As I looked down at Emma, I noticed that she had scratched her face again in several spots -- she hasn't done this in a while, and I've been trying to be vigilant about trimming her fingernails on a regular basis. But since she started sucking her thumb, she puts her fingers up around her nose like a claw, often in the middle of the night, trying to get her thumb in just the right position... And hence the dragging away at her nose and the scratches.

A bit dismayed, I said out loud, "Oh no, you've scratched yourself again!" And of course my tone of voice was a wee bit negative... Poor Emma took one look at me and the trembling lip came back! She burst out crying, little sweetheart, and I felt terrible. I reassured her that of course it wasn't her fault, and started talking to her as usual, and she calmed down. But it was just incredible how she sensed immediately that I wasn't talking like I usually do! And she felt like she had done something wrong and I was yelling at her...

Other times her understanding of things impresses me as well, like at bedtime. After nursing her, usually she'll fall asleep on my shoulder when I'm trying to get that last little burp. And I'll gently put her in bed for the night. But once this week she woke up with a start and looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I thought, oh man, now she's really awake! But I told her quietly that it was bedtime, and that she needed to sleep now; I laid her in bed, and she looked up at me with a big smile. Ten minutes later, when I came in to check on her, she was sound asleep. Again, incredible! At least I felt like it was... In any case, her personality is really beginning to shine, and it's really exciting to see how much she's changing all the time.

Last weekend was really nice as we spent a couple days up in Le Havre again, at my father-in-law's house, where I was finally able to cook for the first time in months. I cracked out a new recipe I had wanted to try for a canette aux figues. I'm crazy about figs and hadn't had a chance to cook with them at all this year, and as the season is coming to an end, I didn't want to miss out. I didn't know whether I'd pull off this particular recipe, but it turned out really well, even better than I had hoped. Definitely one to try again, maybe even before the end of the month! Here's hoping the figs will hang in there for a couple more weeks at the local market... I'd also like to bake my fig tart again, the one I first made last year, with an almond cream.

So I'm gradually adding some other nice things into my days and I'm working on finding a better balance of my time -- although I still need some major improvement in the housecleaning department! Ugh. At least Emma's laundry gets done in a jiffy -- I can spend a good half-hour scrubbing away at her poopoo stains, and it's looking like I'll need a new bar of Octagon soap when I head over to the U.S. in January -- at least if all goes well! I still need to book our plane tickets, but I'm hoping that because it will be low season and after the holidays that I'll be able to find a decent fare. Next Monday we're heading off to the American Embassy to put through Emma's paperwork for her passport, so that will be a step in the right direction!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Emma in the morning...

Emma in the morning...
Originally uploaded by alwaysace
What can I say? She entertains me. And makes me smile, all the time! It's just a shame that her funny little sneezes got cut off the end here...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What a Champ!

Emma B., sitting pretty in shades of blue

OK, so I know I took, like, an unannounced two-month blogging hiatus without saying anything, and there's probably no one out there reading me anymore *chirp, chirp* -- but I have to admit that this blogging gig has never been a very consistent thing for me (um, as if I have to point that out...). And most of the time I can only really post something when I feel GOOD about it and what I have to say and can't wait to get it out there in the blogosphere -- either that or when I really need to rant, which of course has happened on occasion, from time to time... Ha!

But the truth of the matter is, it's not easy for me to talk about my fears, anxieties and concerns when it comes to Emma and doing my best in raising her. I know I have so much to learn, and I do hope most of it will come naturally and with some help and advice from those around me, but I have to admit that I SO wish I could avoid transmitting my neuroses and worries to her, even though in the end I know it's ultimately inevitable... They're just a part of my nature and one of the hardest things to change about me. And virtually impossible to disguise or smother, for that matter.

Emma has been a doll, truly an angel, and I know THAT will probably change a million times over as well, but sometimes I can't get over how wonderful she is... Smiling all the time like crazy, especially in the morning after just waking up, when she's just Baby Sunshine. In the first two months I really did worry about everything and anything, and I imagine that will more than likely continue for a while as well, but these days I'm settling into the whole momma gig a bit better and starting to gain a little more confidence in myself and my capabilities. I still need to learn to be better organized, but, well -- one day at a time! I'm thrilled that I've been able to continue with breastfeeding, especially since that first month was so damn difficult... And I honestly thought so many times that I was going to have to throw in the towel, give up and start doing formula, or at least mixed nursing. But I stuck it out, stuck to my guns if you will, and persisted in my desire to do only exclusive breastfeeding. Bizarrely enough, I never had a major "montée de lait" in the first few days after Emma was born, and that's perhaps where all my anxieties first began (wondering if I had enough milk and all...), because I worried so much about having done something wrong from the get-go, namely letting Emma be taken to the nursery the first couple of nights because I was so wiped out after the delivery. I know SO MANY of the books and experts say not to do it, but I was truly a wreck -- and again, sometime soon I'll try to write more about my delivery experience, so I can explain things in more detail. My experience was far from the most gruesome, truly, but it was far from easy too... In the end, though, my milk did gradually come in, probably much more gradually than for most moms, but the important thing is that I did finally have enough milk!

My little blossomed bean has been growing like a weed in any case, and we'll find out exactly how much she weighs and measures next week at her three-month check-up. Of course TODAY is her official 3-month birthday, so Happy Three Months Emma B.! While my parents were here she was a big show-off, smiling all the time and taking in everything around her. My older brother spoiled her like crazy and kept her constantly entertained with Elmo and Cookie Monster skits and conversations -- my brother is just the best uncle! :-) My parents were of course thrilled to spend so much time with her and only wished they could stay longer... As did I. My dad was particularly good at putting Emma to sleep on his shoulder, as well as making her giggle on her changing table. Speaking of which, how funny is the fact that that's one of her favorite places to be? On the changing table, I mean. Who woulda thunk it?! I know I've got to keep a particularly close eagle eye on her these days, as she starts rolling around even more, but when I lay her down there, she's almost always happy... She loves to be taken care of and to have attention showered upon her (she ain't a Leo for nothin'!), and she fixates on this poster that I have hanging on the wall right above her changing table, a print from a museum in Le Havre. Which always brings back memories of my boyfriend's mother...

Emma's also getting stronger and stronger... Aimée pointed out back in late September, when my parents and I stopped by l'OisiveThé for lunch, that Emma was already starting to hold up her head "like a champ" -- and she's been doing it more and more! She's constantly staring around her and is what the French call "très éveillée", aware of so much and crazy curious about everything. Her latest thing is talking to her buddies in her stroller as we take walks around the neighborhood. The other day I bent down to check on her and found her garbling away to Mr. Turtle -- once again, she made me smile like crazy!

I managed to make a return trip back to l'OisiveThé about two weeks ago, when I finally hauled the MacLaren into the city and realized that, in fact, it's not all that hard to carry around -- once Aimée showed me how to REALLY carry it, that is! And here I thought it was going to be such a hassle... But this is one of the main reasons why the Techno XT is so great, and I'm SO grateful to Aimée and Philippa for telling me about it. And here I thought I was going to have to carry the stroller separately while carrying Emma in the Baby Bjorn! Silly me... So thanks to dear Lauren and Aimée's generous help while balancing the business in the teahouse, I was able to get my hair cut in the adorable salon across the street and have a delicious lunch with the gals. It was a wonderful afternoon, and I'm so glad I braved it into the city that day -- especially since Aimée also showed me a new route for my trips back and forth into her neighborhood. So I hope to make it back again sometime soon! Thank you SO much, Aimée!

Oh, and I can't sign off without mentioning Emma's other latest discovery -- the THUMB! Yes, that's right, it's official: Emma B. has discovered the fascination and soothing powers of her thumb... I didn't know how to feel about it at first, as I've heard such horror stories about children sucking their thumbs into early adolescence, but what can you do, really? She seems so calm and happy when she has it in her mouth, and I can't argue with that, especially when she's having a hard time going to sleep... Then again, the funny thing is when she pops it in her mouth when she seems downright bored, or if she feels like she's not getting enough attention -- that's something that worries me a bit! Of course, she's never really cottoned on to the pacifier, which I was initially relieved about, but which is the worse evil? Thumb or pacifier? Therein lies the question... And I know there are two schools of thought, two opposing camps, and I have no idea where my thoughts really fall.

But one thing is for sure, Emma is on her way to becoming an enchanting baby girl! This coming from an entirely biased Mommy, of course...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy One Month, Emma!

Love these expressions..., originally uploaded by alwaysace.

