Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Changing Nature of Relationships

First babies are fun. Nothing can replace the feeling of giving birth to your first child (I’m speaking not as someone who ever has nor will physically give birth to a baby, but as someone who floated on air down the hospital halls of my firstborn’s birthing room and someone who will do that again very soon). Every tiny change along the way of pregnancy, feeling that first kick, reading books to a bulging stomach; the first time around it’s brand new and magical. When the baby finally arrives, it’s an incredible culmination of those firsts that then switches to a “what do we do with this?” sort of feeling.

Second babies are different. We’re far from old pros at this thing called childbirth (and child-raising). And it’s still every bit as exciting... I absolutely cannot wait to meet my baby girl. Yet it’s different. I fret less over the tiny physical changes or possible complications, and more over my wife’s heart, my son’s reactions, and trying to ascertain the personality of our newest incoming family member. I think more about and am fascinated by how this little girl will totally change the dynamic of our family. Our focus shifts from one little goofball to a family of four. We will begin to rely on each other more. We will find camaraderie with the same people that daily drive us crazy. I feel like our focus will shift from a triangle of one-on-one relationships to that of a family unit. Parenting rules will change, because previous norms from #1 won’t always fit with the totally different life, different sins, and different heart of #2.

Just before baby #1, there was a deep and difficult realization that our life as two would never be the same. We couldn’t go back to being college kids or newlyweds or full-speed-ahead world travelers. Now we’re here in the final days before baby #2 and the realization is just as deep as last time. Our lives as three will never be the same. Our son will have someone else to occupy his time and energy (yay!). Our daughter will have someone else to help her grow and learn. There will come a day and a moment when our kids run to each other for help with a pain or struggle instead of their Mama and I. I wonder if in that moment I’ll rejoice at the step in my children’s relationship or hurt at the loss in ours.

Change is always the same. But different. In general, I’m the rare type of person that loves changes. I fully expect that this time will be no different. Come on baby girl!

Insert Countryman Short Joke

While waiting in line at a corner convenience store, an old fella behind the counter kept looking at me in an odd way. After the third funny look my way, he turned to a lady and said something to the effect of “they just keep getting taller, every generation bigger than the next!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my Americanness makes me much taller than everyone else in the store moreso than my (not so) young age. Then when it was my turn to open my mouth, I made every effort to keep it a secret!

Last night, a French friend joined us for dinner and during our conversation he mentioned that when antibiotics were introduced to France, there was a marked jump in the size of people thereafter. Interesting theory. I wondered if people here were oompa loompas before that.

Someone needs to get some antibodies to our 5’5” French president, Mr. Sarkozy:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter. And we wait.

Sunday was Easter. What a day! I've been thinking about how my appreciation for Easter Sunday has grown exponentially since I've begun to really take Good Friday as a serious day of solemnity. It hit me especially hard this past Friday as I read the story of the crucifixion of Christ from my son's Jesus Storybook Bible. Here's a segment:

"Papa?" Jesus cried, frantically searching the sky. "Papa? Where are you? Don't leave me!"
And for the first time - and the last - when he spoke, nothing happened. Just a horrible, endless silence. God didn't answer. He turned away from his Boy.

Reading that, reflecting on the story, and really making Friday a solemn day brings me even greater joy in the celebration of Christ's resurrection three days after his death. And that makes me happy. But on to pictures of other things that make me happy:

Sawyer's first Easter Egg Hunt:

In France, Easter is a holiday celebrated by a massive family lunch. Everyone goes to be with extended family and they share some sort of big, fancy, French meal, probably replete with foods that I would avoid at all costs. Those of us without local family to hang with banded together and met for an international Easter party. We gathered around a table with folks from all over Europe plus a few other Americans. The language dynamic was kind of funny. Since almost all of the adults were expat transplants to southern France, the best common language was English, thus we conversed mostly in English. But the kids - largely in the 2-6 age range - having grown up in France, all talked with one another in French.
Sawyer caught on to the Easter Egg Hunt quickly and had fun walking about the yard saying "egg, egg, egg..." He loved finding the eggs, he didn't so much like crawling through the dirt to pick them up. But he was determined and always found a way to get his egg.
The spoils. Not sure how a car got in there. Too bad he doesn't like chocolate. I guess that's what parents are for.
In other news, we're about to have a baby. We have two more weeks until the due date, but JJ's doctor told her today that he can't believe the baby's still in there, as her body seems to be ready to let her out. So he's betting we don't make the weekend. We think he may be off a bit in that guess, so we're still making dinner plans this week. I can only think of one person (well, 3 in 1) who actually knows. The rest of us will sit tight and wait.

