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.