Check out that double-chin! Emma celebrated her one-month birthday this past weekend, and I have to admit it was a relief to learn on Friday that she has been gaining weight and has grown steadily over the past month (she went from 53 centimeters at birth to 57.5!). We saw the pediatrician together, and the news was good -- she is alert and in good health, and aside from some pesky "baby acne" and some of my own concerns with breastfeeding, things are going very well. Of course, I have my good days and my bad days, as I find myself constantly worrying about one thing or another, but Emma is as adorable as ever and is always surprising my boyfriend and I with her expressions, as you can see in this photo.

This past weekend we also made some steps forward in preparation for my brother's and my parents' visit in about 2 weeks' time... We managed to finally choose a sofa-bed at Ikea on Saturday and then did some more reorganization around the apartment. The place will be far from perfect, but hopefully it will be much better than the state it has been in in recent months... Emma's mint-colored crib will also finally be arriving tomorrow (we've found other places for her to sleep up until now, trust me!), and I even chose a little rug for her eventual "room". What is serving as her room right now will actually also be a combination guest room/office, because we just don't have enough rooms otherwise! But I know that's the dilemma of many of us living in la région parisienne...

So I was in a great mood on Saturday, and then yesterday for some reason I fell back into the blues, and I couldn't even figure out why. Part of it was probably my knowing that my boyfriend was heading back to work again the next day, and I love the time we spend together just the three of us, and part of it was more than likely hormonal too. One day I'm up, and the next I'm down! More so than usual these days...

Emma is relaxing in her transat beside me right now. She's just started breaking out in a few occasional smiles, and there is absolutely NOTHING like seeing those moments of joy! We are looking forward to many, many more...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Heading Home

Sorry once again for the extended hiatus from the blog -- I've been absent for obvious reasons, I guess, but also mainly because I've been in Noirmoutier for the past 10 days or so and we're only heading back home tomorrow... I've mostly been away from any kind of Internet access, and I honestly just haven't had the chance to log onto a computer much less check into my e-mail, etc., in ages.

Vacation has been more of just a break away from the city and things back home, but I've been spending all my time with baby Emma and adjusting to our new life together. It's so much of what everyone says: wonderful, stimulating, exciting, exhausting, and overwhelming... There is so much I love about it, but I'm also trying my hardest to try to be more zen, to not be so anxious about everything. But it's SO hard to change one's nature! And I'm definitely an anxious person (yeah, no kidding, right?!).

I'll be sure to update things around here and try to share more about my birth and delivery, as well as Emma's progress and changes, once I get back home and settle back into my routine there. Again, there is so much to share and put down for posterity, so I hope to find a few moments to write about my thoughts and feelings, as well as post more photos.

Hope everyone has been having a wonderful summer -- weather around here on the Atlantic Coast has been variable, changeant and mitigé most of the time, although we had one gorgeous day of warmth and sunshine yesterday. It didn't really make a whole lot of difference for me this year, though, as I spent most of my time inside with Emma anyway!

A très bientôt...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In Good Hands...

Emma B. & the marvelous Jenn C., talented artist and exceptional friend. I'm so happy that she has been by my side from the beginning of my pregnancy to give me advice and support; Jenn, I don't know what I would do without you!

And even Emma is "en extase devant Jennifer", dontcha think?! :-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Emma B., 3 Days Old

P1010837, originally uploaded by alwaysace.

My Little Bean blossomed into a beautiful flower!

Thank you to all for your wonderful comments and congratulations. I should really be in bed, but I just wanted to post this very quickly.

Hope to catch up with everyone soon... Emma is beautiful and healthy, and I'm doing my best with juggling the new mom gig at home.

More than anything, I now know what it feels like to have my heart explode with so much love.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birth Announcement

3.610 kg
6:07 pm

This Might Be It...

I've been having contractions for the last 2 hours or so -- they woke me up around 2:00 a.m., and I've been trying to keep track of them since then. Oh MY, I think I'm definitely going to need the epidural...

I know, hard to believe I came on here, but it's mainly because I wanted to send out a quick message to my family in the U.S. before heading off to the clinic. But we're about to leave, so please wish us luck!

(I guess all that walking on the Champs-Elysées today might have done the job, huh, Jenn?! I may very well not need to be induced in the end...)

See you on the other side... So to speak!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Busy, Busy... But Slowing Down

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic, although gradually I've been slowing down and my body has been telling me that I just can't do as much as I would like... Whereas two weeks ago I was running around town and my boyfriend kept telling me that I was overdoing it, these days I can hardly get out the door. Or, let's just say that it's been that way since yesterday morning in particular... Thank goodness my boyfriend managed to finally get his hands on the car he's buying used from his sister, so we now officially have wheels and a way to get to the clinic when the time comes; plus, we also made a trip up to Le Havre on Tuesday and finally got our hands on a few things that his sister left for us, including a transat, a carseat for the first few months, and a couffin, which was the key thing we really needed -- especially since we still haven't decided on a crib yet!

I got to visit with some of my dearest friends over the past few weeks as well, although I haven't managed to see as many people as I would have liked -- I still have a list of buddies who I was hoping to see before the baby arrives! Please know that I'm thinking of you all... But it looks like that just isn't going to happen... Especially since things seem to have taken a "turn" of some kind since my doctor's appointment yesterday morning. After she, ahem, examined me in that way that is beyond uncomfortable at the end of the pregnancy (I have no idea how else to describe it!) she actually said, "Ah, ça y est, j'y suis arrivée..." I couldn't figure out what she meant, so I asked her, and she just said that she had managed to touch the baby's head, and that the Little Bean is in the right position at this point, although still a bit high -- not yet down very low... But since then, it feels like the baby may have lowered a bit, because I've been feeling a lot more pressure down there since the appointment -- plus, for hours after that, I felt particularly weak and strange. She told me to continue walking, so I trekked down from the Place de Clichy to Galeries Lafayette to get myself a nice towel to take to the clinic with me. The shops had all just opened, and it's extremely rare that I find myself in the department stores when there are so few people -- very nice for a change! But as I paid for my bathtowel, on sale thank goodness, the saleslady looked at me and asked me if I was OK; granted, I was feeling exhausted all of a sudden, so I accepted her offer to sit down for a rest before leaving... A short time later, I headed out and met my boyfriend for lunch in the 17th, near Pont Cardinet. Then I went back home... and rested pretty much for the rest of the day.

So this morning I believe I may have lost the mucous plug (sorry to be so graphic!). My understanding is that this isn't necessarily a sign of an imminent delivery, per se, because it can happen a couple days before the arrival of the baby, but it's usually a sign that something is going on! And in any case, ever since I woke up this morning, I still don't feel like my regular self. I'm not exactly having contractions, although I think I had a few last night before going to bed, but I still feel really weak and wonky. I want to scrub the kitchen floor, but at the same time all I want to do is lay back down on the bed. My boyfriend said he's going to help me out with things, and he has been particularly sweet for the last few days, but I feel like I'm somehow losing control here... Plus, I had hoped to get out today to buy another breastfeeding bra, as the one I've been wearing just feels too tight and like it doesn't have enough room in it. I guess I'm just going to have to make do with it until after the delivery, though, as I don't think I have the energy to make the trip on my own.

Basically, I do believe that the Little Bean's arrival is imminent... My doctor told me to come in to the clinic for a monitoring on Monday afternoon with my sage-femme, and if the conditions are all in order, they may plan to induce me on Wednesday... That is, if I haven't given birth by then! My OB told me she thought it might happen this weekend or on Monday, so I guess at this point it's all just a big waiting game.

I only have one tiny request: please cross your fingers for me that it doesn't start happening tomorrow night, as my boyfriend is working all night long...! So that basically means that I need for things to happen today, tomorrow morning or on Monday. Anyone want to make any bets?!

(But of course I know one can't determine these things in advance, unless of course I am induced!)

Ah, the waiting game... It's definitely not fun.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Prepared? Yeah, right!

NOTE: This post is more than a bit outdated, as I wrote most of it two weeks ago, and then -- silly me! -- never wrapped it up and "published" it here on the blog... But just thought I would do so now, before moving on to my latest thoughts...

Boy, I'm so tired of that question already, and I guess I've been getting it for weeks: "Are you ready?" "Are you prepared? Have you done everything?" And I never know whether people mean physically, mentally, emotionally or just materialistically prepared... I guess it's a combination of all of these, of course. And I know that it's meant with the best of intentions. But how can one ever be really and truly prepared for such an experience, and is there really ONE tried-and-true, specific way of preparing yourself?! Who knows...