This is a picture I took at a park on Monday. It's quite French. I like it:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Let's watch the big game! Again.

DVR has apparently not yet come to France. Yesterday I saw a big sign on the window of a local restaurant that said “Ecran GĂ©ant, Retransmission de l'OM v. Montpellier, Samedi 23 Avril”. So there’s to be a soccer game on TV today, and the resto’s busting out their big screen. Cool. I’m all about being a fan of the local team, so this morning I checked the tv guide and geared up for the big game. Sure enough, at 8:30pm Marseille (OM) against Montpellier. Some side note said something about some sort of cup. Later in the day that struck my curiosity, so I asked my wife to check it out. I still haven’t figured out all of he different leagues and tournaments in European soccer outside of the big ones, but I want to be a constant learning.

“Uhh, that game was last weekend.”
“That’s impossible, the TV guide says it’s on tonight.”
“I’d put a strong bet on Marseille winning 2-1”

Then it hit us - that little ‘re’ in retransmission that I was quick to ignore. It’s not a live game on tonight, it’s a replay of last week’s game. On primetime, on the main channel. And the local restaurants aren’t only airing it, they are advertising and setting up projectors. Really?

I guess this is the local version of DVR? It’s certainly more social. But I refuse to believe that anyone will watch not knowing the outcome. It’s the biggest team in the biggest sport in the home city.

And so I’m at home now. To be French, and Marseillais, I’m watching the game. It’s 0-0 right now. At least I can watch this one and know it won’t end in a scoreless tie...

As is often the case, my interpretation of the facts in front of me was way off, and I was totally wrong. I realized this when last night's game did not end in a 2-1 victory, but rather a 1-0 victory. Seems it was not a replay on tv, but an actual rematch? And they got a trophy out of it too. So, uh, good job Marseille!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Baseball in France

Nice form! Those would be the American kids.

Some of our friends and coworkers in Marseille play on a local recreation league baseball team. The team is 90% French with a couple of American ‘ringers’. Last weekend we grabbed the sunscreen and a blanket and went to check out a game. After the game, our kids ran the bases and played in the trees near one of the fields.

Even though I’m not a huge baseball fan, actually being at a game makes me feel very American and at home. Only I wish I could have had some hot-dogs and frosty malts. And maybe a Mountain Dew. But I digress. Even in such an American setting, at times we had to shake our heads and say, “what”? Take this part of the event, for instance...

During the game, one of the players with a big lead-off on first had a ball thrown his way. He dove back into the base moments before the ball arrived. In so doing, he dislocated his shoulder. He laid there - motionless - for minutes. Then hours (not kidding). Here’s why:
While the team gathered around, someone called for the waiting ambulance. The game was being played at a small sports complex with three fields. A rugby game was going on behind us and an American football game to our left. The ambulance drove out on the field and the medical personnel took over. But still he lay there. Eventually, the medics cut off his jersey with the medical t-shirt-cutting jaws of life. And then he laid there shirtless. What were we waiting for? Another ambulance. You see, this one couldn’t leave the area, because it had to stay in case of a medical need. What did we have on our hands? A medica... blah.

I find this picture funny, because just before this, Sawyer had scaled the wall about 7 times alone. Then the other kids saw him and ran over to help. Ever had that feeling of “wow, I wish you would leave me alone to do this myself”? Yeah, I think he had that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Update on my Med Problem

I'm fine. Two days removed from the headache that started it all and a day after my ER debacle, I'm almost back to normal (minus the usual appetite). Turns out, I probably shouldn't have taken a rather strong migraine pill on a 15-hour empty stomach. I probably also shouldn't have taken that pill (manufactured in India, bought in East Africa) 19 months after its expiration date. But who can read a label with a splitting headache? Ok, maaaaybe I should have thrown away those pills awhile ago. But now that I know all I can get here is a double-dose of tylenol, those last two old super-pills seem kind of valuable.

Next time I have a problem, I'll probably avoid the ER. I may open up our old Where There is No Doctor book and rely on its always-fun pencil drawings of contusions and homemade operating techniques. I just hope I don't die of dysentery on the Oregon Trail.

The worst part of all of this is that Sunday when my headache was starting to fade and my stomach pains were coming on strong, I ate a bowl of guacamole. Now I can't imagine wanting to eat guacamole. What am I going to do with the other 7 avocados I bought at the market?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Five hours at the ER

Don’t think from the title that anything serious happened. Quite the opposite. Totally anti-climactic. So I’ll use my afternoon of staring at hospital ceiling lights as an opportunity to delve a bit into the French medical system.

It started with a headache yesterday that morphed into stomach pains which continued today. An oddity for me, as medical struggles are few and far between (my last actual doctor visit was in Jan 2009 in Kenya). So my wife grabbed the phone and a list of doctors nearby and started calling. One after another responded with “no appointments available.” Some said the offices were close for vacation. Some said the doctors simply weren’t taking new patients today. All told her to send me to the ER. Not for an emergency, but because they knew the ER would be the only way I’d see a doctor today.

So off I went. I took a book. Should have taken two.

I checked in and found a seat in the waiting room. I read my book to pass the time and chuckled as a lady screamed in Italian at the secretary something about the absurd wait and then demanded in French if this was truly an “urgence” (as they’re called here) or simply a place to wait. The staff snapped back at her and she got worked up even more, telling them in a fully-breathed voice that she couldn’t breathe and may not live through the wait. Finally she was told that the wait was 2 hours and that’s just all there was to it. An hour later she was called back and suddenly forgot how to walk... she hobbled to a waiting hospital bed. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but the whole interaction made me smile.

I waited for about an hour and was then called in to explain my symptoms and immediately handed 4 huge pills. I stared in fright and took a swig of water to ingest the 1st (I’m not so good with pills). As it went down I noticed a sweet fruity taste to it. Odd. So I asked if the pills are chewable. “Oh yes,” said the nurse, “you put them on your tongue, don’t swallow them with water!” Oops. Then she asked me if I’d had a fever. I messed up my conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius and told her a number that widened her eyes with concern and added some compassion to her responses. My fever was never actually over 100. I think I told her something around 105/106.

Back to the waiting room.

In nearly perfect timing, I finished the book that I’d brought as I was called back into the ER. I had no idea that the wait was only beginning.

After a completed blood test, urine test, and xray - between each one I was wheeled about the hospital in a wheelchair, though I tried insisting that I was completely capable of walking - the doctor came in for a conversation. He quickly mentioned that I was a perfect picture of health, and so he wrote me a prescription for a spasm-reducing medicine (my wife tells me they really like this medicine here... she’s been given it throughout her pregnancy too). Then he told me that his life dream is to visit New York and LA, and he asked me if I know when the iPhone 5 will come out in the US. I asked him for a new prescription for my migraine headaches, and he wrote up one for extra strength tylenol. Gee thanks.

What’s the deal with NY and LA? This may be a post for another time, but I swear every French person I’ve ever met either has been to or wants to go to NY and LA.

With that I was sent on my way. No one knew what to do with me for payment since I’m a foreigner and not on France’s social system, so they told me they’d mail a bill and waved me out the door. At the last minute I was also given a phone number for an ultra-sound tech. Am I pregnant now too?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ready for a Murse

So I’ve been contemplating the whole man purse thing. From across an ocean, it seems quite absurd and irrational. From here, it’s amazing I’ve held out this long. Everybody’s doing it.

I can give you a full list of reasons... Pants too tight for wallets. Walking culture = no car to keep random junk in. ID cards and checkbooks much bigger than a typical wallet/pocket. Cargo pants out of style. Smart-phones are getting bigger by the day. Need somewhere to keep documents, USB devices, and phone chargers. It’s France.

My problem with them has not just been refusal to carry a purse, but also the fact that all of the ones I see simply look ridiculous. Like a long thin camera bag with leather straps. Seen the new iPad carrybags (which might bring the manpurse to the US)? They’re like those, but smaller and less hipster. I’ve seen a couple here and there that I could live with, but then can never find them in the stores. Well to be honest, I’d not yet gone into a store looking for one, but still.

Recently though, I saw a bag and I fell in love. It was navy blue leatherish material, shaped like a messenger bag but smaller. A cream shoulder strap, and this picture imprinted on the bag:
Now that would make me smile every time I pick it up. I love the A-Team. And when I’m home during the day, I can watch reruns in French anytime I want.

** An update, since writing this, I bought a man purse. Was out with my family buying something else when I saw a sac on a mannequin, said “I could live with that one,” and moments later my wife had found them on a rack. She pointed out the surprisingly good price, and I crumbled with no excuse ready. So I’m the proud new owner of a murse. Maybe someday I’ll put up a photo of it. It looks a little more masculine than the usual, but the problem is that inside it’s all purse. I can’t in good conscious call it anything else. There’s a spot for a cell phone, change, a checkbook... ugh. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cakes and Cookies

This post is long overdue. Today's surprise arrival in the mail sparked me to do it. Hooray for Easter packages! Half wonderful goodies: like M&Ms, Reese's Eggs, coloring books, Mint Oreos. Half ridicularity: like singing sheep, bunnies that poop jelly beans, and Marshmallow animals (does anyone eat those things?). But the reminder came in the form of these fantastic home-cooked cookies:
JJ's sisters have a cake-making talent. Once a hobby, word started to leak out with this masterpiece (our wedding cake): Beautiful and incredibly tasty.