Okay, so the past few days I have been spending a lot of my time preparing the baby clothes for the maternité and just trying to take my time washing them, folding them, and putting away as much as possible in the one piece of furniture I have for the baby so far -- the mint-green dresser! I quite like it, although the quality is obviously not fabulous -- it's pretty-much the same as Ikea-quality, but I guess I couldn't expect much more than that for the price I paid. Still, I'm hesitating about the matching bed, and I have a feeling the decision won't be made before the Little Bean arrives. In the meantime, I'm bound and determined to get us either a couffin or a landau, barring an actual combination stroller. My boyfriend did finally make it up to his sister's place in Lille this past weekend and drove back in her car, that he will be buying from her used -- so we officially have wheels again, and therefore a way to get to the clinic on the Big Day! But apparently her baby's stroller was in pretty bad condition and didn't seem to be working very well, so my boyfriend said to forget about it... Which leads us back to square one in that department. I think we may very well end up buying our own stroller; I may bite the bullet and convince him to go with me at the end of this week, when he finally has a couple of days off and we can go to a shop or two. But managing to convince him to go to some shops with me will be quite the challenge, to say the least...

So no, my life is not very exciting right now, but that's OK (and of course that will change any time now!). I'm feeling the constant need for rest anyway, and I'm also feeling excessively lazy -- it's insane! I keep telling myself I need to be doing more housecleaning (story of my life -- how many times have I mentioned this before?!) but all I want to do is kick back, relax and read, get my mind off my worries and just not think too much at this point. I put off going to bed at night, though, and I'm becoming more and more nocturnal; I'm really going to have to kick this habit soon, as I will regret it later on... But I think it's psychological, because now when I go to bed at night, I either wake up really early in the morning, or whenever I do wake up, I'm aching all over, mainly in my back, my feet and my hands, strangely enough. I get that my feet are swelling and I may be retaining some water (mental note: really need to watch my salt intake a bit better, I guess!), and also that no matter what I do, I can't seem to stay asleep in the right position at night, but what's with the achey hands?! Is the swelling thing meant to apply to ALL extremities, and not just my feet? In any case, I find myself occasionally cracking my knuckles during the day -- which I know is far from pretty, much less healthy, and not exactly a recommended little habit to be acquiring. But it seems to temporarily ease the pain, so...

Yes, there you have it, my blog has officially transformed into one of the expat expectant mommy blogs -- I guess this has been coming for a while! I try to alternate posts and talk about other things, but obviously this is what my life is revolving around right now, so what can I do? No matter what I read, the subject is always there in the back of my mind. For example, when I read last week's French Elle horoscope, I almost fell off my seat in the RER -- you see, my birthday falls on August 22, so I'm right "on the cusp", as they say, of both Leo and Virgo. I often jokingly like to say in French that I'm "Lion, presque Vierge" -- not too many out there who can say that, right?! In any case, these days I don't even know which sign to read, because Elle has stopped Leo at August 21st, whereas all my life I've pretty much considered myself more of a Leo than a Virgo. But I guess my personality is a mix of both... Then again, it's not as if I take all that much stock in horoscope predictions, trust me! It's just that on occasion I find them uncannily accurate... For example, in the week from June 30th to July 6th, Lion says: "... si vous ne partez pas encore en vacances, relâcher la pression, celle que vous mettez sur les autres... et sur vous. De votre capacité à vous détendre et à accepter les choses telles qu'elles sont dépendent vos succès futurs [!!!!]. Nés autour du 21 août [!!], agissez pour le changement."

Um, sorta kinda makes you stop and think, non ? I mean, trust me, with getting out to spend time with friends, I've definitely been making time to relax, but admittedly I'm the worst about "accepting things the way they are" -- I'm always wanting to somehow "fix" things at the last minute, and I'm definitely not a planner. I know this is kindof the stars' way of telling me that I'm going to have to learn to live with things being less-than-perfect for a while!

And if that one wasn't uncanny enough, read Virgo's from the same week (keeping in mind that I have usually considered myself more of a Leo up until now, but again, this was freaky nonetheless...): "... ne cherchez pas à tout résoudre, procédez par étapes. Nés autour du 24 août, préparez-vous, la semaine prochaine peut être importante [!!!!]." Of course, since then, that week has come and gone, and the "big event" hasn't happened yet -- but STILL, at the time it surprised me to read that!

People also keep asking us if we're going to be leaving on vacation, and obviously that hinges on the baby's arrival: due date being the end of July, early August, there's just no way of knowing when the Little Bean will officially pop out! I really hope that we will be able to head down to the Atlantic Coast for at least a couple weeks after the birth, but I imagine it all depends on how well the delivery goes, and obviously the baby's and my health afterwards. Although the sage-femme did say last week that normally a week to 10 days after birth was plenty of time to allow before going away, I'm just wondering how I will be handling everything. So no predictions at this point... It would be SO nice to get away from the city and to enjoy the ocean a bit after the baby's birth, but again, I'm obviously going to focus on making sure everything just goes well before thinking about all of that...

Oh, and I looked a bit into both the Bum Genius and Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers -- and OH my WORD, I must have been living on another planet, because I had NO IDEA how expensive they were going to be! Then again, I know a baby goes through a heck of a lot of disposables in one day, so I imagine the cloth diapers are not only the better long-term investment, leading to less spending in the long run, but they are also so much better for the environment. But *gulp* that first order is going to be painful, to say the least! Aimée has given me some good advice in that department as well, so I may plan on putting through an order for a starter kit to give the Bum Genius diapers a try, and have my parents bring them over from the U.S. when they come to visit in September...
In the meantime, I'm busy preparing my valise for the clinic, for both myself and the Little Bean. I've been dragging this out, though, and still need a few things from the pharmacy. I hope to wrap that all up very soon!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Down to the Wire... 36 Weeks!

I was sitting here eating my requisite daily apple and peanut butter (don't ask me how much I spent on a tiny container of Skippy last week -- I feel guilty enough as it is! -- and I keep eating it straight out of the container...) when I thought I should probably finally get around to making an update on my blog, and more specifically a pregnancy update! The baby's been moving around quite a bit for the last few hours, whereas usually the Little Bean saves his/her jigging around for nighttime, just when I'm climbing into bed. The sage-femme told us yesterday, at my last birth preparation class, that this is pretty much always the way it works -- for some reason the baby's clock is exactly opposite our own, so as we go about our daily activities, the Little Bean sleeps away, pretty much through everything, and then wakes up when we're heading off to bed.

And I've now officially hit that tough period I was dreading -- yep, the insomnia period. I had been forewarned by numerous friends, and of course the recent heatwave isn't helping. Trust me, I'm not complaining -- I'm as happy as the next gal that we've finally got some sunshine in the City of Light -- but the heat is definitely not pleasant when you're pregnant, and even less so when you're pregnant and have to take public transportation, which has fast become my nemesis. Thank goodness most people are nice enough to give me a seat at this point, but it's not always the case.

So last night, for the second night in a row, I tossed and turned for nearly 2 hours before passing out, and waking up, per my usual, on my back. Recently I've been going to bed on my left side, with this supportive "pregnancy" cushion propped up against my back and several pillows under my calves. But then of course by morning the cushions and pillows are all on the floor, and I'm flat on my back. Oh well... I have no idea how other gals do it, but maybe their beds are up against a wall or something... In any case, I almost got up and moved to the sofa last night, as my boy fell fast asleep right away, immediately after we didn't settle our disagreement as to whether to leave the window open or not. I need the air, otherwise I feel like I'm broiling away in an oven, but at the same time, in spite of the fact that we're on the third floor, the street gets pretty noisy at night (we're in the centre ville of our town, and apparently it's unavoidable) so leaving the windows open is not the best option either. Last night I seriously thought I was going to slam open the shutters and start screaming at the hoodlums in the street, racing their stupid scooters up and down and making all kinds of who-knows-what kind of noise after midnight. I know it would have been pointless, but my hormones almost got the better of me... I swear, how satisfying would it have felt to scream, "Foutez le camp, foutez-nous la paix, il y a des gens qui essaient de DORMIR, bande de cons !!"?!

Enfin, I digress... And basically I would never have the balls to do such a thing anyway. I finally made it to sleep, but not without some effort, but the only thing that saves me is the fact that I can sleep in in the morning at this point, if I really need to, even though I don't like wasting the day away in bed with all that has to be done in the next few weeks... Then again, here I am now in front of the computer, so I'm not exactly making much progress here either!

So yesterday was my last birth preparation class at the clinic where I will be delivering the Little Bean in Paris, and up until now I have to admit I've been a bit disappointed in things... Well, overall everything has been going fine, but I couldn't help but think we were racing through so much information, and there was hardly any time to ask any questions, much less enough time to take actual notes during each jam-packed session. They've consolidated each 2 1/2 hour session of three classes so that we won't have to make the trips in to the clinic as often, and I totally understand this (granted, I don't know if I would have liked having to make the trip back and forth 8 times rather than only 3...) but at the same time, it's all just terribly overwhelming for first-time moms! Thank goodness at this point in my life in France I have a pretty good grasp of the language, because I know that otherwise things would be even harder. Then again, I don't know that even language understanding will make much of a difference on the Big Day, as I have a feeling most of the expletives will be coming out in my native tongue as I struggle through the contractions...

And I'm at the stage where I'm trying not to think about delivery too much, as I've heard SO MANY different things, and I know that it can be so different for everyone. Aside from the fact that I realize it will be painful, and that this is unavoidable, I just wonder how far along I will be able to make it before I beg for the epidural, and whether I'll even recognize the actual labor contractions -- I mean, I imagine they must be pretty clear when the due date becomes imminent, but then again I've heard about so many false alerts that I just don't know what to expect... In the meantime, I've found that actually reading less has made me feel better than reading more, and as much as I've always been of the mind that informing oneself is important, this is one area where I wonder if staying in the murky end isn't a little bit better! It's funny, because even the sage-femme pointed out yesterday that in the Western world we tend to intellectualize the experience, as well as breastfeeding, and we think about it so much that it tends to make it even more difficult. I don't know how true that actually is, but it seems to make sense to me! I do hope that things will come naturally, but again, I'm trying to be both pragmatic and realistic, figuring that I will take things as they come: J'essaie de faire confiance à la vie, pour une fois !

For the first time yesterday, after class was over, I ran into a couple of the futures mamans in front of the elevator on my way out of the building... I had been so disappointed up until now mainly because I painfully felt the lack of contact and communication among moms-to-be, and my American side was aching for some interaction, some camaraderie, quoi ! I've adjusted to many elements of life in France, but I think this is something I will always miss, and I do admit that I relish the opportunities I get to meet up with fellow anglophones to chat about all kinds of things. On occasion I've been able to do this with French gals, but deep down I'm obviously American and that will never change -- so I find that I'm more myself when I'm with other Americans. But it was so funny, because these two gals were talking about how the classes threw so much medical information at us, how overwhelming and intimidating they were, how fast the sage-femme spoke, how everyone else seemed to know exactly what was going on... It was crazy, because they were basically voicing every single thought that I had had running through my head! It felt SO GOOD to finally share things, to commiserate and bond a bit. They were both super-sweet, and I only wish we could have exchanged numbers and gotten together. But alas -- that kind of thing just doesn't happen as easily here... I had an appointment with my anesthésiste just after the class, so we did chat for nearly a half-hour before I headed back upstairs, exchanging ideas and suggestions for baby equipment shopping, advice for various ills (namely the heartburn -- the one gal told me about Rennie Chew, which she said was not as unpleasant as the Gaviscon -- take note!), and our upcoming due dates, whether the babies would arrive early or late, etc...

The funniest thing was that the one gal, who was super-adorable, had practically the same due date as me, only off by a day, and her belly was definitely MUCH bigger! I've been reassured numerous times that the size of the belly doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it's still always surprising for me to compare how differently my body has changed to those of other moms-to-be. Most people think I'm only 6 months along at this point, whereas I'm nearing the beginning of my 9th month! But she said that her baby had been pressing down on her cervix for a few weeks now, and that she has been having contractions already, fairly often even. This really surprised me... The other gal was hilarious, very frank and friendly, and she even admitted to being psychologically nervous about things, to the extent that she had practically passed out in birth preparation class at the clinic last week, when all the information was being thrown at us! She had just found out that she has to watch her sugar intake, though, for a diabetes issue, and that this was a challenge -- I know it would be for me too, especially since I have such a sweet tooth and have been eating far too much chocolate and ice cream over the past couple months. Ooops! I've been told that I've put on about 13 kilos at this point, but I do want to keep an eye on my weight gain over the next few weeks...

And as to the baby equipment -- well, believe it or not, I haven't made a whole heck of a lot more progress in that department from a month ago, I'm embarrassed to say. I scoped out some shops at the beginning of the sales but was really disappointed with what I found. Natalys only ended up having the support cushion I bought, as well as some cute clothes for the baby (that I definitely didn't need!). I still want to make a trip back to Aubert at les Grands Boulevards, but I've probably already missed the really good deals... One of the gals I met yesterday mentioned a big baby shop in the 17th on rue St. Ferdinand, so I may try to make it there sometime before the end of this week as well... The baby dresser I ordered from Vertbaudet finally arrived today, so now I just need to put it together (or beg my boy to do so -- we'll see how tough it is!) and then wash the baby clothes. My goal before the end of this week is to put together the bulk of my maternity suitcase, for the baby and me both, and to have the baby's clothes washed and stored away. Speaking of which: when I went through the bags this past weekend, I realized that I had fallen into the same trap that people had warned me about ahead of time -- far too many 1-month and 3-month things!! ARGH. So I'm definitely going to have to let people know to bring us older-sized clothes if they'd like to get us anything... Not to mention the fact that my mom pointed out, which is that if it's super-hot in August, I guess the baby will mostly only be in diapers and little onesies most of the time! So I won't need much. And I'm so afraid that some of the adorable outfits I have will go to waste! Oh well, guess I'll have to wait and see...

On that note, I just had to share this little nugget from a conversation I had with my boyfriend this morning: he mentioned that we may very well need to get a table à langer, which I agreed with, although originally I had thought a little mattress on top of the dresser would be fine, but now I'm not so sure... Just the fact that he mentioned the changing table was an improvement, trust me! As it is, we still need to pick up the carseat from my office (one of the diplomats was returning to Japan and asked me if I'd like to have it -- and obviously my answer was of course!), as well as figure out the bed issue... But then he went on to say, "Et on aura besoin d'un pot aussi, n'est-ce pas ?" I turned and looked at him quizzically. "Un pot ? Eh, je pense qu'on a le temps pour ça, un bébé n'apprend pas à aller sur le pot avant au moins un an, un an et demi..." And then he went on to say that no, he seriously thought it would be better to start earlier, like before 9 months! I started laughing and muttered that maybe he might want to get reading a little bit himself, because it sounds like he has a lot to learn. And here I thought *I* was bad!! I think he might want to learn how to change a diaper before purchasing a potty... What do you think?!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad on My Mind

It's not very often that I write what might be considered a "timely" post, but this one just came to me naturally, after reading about Polly's father over at Polly-Vous Français...

There is no specific anecdote that comes to mind, but my memories of my father growing up are all of a smiling man who was almost always in a good mood, and loved to share a bowl of popcorn with me while we watched one of our favorite TV programs together, even in my twenties when that program was more than likely Seinfeld or Law & Order. My father and I have the sort of unspoken bond that is simply impossible to describe or explain; it's just there. I understand it, and I feel it, but I can never really put it into words. He can make me laugh with a certain expression on his face, or simply by looking at me and smirking in that funny way of his... I can pull up snippets of our time together in my mind, freeze-frame them and just remember the laughter, the warmth, and the security he has always brought me when we're together. There's just something reassuring about my father's presence that I definitely miss like a hole in my heart so often here in France. And I've often said that my dad gives the absolute best hugs in the world, and they're truly one of the things I look forward to the MOST when I go back home to the U.S. for a visit.

My boyfriend often comments on the fact that I've adapted fairly well to my life in France, and more specifically to the distance between my family and me. As much as he loves the U.S. himself, and American culture, he points out that he couldn't imagine putting so much distance between himself and his immediate family... They're very close, and speak by phone pretty much daily, even more so since his mother passed away two years ago. Obviously I miss my family and friends back home, but I guess somehow I've seen this distance as a force that has helped me to grow and evolve as a woman, to become stronger and more independent more than anything else. And obviously now that I'm going to be bringing my own first child into the world, I think more and more about this distance and it worries me much more now than it ever did before. I do wish my family was around the corner or at least a short enough distance away so that they could be here in a heartbeat if I needed them. But, of course, I made the choice to live here, to put down my roots in France, several years ago, and moving back to the U.S. is not really something I have in mind, nor a real option, for the immediate future. Besides, for the most part, in spite of the everyday challenges (and growing cost!) of living in France, I really do love it here, and it has become my home in more ways than one. Even if I AM constantly learning something new, in both the language and cultural departments! But I have faith that we'll somehow figure out a way to make it all work out...