This year for mine and Sawyer's birthdays, they decided to bake, package, and mail cakes to France. We were skeptical, but it came out great! With a little assembly required (luckily my wife is generally talented as well, and in the blood line), our cakes made it out of the box, onto the table, and into our tummies. And they were fantastic. Take a gander. Thanks sisters!

Check out their other creations on their facebook page at Sunny's Cheesecake Emporium.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Again? Sure...

Hooray for trips to the prefecture! That’s all sarcasm, by the way.

Living in France, we have to apply annually for the proper paperwork to legally live here and work here as foreigners. Something like the green cards in the States. Assuming it’s even half as difficult there, I now have sooooo much sympathy for people that have to deal with the same thing in my own country of citizenship. It’s funny here that we have to apply annually, since the process seems to take almost a year to complete.

After sending in our initial paperwork late last year, we moved. So we had to request a transfer... which amounted to reapplying and resubmitting everything. Then one day we received this little piece of paper with my wife’s name and photo telling us that the application was close to complete. Odd to get something back for her and nothing for myself, since we sent the two in together, in the same envelope. But we shrugged and waited. A month passed and nothing else came. We’re a few months past the expiration of our visas, so I went to the prefecture today to see what’s going on.

Pulling up our files in the system, the lady there told me that jj’s file was essentially complete, but mine appeared to be non-existent. As if it had never been submitted to begin with. I told her that the two were mailed in together (they have to be mailed, hand-submission is unacceptable), so it’s sort of impossible for them to have my wife’s and not mine. She sighed some French sayings for “yeah, it’s impossible and those people are _____ (insert insult),” then handed me a new form and said I should fill out a new submission with all of the supporting documents and come back tomorrow.

I’ve learned my lesson. Make copies. Even if it is 100 pages long. I will have to resubmit it. Again. And again. And then again next year.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A bump on the chin

A week after the first time out of the apartment on his two-wheel ride, Sawyer today accompanied me on a trip to the store for milk. I walked alongside as he rode up the hill and then down the sidewalk, around the corner and across a few crosswalks. As is his custom, he walked through the small grocery we frequent and helped me pick up our milk and strawberries. He grinned at the girl working the cash register, acted shy till the last moment, then beamed a big smile and a loud "au revoir!" On our way home he pushed a few steps ahead, and picked up some speed on approach to the sidewalk that would lead to our apartment. I cringed as I saw what he didn't: a small curb just large enough to grab the front tire of his bike and stop it cold. Sawyer's momentum continued though as he launched himself over the handlebars. A faceplant on the concrete begat a pretty red spot on his chin (I was actually surprised when he hopped up that his whole face wasn't torn apart).

Mother's intuition proved itself legitimate as less than 2 minutes later my phone rang, JJ on the line, "How are you guys? I'm just worried about you out on the streets. Everything ok?" No idea how she knew, but I told her to go ahead and get out the alcohol wipes and band-aids. It was time for some mommying when we arrived.

In typical boy fashion, Sawyer screamed far more through the cleaning and bandaging of the wound than the actual receiving of it. But by the end of the day I think he was at least a little proud of the scar. I'm quite sure he'll be ready to hop on his bike again tomorrow.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Philosophical Discussion

9 strangers meet in a brasserie. Salutations. Drink orders. Reshuffling of chairs. A Thomas Hobbes quote is lobbed into the circle and discussion ensues. Is man a wolf to man? Would we destroy one another without societal structures (government, religion, taught morality) in place? Is there a place for every human on the earth? What role do wars, rebellions, colonizations play into it? What can we learn from the savage vs civilized man?

After a long and energetic banter of French debate (that I can’t quite keep up with), the question is posed: Did God create man, or did man create God? Immediately the answer is given than man created God. Around the table 7 heads nod in agreement, adding their own reasons for the simple response. I nod for the opposition, and another inquisitive mind asks questions like “who is God to you?” and “don’t we all have our gods whether we create them or they choose us?”

Later, the question is raised of why a creator God would make things like jungle parasites that do nothing but feast, kill, and destroy. I admittedly have often wondered about why God had to make mosquitos, I can’t stand those things; do they do anything good? One man shares that when he was 13 he left the church after dissatisfaction with his priest’s answer to the question of why God allows suffering and disasters. The table generally agrees that the notion of God is outdated, silly, and insufficient.