But, ahem, as usual, I've gotten sidetracked...

From as far back as I can remember, my father has been the guiding force in my family life, even if he was the least vocal presence, or just a calm, quiet form of reassurance. I inherited the gift of gab from my mother, but sometimes I wish I could be as strong, reserved and solid as my father, in his quiet, unique way. How else can I describe him? Again, bits and pieces come to mind more than anything else: his voracious appetite, often taking seconds and thirds at the dinner table and complimenting my mother on her cooking skills (but somehow never putting on any extra weight around the middle!); his love of pepper on pretty much anything and everything, a culinary preference that somehow I DID manage to inherit and find myself applying to more and more of my favorite dishes; his work ethic, putting in long days at work and then coming home to fall asleep in front of the evening news, the evening paper spread out on his lap, and a light snore growing into what my mom jokingly would refer to as a saw; and his favorite weekend pastimes of washing and waxing his car, which over the years evolved from a Chevy Nova to a Jeep Cherokee and more recently a Ford Explorer, as my parents adopted the American attachment to 4X4s, an apparent "necessity" on certain parts of the East Coast in the winter, and in the summertime, mowing the lawn, now even more of a hobby since he acquired a riding mower that allows him to mow the larger amount of land around their small rancher house.

These days I imagine my father indulging in his favorite hobbies, namely watching baseball in the summer months and football in the winter (although I think baseball will always remain his ultimate favorite), and spending hours paging through coin collecting books in order to find that one elusive hidden treasure to add to his own burgeoning collection, a passion he has had since his own childhood. My father never used to talk very much about this pastime, but more recently he has shared some of his special "finds" and the playfulness and mischief in his eyes when he recounts a coin-collecting tale always make me smile... Particularly when I know he has finally been able to indulge this interest even more in recent years, now that us kids are all grown up and have flown the coop.

My parents also adopted a little beagle a few years ago, Ginger (that's her posing so endearingly in the photo above!) and she has become a major part of their lives as well -- more the princess of the castle, shall we say... When my dad makes his famous sandwiches in the kitchen, she comes running, hoping for a snippet of something from the table. When I was home for a visit a few years back she came bounding out on the back porch and literally stole my sandwich right out of my hands before I could even stop her! As infuriating as she can be at times, and as much as my parents (particularly my mother) seem to indulge her, I know she has brought a lot of happiness to their lives, so I could certainly never begrudge them that... And if anything, when I come home now her presence is a good excuse to get my dad and I out walking together around the neighborhood, lost in our thoughts and exchanging a few thoughts and memories as we explore the area and he tells me about their local haunts.

I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to share the origin behind my "pseudonym", so to speak, here at my blog -- Ace is a nickname my father gave me when I was a little girl, albeit not one that he used particularly often. But he would occasionally pull it out in a moment of congratulations or encouragement, when he most wanted to let me know how much he believed in me... So a few years back, when I was setting up a new e-mail address, the words "Always Ace" just made sense, as it's a nickname that will always remain engraved in my mind as a mental and emotional reminder of my father's presence in my life, no matter where I may be living. I don't think anyone has ever put as much confidence in my capabilities as my father, and I can find no words to adequately express my gratitude for his presence in my life, for his smile and laughter in the toughest of moments, for his steadfast unconditional love. I know that no matter what happens, he wouldn't hesitate to get on a plane and be here in a flash, and I can't wait until he and my mom do exactly that after my Little Bean arrives later this summer...

Thank you, Dad, for just being you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Baby Equipment?

Hello all expat mommies out there! I'm a bit embarrassed to post this, but then again I thought, what the heck?! Isn't that what we're all here for, exchanging advice and information, tips and counseling? And you've all been such a great resource in the past...

I've made it clear already in several of my posts how pathetically unprepared I feel about this whole mommy thing, and I imagine I'm not the only one out there, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get on the ball. One thing is certain: I've been getting in quite a lot of rest over the past few days, since I officially started my maternity leave on Wednesday -- or that is, my congé pathologique, which is apparently systematic in France these days if you're working and particularly if you're commuting to work, as I've been doing for months now. So my maternity leave started just a couple weeks earlier than originally expected. Admittedly the trip back and forth was becoming a bit tiring, although honestly I know it could have been a lot worse too. But now that I'm home, I know I have a million things to do and get done, and yet I don't even know where to begin! And seriously, a lot of you North American gals would probably be shocked if you knew how very little I have done at this point... I'm seriously flying off the seat of my pants here! (I have no idea how many times I've said that in the past few weeks, but it's true...)

I was just wondering if any of you all had some advice in the equipment arena -- I know there's always eBay, but I'm a complete novice in that department, and I just don't know how I feel about ordering stuff on there at this point. My one sister-in-law is going to be passing on quite a few things to us secondhand, which is one of the primary reasons why I haven't really bought very much yet. We'll be getting a transat from her, as well as lots of things like blankets, etc... She also promised us a bassinet or berceau of some kind for the first few months, but now, as it turns out, she may not make it up here in time before the birth to bring us the baby bed (she lives near Besançon). So I'm trying to consider all my options and make a kind of quick, last-minute decision... I'm getting mixed signals about Ikea -- I know some gals out there have found some nice things there, but just the other day I was told that their baby furniture/equipment selection is pretty limited. Plus, I'm not too keen on white furniture, which seems to be what they primarily have in stock -- but I guess that's just me!

I did end up ordering that little green dresser from the French Vertbaudet website, and hopefully it will be shipped to us in a few weeks' time. That will cover me for some clothing storage, at least for a start... And I think I can even use it as a changing table of sorts, as I can put a sort of changing pad on top of the dresser. Then again, I'm not so sure about the height of the dresser itself... Will have to see once it arrives. But is there an all-in-one place/shop where I can pick up basics like a changing pad, etc.? And as I know the French summer sales are starting soon (officially June 25th, if I'm not mistaken) I'm also trying to hold out to see if I can get some deals -- although that will also be cutting things close, with my due date set for August 5th...

I guess my big question is this (And I imagine a lot of you are going to think, isn't this all listed in a bunch of baby books out there? And maybe it is, but I also have to sheepishly admit to the fact that I have only read the bare minimum, as every time I got to reading the baby books, my stress levels would only skyrocket more... So the next few weeks may or may not be spent catching up on my baby reading!): what baby equipment/material must I absolutely have on hand for the birth, without question? Obviously I know I need the basic newborn onesies, and I've got quite a few of those, as well as diapers (and that's another big question mark, as I want to do cloth diapers but haven't sufficiently researched the subject yet either...)... A few months back I bought a few used items, including a Baby Bjorn, a bottle sterilizer, a manual breast pump (as I want to breastfeed and have no idea yet whether I will be able to do so!), and some other small items, but that's about it! Andie told me a bit about BumGenius cloth diapers, and I'm wondering whether I should order a few on Amazon as a start. If I want to try to do a combination of both cloth and disposable at the beginning (as I have no idea whether my boyfriend and I will be able to handle the maintenance and responsibility of 100% cloth), how many cloth diapers should I expect to have on hand? And which ones do you gals all recommend, besides the BumGenius kind?

I belong to the Paris chapter of Freecycle, and I'm planning on perhaps making a callout for any newborn baby equipment, as well as cloth diapers, as I've seen quite a few other gals make this request in recent times... I have some things of my own to give away, and now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I want to be sure to share the things that we have that we no longer need, which include an extra iron, and an older Senseo coffeemaker that still works, but not very well... I also have quite a few clothes, shoes and books that I think could find a new home, so I want to go through those and try to pass them on as well.

[Also, I need to get back in touch with another Freecycle member who offered me a baby bath a few months back; I need to try to pick that up as soon as possible, if it's still available!]

Any and all advice is totally welcome here, and I would be extremely grateful for all you can share with me. And again, I apologize if this seems like a crazy thing to post! I just want to find a starting point, or maybe some firm footing at this point, as all I'm thinking about these days is how much I haven't done instead of all I have perhaps done, or the simple fact that the pregnancy has been going well so far... And I do hope and pray it will continue to do so! I guess I just feel a bit at loose ends here, because even though I have a few really great expat friends in the area, I just hate to pester them all with my questions and fears...

Thanks so much in advance for your advice, tips and input!

P.S. ~ A great American colleague of mine also told me about Message months ago, and silly me, I put off sending in the membership form. I've got that on the way now (quite late, I know!) and I realize that this organization is also an excellent resource, particularly for breastfeeding, so I'm hoping to touch base with them at least a few times before the baby arrives. I also met a breastfeeding consultant at a recent event I attended through my SCBWI participation, and I'm looking forward to speaking with her in the future about breastfeeding as well.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ultrasound Scenes

I had my last ultrasound visit a little over a week ago (at least the last official one anyway!) and all appears to be in order at this point... I've hit my 32nd week, folks, and my Little Bean is apparently already "in position" -- meaning, his/her little head is down below, bum is up in the air, and legs are curled underneath. Ready to go, when the time is right -- now it's all a question of patience! And we're talking probably eight more weeks of patience, unless my wee one wants to come into the world a little early -- which I wouldn't mind all that much, as long as it's not too early! I'm still feeling movements like crazy, at certain times of the day, and it's entertaining to try to figure out exactly what's going on in there: was that an an elbow? A kick? Yikes, I feel this strong pressure pushing up into my diaphragm, and the doctor told me that's probably when the little guy is pushing up on his bottom! This often seems to happen when I go to the movies, strangely enough, and I can't help but wonder if the baby's trying to tell me that it's TOO.LOUD.OUT.THERE! (All the sound resonating from the speakers and stuff...)

Then again, I've been thinking a lot about something one of my colleagues here at work told me: she said that in fact it's apparently pretty noisy in the womb, and that when the baby is born, he/she is used to lots of sound, sort of white noise, and that you don't necessarily have to be super-quiet when the baby is sleeping, because the baby kind of LIKES noise. She said that sometimes a hairdryer can help a newborn go back to sleep! An interesting thought, really... And one I actually observed at a cocktail party I attended last Sunday, where a three-week-old newborn slept soundly on the sofa while more than 20-30 people buzzed and chattered around him. It was pretty impressive.

Some of my most memorable moments from my ultrasound visits date back a few months, but I love bringing them to mind and I thought it might be a good idea to record them here, so I can come back and read and remember one day -- especially given my terrible memory in general! Early in my pregnancy, maybe somewhere around the 4th month, my boy sent me a text message as I was on my way to visit my OB/GYN; he couldn't go with me that day as he had to work. His message read: "You give her my cell phone number and she send me a texto saying if it's a girl or a guy" HA! He so wanted to know, right from the beginning, whereas I wanted it to be a surprise... And of course it was too soon at that point anyway, so I had to quickly type back that he was going to have to wait... He's so HILARIOUS sometimes, especially the way he phrases things. My boyfriend loves speaking English and learning new words, so anytime we watch movies together he's constantly asking me to explain things -- which can be cute and/or a pain in the butt, depending on how you look at it -- and whether I've ever seen the movie before myself!

So of course the day the echographe asked us if we wanted to know the sex, I shook my head vehemently, and my boy tapped the doctor on his shoulder from behind -- he held up two slips of paper on which he had scribbled the symbols for male and female; I scolded him and muttered that the doctor probably had his own way of doing things. But thank goodness the ultrasound doctor was such a good sport -- he chuckled, leaned back a bit, and once he figured out what my boy had drawn, he pointed to the one slip of paper... A huge smile spread across my boy's face, and from that moment on he looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. He was so PROUD of that secret! I of course thought he was going to give it away in a heartbeat, or at least tell his family, but he's tried pretty hard to keep it to himself -- aside from one little slip that I'm not convinced was unintentional. As a matter of fact, I'm still not sure if he slipped up or was trying to confuse me on purpose. So let's just say that I have an inkling, but I'm still not definitely sure! And most people think I'm crazy, but I've just always wanted my first baby to be a bit of a surprise.

Two months after that visit we went back to see this doctor again so he could take a bunch of official measurements to find out if everything was on track. As he went through all the necessary steps, he recorded notes on a file in front of him and took snapshots with the machine. He checked the baby's heartbeat, the blood flow, etc... As my baby stubbornly refused to turn around and show his/her face, the doctor had to push around on my belly a bit to get the baby to move. He managed to measure the baby's nose and upper lip in profile, and commented that the baby's size was just a little above average, explaining that if ten expectant moms had been in the waiting room, only three would have babies bigger than mine (how do you react to THAT?!). I think he was trying to reassure us, as so many people had been commenting on how small my belly seemed, and how small the baby "must" be if my belly isn't so big... But he said that this wasn't a true indicator of the baby's size. At this point, my boy leaned over again and asked, deadpan, but with a twinkle in his sye, "Well, are you able to tell if the baby's nose is above average in size?" I had to swallow back a guffaw -- my boy is extremely sensitive about his nose and has this fear that the baby will inherit it... Ah, talk about entertainment!

A few days ago, I woke up one morning to find my boy holding his hand on my belly. It was FAR too early to be awake -- we're talking crack-of-dawn before the sun is up early here -- and I was struggling to get another hour's worth of sleep. Half-awake, all of a sudden I felt a prominent kick in my belly and I said, "Hey, did you feel that?" And my boy said, "Are you kidding me? This little guy's been moving around like crazy for ages now! I don't know how you can SLEEP with all that activity going on inside of you!"

It was so cute, and my heart just melted... It's moments like these that I hope I'll remember forever.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Twice in Two Years... Enough is Enough!

Yesterday was a jumbled day in more ways than one... I had such focused plans for the day, and a to-do list (in my head anyway -- I never tend to put those things on paper!) to complete, including some more work on the children's story contest, which absolutely MUST be wrapped up in the next week so I can get the winning booklets assembled and ready for the Awards Party on the 31st. I was planning on spending a good part of my day on that, while alt-tabbing back and forth between some regular office work, and catching up on anything else in cyberspace, per my usual...

But I also had a doctor's appointment for my monthly check-up -- 7 months and counting! Although for some reason I appear to have had the due date off by a week -- my doctor has it down as August 5th, and for months now I've been calculating it as July 28th. (After all, who was there when this little bean was conceived -- her or me?!) I waited in the doctor's office for nearly 2 HOURS before I actually saw my OB/GYN. Now, I know she's in great demand and you have to expect these kinds of delays, but two hours seems to be stretching it just a wee bit. I literally fell asleep in the waiting room, if you can believe it. I was reading there for a while, but then started nodding off, surrounded by a dozen other patients waiting their turn. Each time a name was called we'd all look up, surprised that it wasn't yet our turn.

I had expected to be back to the office by 4:00, given that my appointment was at 2:30 and the cabinet médical is only 4 métro stops away. Plus, she usually has me in and out in a flash, just checking to make sure everything is on track and there are no major problems. I had a few issues to address with her, but I've learned now to make it quick... Basically just little typical pregnancy ails (trust me, you don't want to know!), and she gave me the prescriptions for all that I needed. But with the delay, I didn't make it back to the office until nearly 5:30, and all of a sudden I was incredibly behind schedule. And for once I really needed to leave on-time to make it to the SCBWI event I was attending at 7:00 -- all the way on the other side of the Seine, in the Montparnasse neighborhood.

Bridget was warm and wonderful, sharing a bit about her creative process and lots of images of her work -- both in progress and as a finished product. I fell in love with her book, How Do You Make a Baby Smile and knew I had to have it. But when I told Bridget afterwards that I wanted to buy a copy, she told me that she had hoped to give me a copy as a gift for my baby on the way, with (and this is the best part!) her signature and a drawing inside. So she's going to give it to me the next time I see her, probably at the end of the month for the Red Wheelbarrow Contest Awards Party.

Afterwards, I had dinner with a group of SCBWI France members, and headed home exhausted just before midnight -- an exceptionally late night for me these days... But unfortunately, my night was far from over, as terrible news awaited me on my arrival home. Actually, I got a call from my boy when I was in the train, and he had just arrived himself after spending the evening with his father. When he told me what had happened, I was immediately distraught, and completely oblivious to the stares from people around me... He kept saying he was hoping that it was only an attempted break-in, because he couldn't get into the apartment and couldn't yet tell if anything had been taken. But I already knew that he was holding out hope for nothing -- it was clear that it was a burglary. The locks were mangled, just as they had been nearly two years ago in July, barely 6 months or so after we moved into the place. You'd think we would have learned our lesson the first time around... But life gets away from you, and even if the first 6 months after that burglary left us both skittish and suspicious of basically everyone in our neighborhood, a year later we had other things on our minds, namely my boy's heart attack, and then after that my pregnancy...