The discussion eventually moves to the topic of old age, disease, and death. Should we be able to choose our time to leave this world behind? Is it better to give up than to endure oncoming sufferings? Does the medical community have a responsibility to save lives, ease suffering, or follow patients’ wishes? Finally a topic with disagreement... but the depressive nature of the topic is too heavy and the group starts to dissipate as the bar closes down.

This is the world in which we live. And right now, there’s no place I’d rather be.

About town on a bike

With Mama's new freedom to leave the apartment and walk, we picked up a helmet and hit the streets and sidewalks of Marseille with Sawyer on his bike. To us, it was a walk to the pharmacy and bakery. But to him, much much more.
First taste of free outdoor air on his bike and he took to it like a fish in water. A little boy on his bike in France reminded me of watching sea turtles hatch and head into the Indian ocean a couple years ago. I'm not gonna say that God designed little boys to ride bikes... but I won't say it's impossible either!
All smiles. Let's do this!

No surprise to us, the girls came running. That's pretty much what always happens when the cute blonde kid gets let loose out of the house. His reactions vary though. This time, he dismounted, smiled back, and then started running in large sweeping circles while yelling at the air. Man of mystery, I tell you.

And then there's this. Ham.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dr visit that made me smile

This morning I accompanied my wife to her OBGYN doctor’s appointment. It was a good day, as the 35th week of her pregnancy and a good report marks no more bed rest! But the best moment of the appointment came when the doctor’s cell phone rang. After a brief pocket vibration, the ringtone cut brutally into the silent air with the sweet sound of the BeeGees:

Well you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.

Nice. Real nice. I’m still grinning thinking about it.

Today’s appointment went well. In addition to the no-walking/cooking/working/sitting/thinking-too-hard restriction being lifted, our doctor showed us some abnormal care and interest. To be honest, he’s always seemed a little aloof. And though the French medical system is super-thorough and over-protective to a fault, it can also seem impersonal. Like looking at our file and past prescriptions each week as if he’d never seen us. Or listening to our concerns and preferences and giving 0 response. We know the way things are, and there’s a few things we’d like different. We’re a family that likes a little freedom (can you tell?). So when this week he told us that he’d contacted the hospital and talked to them and they agreed to quite a few of our requests, I was a little shocked, and appreciative. I assumed I’d have to fight our battles in the heat of the moment. Another fun part of the French system is that everything’s separate. Yeah, we have a doctor, but it’s really the hospital, the nurses, and the midwives who do all of the delivery and post-natal care (though he says he’ll come by for the birth, “unless I’m on vacation”). So what we say to our doctor may or may not ever translate to the delivery at the hospital.

Back home now, we have a list of about 50 things the hospital requires us to bring for the delivery. It’s worse than the first day of school. Like our own thermometers, 6 long-sleeve onesies+socks+pajamas+hats+blankets (all for the baby, and we’re told one of each to be worn at the same time), towels, and adult cotton mesh underwear (we have no idea why).
Experience tells us we’d better bring pillows and any snacks we want that’s not cheese and coffee.

First thing to do off bed rest: shopping. 2nd thing: clearing trunk space for the luggage.

And there’s a baby room to put together.

One man's trash...

There’s an evening phenomenon in Marseille that I don’t quite understand, and I’m beginning to dislike. It’s the dumpster divers. I’m amazed everyday at what I see. Literally every evening in which trash is put out for pick-up, across the city hundreds (thousands?) of people will walk their route and dig through the trash of every container out there.

We’re on the first floor of our apartment building (2nd floor in American counting), and thus our building’s garbage bins sit not too far from our living room window when they go out to the curb. Twice a week at dusk I watch the odd ritual go down. Someone walks up to our dumpsters, pops them open, and then goes through the trash, bag by bag. Each bag is ripped open and scattered, pieces looked through and rarely something pocketed. But here’s the part I don’t get: the people who go through the trash don’t typically have the lowest socio-economic look about them. I know some of the homeless folks in Marseille, and it’s not them going through our trash. The trash diggers are usually guys in their 20s/30s, often wearing designer jeans and manpurses with decent haircuts.

The part that irritates me is that they open up all of the trash bags and make a total mess. Every night trash gets scattered on the ground (not in the dumpsters) and is never picked back up. Then the giant man-eating rats come out to play. Is it wrong that I’m contemplating dropping the refuse of my son’s diaper open in our trash bags rather than in our toilets? And opening all containers of molded food before tossing? Perhaps such a surprise gift on the tearing open of a trash bag is needed. Maybe that’s not nice. But neither is scattering trash all over our city!

Either way, I’d better get a shredder.