So many thoughts whirled around in my head as the train dragged its way from one station to the next... What had they taken this time? How bad was the damage? Did they only take insignificant, replaceable things or did they take anything and everything of any sentimental value? I kept trying to tell myself to be rational, to put things in perspective, as obviously the most important thing is that we are safe, healthy and that no one is hurt... physically, anyway. But that still didn't stop me from picturing the worst, and knowing somehow that we wouldn't have gotten off scot free one way or another. Why hadn't we moved sooner? Why hadn't we gotten our butts in gear and made a move HAPPEN? Why had I hemmed and hawed for so long on the few apartments I HAD visited and not made a decision? Why am I so gosh-darn indecisive, PERIOD? My one small consolation, I told myself, was that I had for some random reason grabbed my digital camera that morning, at the last minute as I was running out the door, thinking I might take a few pictures at the SCBWI event. I also had my iPod in my bag, as well as my most important documents... I feared the possible dissappearance of my U.S. Passport, which I don't keep on me at all times, but miraculously they didn't take that, possibly not knowing what value it may have. Or what do I know? Maybe these days people don't steal passports anymore...

In the end, the burglary definitely could have been worse -- things can always be worse, right? But more than anything else, I've come through these experiences feeling like it's definitely a violation of our intimacy, our security... Everything you can imagine it to be, only worse when it actually happens... The drawers turned upside down, clothes -- lingerie, for God's sake -- everywhere, on the floor, scattered on every surface. And on my dresser, where I keep the few pieces of jewelry I own in small pouches in a wooden box, things were topsy-turvy, and I had to go through one by one and see what they had taken. The bedroom is apparently where they spent most of their time, going meticulously through my things to find that rare piece that might actually be worth something. Because trust me, most of my jewelry is sentimentally precious to me, but nothing more than costume jewelry, or sterling silver, my one small luxury. But I do have -- or check that, I did have some gold rings from my childhood, namely one tiny gold signet ring my grandmother gave me when I was 10 years old, with my initials on it, and another ring that once belonged to my grandmother. As well as some earrings that I don't actually wear that often but still held a certain value.

What can you do in these cases? You try to make an inventory of what's missing in order to give it to the police in your statement, and then of course to the insurance company for any possible reimbursement. But unfortunately, this time around, all that was taken was jewelry I've had for years but held onto, once again, more for sentimental value than anything else (also more than likely because we really don't own much of value -- how reassuring is that, huh?!). So I don't have any receipts, nor any recent photos of my wearing the pieces. So no chance of recouping anything for them from the insurance company.

In any case, more than anything else I was just numb from the whole mess, and my stomach was tied in knots. I thought I might get sick last night before finally crawling into bed, but I did finally manage to fall asleep somewhere around 3:00. This morning I woke up feeling not much better, and I knew it was pointless for me to try to go in to work. I rarely call in sick anyway, but this was just one of those times when it had to be done... For my own mental sanity more than anything else. And I needed to get some extra rest as well -- I'm glad I laid down for a while, because a few hours later I started feeling a bit better. My boy took care of the major formalities, including the official statement at the police station as well as the phone calls to our insurance provider and to the locksmith, who spent several hours this afternoon installing a new, heftier system on our door, although it's far from a guaranteed form of protection from any future break-ins. We can only pray that we will be out of here before that happens again...

Because more than anything else, there's that one French expression that just keeps trotting through my mind, and no matter how hard I try I can't seem to get rid of it: "Jamais deux sans trois..." Say it ain't so.

Friday, May 2, 2008

On the Road Again

Tuesday evening I was chatting away with Jenn on the phone when she mentioned that she would be making a little road trip to visit dear Doc of 10, rue de la Charme on May 1st, France's own Labor Day. She wondered if I would be up for joining her on the road for a little adventure and lots of laughter... The clincher to the deal, of course, was that my boyfriend would have the opportunity to knock himself out playing tennis with her husband, while I could goof away the day guilt-free with my pal Jenn. So everyone would come out happy!

And what a day -- full of more silliness and tummy-clutching laughter than I ever could have imagined -- and I'm tellin' ya, I think the baby got a little exercise in there as a result! Armed with what we thought would be a fistful of fun music to keep us company (which fell short as for some reason the car's CD player was on the fritz... Mr. C?!), as well as lots of bottled water, we hit the road fairly bright and early, chattering away for the first half of the trip. I thought the car would put me to sleep, as it tends to do more and more these days, but for some reason I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed yesterday morning, in spite of the lack of caffeine beforehand. My mood really varies from one day to the next!

After locating Doc, the three of us piled into the local brasserie/restaurant, pretty much the only place open on that hallowed workers' day off, and wound up spending the next three hours laughing until tears rolled down our cheeks. I seriously thought the baby might wonder what the heck was going on, because just the day before I had been falling asleep with exhaustion after returning home from work, and here I was guffawing while downing enormous garlic-infused shrimp and glass after glass of -- yes, that's right, water! [What did you think? That I was downing WINE while pregnant? I'm not THAT French, my friends...]

One of the highlights of the afternoon came in the form of the following exchange, which I have faithfully reproduced for your entertainment. Now, just imagine the scene: seated around an ordinary café table are us three gals from North America, drawing all kinds of stares from the local village Frenchies because of our raucous laughter and more than likely the ENGLISH we were speaking... We've just finished our main dishes and, while trying to disguise the hilarity our burping older neighbor is causing us (seriously, you'd think he was having a competition back there, all by his lonesome!), are contemplating the dessert menu. These days dessert pretty much consists of one word for me: C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E, so I was leaning towards a chocolat liegeois, as ice cream was a definite requirement as well. When Doc said she was going to order another particular ice cream speciality of the house, I took a closer look at the menu and realized I might be missing out...

Doc: Yeah, I'm gonna go with the *****.

Me: The *****? Hmm, what's in that? [Looking down I see that not only is there chocolate in that concoction, but coconut as well...] Oooo, I'm going to have to have one of those too!

Jenn: That'll make it three.

Me: Trois *****!! Wait -- who's going to order that?!

[We fall all over ourselves once again as we realize the awkwardness of the order and how pathetically hilarious it sounds... Trust me, at this point it didn't take much to send us into fits of laughter -- we're seriously lucky they didn't kick us out for rowdiness!]

Doc: Seriously, you do the honors!

Me: No way! I couldn't even get that out if I tried!

Jenn: [between gasps] Come on, you know you want to!

Just then, the waitress came over to take our dessert order.

Waitress: Et qu'est-ce qui vous ferait plaisir, mesdames ?

[Ah, the choice of phrasing -- of course! We all looked at each other, completely incapable of holding back the laughter -- I swallowed hard and knew I couldn't get it out without making a complete fool out of myself...]


(The waitress continued to stare down at us patiently yet uncomprehendingly.)

Doc: Trois africaines, s'il vous plaît. [Through gritted teeth -- and then turning to me.] Wimp!!

[Cue laughter once again...]

We gobbled those babies up in mere seconds, and even now I'm regretting not getting a photo of those bowls of perfection...

* Disclaimer: No offense was intended by this exchange! I know it's not exactly PC, but you have to admit it would be funny for ANYONE to have to make such an order in a restaurant!*

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Favorite Children's (Picture) Books

Time is flying by, and I have to sheepishly admit that I've been very slack about preparing for the actual arrival of our baby -- in less than three months' time (and that's if he/she decides to arrive on time!). Granted, I've picked up quite a few adorable little onesies and various outfits since this past January, most of them during the sales (and more than I expected, when I take a step back and do a quick inventory -- YIKES, how did that happen?! They say you always have TOO much for the first three months...), and I bought a few used items thanks to a friend who hooked me up with the MESSAGE group in Paris. But otherwise, equipment-wise I'm not exactly what you would call prepared. And my boyfriend and I have pretty much decided that we don't necessarily need to prepare a whole room at this point; a little corner will suffice, until we figure out where we're going to settle down for the long term. Plus, his sisters will be passing on quite a few things to us, so it's really hard to tell how much we will really need once they've given us a hand -- something I'm incredibly grateful for, trust me! I may break down and purchase this children's dresser, though, basically because I LOVE the sweet green color, and I just think it will be useful for years to come, more so than a table à linger or actual "baby" furniture so to speak.

But if there is one domain in which I feel sufficiently prepared (as if it were that big of a priority, I know!) it's the book arena... One of the first things I bought for my baby-on-the-way was a book, several actually, while back in the U.S. for New Year's. Some of you may already know that I worked for a few years in the children's book department of a bookshop, handling everything from meeting with the sales reps (and getting so excited about the books that I practically sold them for them!), selling my favorite books to grateful customers, choosing and ordering the books to stocking the shelves and decorating the windows. Some days I really miss that job, but I definitely don't miss the stress it entailed (believe it or not!) nor the negative level of communication between the management and employees -- to say the least. But I digress...

In any case, in my time spent there I was brought back to my childhood again, in so many ways, and I was brought back to those years that I was so passionate about books in general. (As a little girl, I was the "nerd" who loved walking up a sunny summer street to the local library, where I would spend hours in the air conditioning poring over books until I had to go home again for dinner...) And if there's one thing I can say for certain, I am eternally grateful to that time in my life for reconnecting me to a part of my nature and my personality that I never should have left to fall by the wayside. (I'm also pretty happy to have picked up a wonderful man along the way as well, but that's another whole story!)

During my fairly short stint as a bookseller (and buyer), I managed to collect a few of my favorite children's books to hole away for safekeeping until my own little ones arrived -- some people would be surprised to see how many kiddie books I had on my shelves, without the children around to enjoy them! But these books have always been a pleasure for me as well, so I impatiently await the moment when I will finally be able to share these stories with my own first child.

Now, we're not talking about a library full of books, trust me, but merely a few shelves full of picture books and board books, with a couple educational books squeezed in there and one fabulous collection of children's stories that I know will forever remain a classic. I managed to track down several of my own books from when I was a little girl while I was home in January, including our well-loved, tattered copy of The Cat in the Hat, as well as a copy of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends (and boy, does that collection of poetry bring back memories...).

This is a post that I started writing, in fact, months ago, before I even knew I was pregnant. I wanted to share a bit about my favorite children's books, just because it's a world I so love, but now that the Baby Bloomer is soon to arrive, I have all the more motivation to get these titles out there! Please feel free to share a few of your favorites with me as well, in the comments. I'm always happy to hear about little-known titles, or ones that I've simply forgotten about over time! (And how I love rediscovering books from my childhood!)

Of course this list isn't exhaustive by any means, and it only includes the titles for children up to about the age of 5 or 6 I would say, but I remember savoring the time my mother would read to my little brother, even when I was already 8 years old and he was still very little. I've just always loved reading from picture books, especially when the story strikes the perfect balance with beautiful images. But I have favorites from other times in my childhood as well, including Charlotte's Web and even later still, Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming.

So, without further ado, voilà my most recent (and constantly changing!) list of faves:

1. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein - The all-time classic, the only book that gives me chills every time I read it. I'm so lucky to have gotten my hands on a clothbound copy of this treasure while I was working in the bookshop; I will hold onto it forever.

2. The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson, illustrations by Axel Scheffler - This is one of those books that just so happened to show up along my path while working in the bookshop, and between the sharp, colorful illustrations and the craftiness of the little mouse who outwits the other animals pursuing him before finally meeting the "Gruffalo" (and YES, he does exist!), I just can't get enough of it, especially since it also has a great rhyming rhythm that gets kids right into the story.

3. Morris's Disappearing Bag - Rosemary Wells - For some strange, inexplicable reason, this is a book that stands out in my childhood, and one of the rare books that I STILL have at home, as a reminder of my littlest years. I'm not quite sure what appealed to me the most, whether it was Wells' adorably warm, colorful illustrations or the story of little Morris who feels so left out when his older brothers and sisters get such cool Christmas presents that they each show off with such flair. I love how in the end he makes his magic "disappearing bag" appear even more unique than anything else, and everyone wants to get in on the fun! Such individuality, and I love when that theme is emphasized in children's books.

4. Knuffle Bunny - Mo Willems - Now HERE'S a recent book that bowled me over as soon as I read it the first time -- everything about it is endearing and appealing, as sappy as that may sound... The combination of black-and-white New York street photos with the quirky colorful drawings on top only enhance Mo Willems' portrayal of baby Trixie, just hitting that age when she's garbling away like crazy but is still pretty much incomprehensible -- until she pronounces her first real word at the end! But not before she loses her beloved stuffed Knuffle Bunny, and drives daddy crazy looking for it... I was sold on Mo after his first Pigeon book, when it won the Caldecott Honor in 2003, and I've become a big fan of his naive drawings and wacky, addictive sense of humor. He also really has a way with kids... Apparently he was inspired by his own baby daughter when he wrote and illustrated Knuffle Bunny, which won the Caldecott Medal in 2004.

5. The Magic Paintbrush - (exists in several versions, as it is based on a Chinese fable, if I'm not mistaken; I have the Julia Donaldson edition as well as a tiny French edition) An enchanting, inspiring story about an incredible paintbrush that brings everything it paints to life. But the main character, Shen, who was given this magical gift, has to protect it from the greedy plans of the emperor, who wants to use it to create more and more riches for himself.

6. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss - Who doesn't know this eponymous tale by Theodore Geisel, most definitely his most well-loved classic, along with Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? I have a mini boxed set at this point, as well as my worn copy from childhood, but I'm sure this is a book we'll read together time and time again... I have a particular affinity for Dr. Seuss as he was such a major part of my childhood, so I had to hold myself back several times from buying some anniversary collected editions a few years ago. I may regret not getting my hands on those, though...

7. When Everybody Wore a Hat - William Steig - I'm sure some of you out there have already heard of a silly, loveable monster by the name of Shrek, right?! Well, he was invented by none other than William Steig, also quite known for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. But his last book, When Everybody Wore a Hat, was the one that really touched me, with the voyage back in time to another era, when Steig himself was growing up in the city, and the many different people he encountered. Something about his childlike drawings here gets to me every time.

8. Frog and Toad Are Friends - Arnold Lobell (and actually the whole Frod & Toad early reading series) Such whimsical, sweet, funny tales of friendship and exchange, these books make me nostalgic for my childhood every time I read them again today. There is even a certain depth to the stories, something that children wouldn't necessarily grasp of course (at least not immediately), but I think that is truly what is so magical about the best children's books out there, how perfectly they capture childhood and its complications, while they presage the difficulties, challenges, and painful moments of adulthood and all that it brings at the same time. Frog & Toad just really bring back memories... And oh, how I love Lobell's drawings!

9. Miss Nelson is Missing - Harry Allard, illustrations by James Marshall - I don't know if I first heard this book when I was really little, or if I heard it for the first time when looking over my mother's shoulder as she read to my baby brother, six years my junior. I used to get a kick out of listening to her read to him, even though by then I was reading plenty of my own books. But there's just something about storytelling time... And Miss Nelson is one of those irresistible tales that gets you smiling from the start. Naughty schoolkids, a sweet teacher, a nasty witch, and a mystery: all the ingredients for the best kind of story!

10. Harry the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion - The memories of this book came rushing back to me when I found a special hardbound anniversary edition of it in a bookshop this past January, just when I was wandering around looking for the best board books of the bunch... Actually, this edition also includes No Roses for Harry, and Harry by the Sea. But the first tale is of course the most memorable one, in which Harry runs away and has a good time getting dirty all day long, but when his family doesn't recognize him he has to find a way to convince them that he's still the same dog!

11. Goodnight Gorilla - Peggy Rathmann - When looking for those baby board books, I fell upon an edition of this adorable "word-free" picture book, full of images that are so perfect that they tell the story on their own. When a friendly zookeeper's animals all follow him home one night while he's trying to close up shop, he has to usher them each back to their cages. But one tricky gorilla keeps getting loose again! I love the one double-page illustration of the gorilla's toothy smile shining in the dark of the zookeeper's bedroom.

12. The Snail and the Whale - Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler (is it obvious that I'm also a big fan of this writer/illustrator team?!) After discovering The Gruffalo, this educational picture book showed up in my book-buying catalogue one day and it was love at first sight. I'm a sucker for Scheffler's flair for color and setting, and this cautionary environmental tale is the perfect balance of fairy tale and modern fable.

Gosh, I think I'm going to stop here with my dozen, although obviously I could go on forever... I also love The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds, which should be put between the hands of any budding artist who has lost his/her sense of confidence -- or for that matter any child who thinks he/she can't draw! And Zen Shorts, another Caldecott Honor winner which has breathtaking watercolor illustrations and a refreshing take on philosophy for the youngest crowd.

Ahhh, I'm turning into a monster! Anybody have any favorites they want to add?! Obviously I'm OPEN to new discoveries! (Even though our sagging bookshelves may not be too happy...) [Oh, and by the way, if you're as into children's books as I am, or you just love a great collection of children's stories, this book is a must-have. I love paging through it and re-reading some of my classic favorites... So many are in there!]