Toddler creativity

Nearly every night after my son has gone to bed, I sit on my bed, trying to tap into my creativity to write stories that others will actually want to pay money to read. Monkey has an interesting take on creativity that I’ve been trying to remember as I stare at my keyboard in frustration.

He imitates everything. Then, he changes something and makes it his own. He doesn’t try to create something from nothing. His favorite Sesame Street episode involves one of the human characters turning into a cookie. As he spins around, saying “Hey! I’m a cookie!” my son does the same thing. Then one day, wrapped in a towel, he spun around saying “Hey! I’m a paper towel!” How did he come up with that? It was pretty hilarious, and he knew it. He seems innately aware of what will make grownups laugh the most.

He’s at the age where he will pretend to eat play dough cookies. Actually, almost anything can be a cookie – a pillow, a sock, a ball. He doesn’t wait for someone to tell him what to do, he makes it up as he goes along.  He’s using his imagination more and more every day. I am so incredibly excited to see it grow.

Writing is a bit different. I can’t act out my stories, I need to write them down. But maybe I should be following his lead and just go with whatever is in front of me. I don’t need to write the most original story, something no one has seen before. There are genres for a reason. People want to know what to expect when they buy a book. Monkey will watch the same video over and over, never bored, but taking something new from it each time. Readers do that too. They read the same type of books, over and over, because they want something familiar, with a few new twists.

At the end of the day, whatever I make will always be new because it’s mine. Monkey isn’t doing anything different than kids all over the world at his age, but because he’s the one doing it, it’s unique.

(Though as his mother, of course I think he is extra special unique and doing it better than anyone else. Hopefully my parents think the same when they read my books!)

A break from normal

Now that things have pretty much returned to normal since our France visit, it’s time to shake things up again!

We went to Boston Calling last weekend to see Mumford and Sons. We knew it was going to be a late night, and Monkey hasn’t been napping, so we weren’t sure if we should take him. But when the regular sitter said she couldn’t come, we figured we might as well just go for it. He loves Mumford and Sons (this kid is so much cooler than his parents) and it was free to bring him. If the worst thing was that we were all tired the next day (which we were), well, that’s pretty much every day for us!

He ended up taking a short nap around 3, and we got to the Harvard Athletic Field around 5. There was lots of space for him to run around, and people handing out free bubble stuff, so basically, it was kid heaven.

He was one of the only kids I saw, at least initially. I saw maybe two or three crawling babies, and a few kids in the 7-10 year range (free for under 10). Their website said it’s a “family friendly” festival, and while there was the expected flagrant ignoring of the no smoking rule, it did seem a bit calmer than other festivals I have been to. I was worried about being “those parents” who bring their kid, but Monkey’s cuteness charms most people, and we got lots of comments on what cool parents we are. I said later to a friend that it’s funny how much I complained about the negative comments on our parenting in France, but don’t mind comments when they’re positive! A few more kids showed up when Mumford and Sons started playing. We passed a couple with a baby in a carrier, plus two under-5 running around, so I was very happy to just have the one to deal with!

Another recent adventure (this weekend actually) was a trip to Cape Cod.

Last year we went “down the Cape” for just a half-day, to visit a colleague at his beach house. This year, he offered up one of his rental houses to the whole team for a weekend. Initially two other families were coming, but they ended up having other commitments. So we had the whole (giant) house to ourselves!

It was not warm enough to go in the water, but we put our feet in (or, in Monkey’s case, his whole clothed body!) and it was nice weather to walk around. We visited Provincetown and had a lovely early dinner at a restaurant right on the beach. Sunday morning we walked up and down the very calm and lovely road where the house is. Very chill weekend overall, and while the activities are nothing we don’t do on a typical weekend (walking around outside, visiting stores), being in a new place made it feel like a special weekend. The first of what will hopefully many longer visits to the beach that he will have during his childhood!

Traveling around in the area with Monkey has gotten both easier and harder as he gets older. He is more willing to walk, so we don’t always need the stroller (=I usually realize we forget it once we’re an hour away from home). He is getting better as restaurants, and the early dinner thing was a good idea – less people to worry about if he gets loud/crazy.

He listens better, but not always. With him starting to nap less, it means we have to be extra careful about planning too much into afternoons, so he doesn’t get too tired and cranky. The other option is to just put him to bed earlier, which means less time for fun things when we’re out and about.

Despite how tired we’ve all been, overall, the past two weekends have been really fun. We’re excited about what new fun things we’ll be able to do this summer with our (almost) 3-year-old.

Getting back to normal

It’s been a week since we got back from France, and things are finally getting back to normal, Monkey’s sleep schedule being the most important, of course. While we really just bought the cheapest tickets we could find, the flight times worked out so that he was really tired in both directions, so there wasn’t an issue falling asleep when we got there, and when we got home. While we were there, he was on a 10pm-8:30am schedule, instead of his normal 7:30pm-6am schedule, which I think helped make the switch back a bit easier.

He still woke up before 5 two days this week, and before 6 all but Friday. This morning we managed our usual Saturday routine: sleeping “in” until 6:30, all three of us going to the Y, and then an “outing,” today we headed to a local farm to pick up some seedlings for our garden.

He’s been getting more TV this week than he usually does, however, simply because we are all so tired, and waking up before 5 meant by 6pm he was DONE and just screaming about everything. And my husband came back to a huge project at work, which meant I was on my own a lot more in the evenings. The less-than-stellar weather has been hard too, since he can’t go outside and play to let off some of that frustration. This week should be better, as we are all much better rested than we were last Saturday.

I’ll do a few other posts about the trip (Sweden especially), but I did want to capture a few language things about Monkey I noticed.

He didn’t seem to pick up as much vocabulary as I thought he would, but a few new key phrases are “Pourquoi?” and “Je sais pas.” He obviously got the second one from asking the first too much! We also taught him to count from one to ten in German and Japanese, which he proudly showed off to everyone in the family. He seemed resistant to Italian, however, which I found interesting. Maybe it’s too close to French and Spanish (which he hears at daycare). He seems to prefer imitating “funny” sounds – when we got back from our side trip to Sweden, he was all too eager to repeat the few words we’d picked up while there.

Another new phrase is “pas manger les possions,” (no eating the fish) which I am assuming he learned from his mamie when she took him to the aquarium. I find it particularly hilarious. I’m pretty sure it’s because he likes to be a monster and “eat” people/things/the cat, so she must have scolded him about putting his face on the glass to “eat” the fish! Overall, he seems to be making longer phrases now, which he’s been doing for awhile in English. So the trip was definitely a good boost for his French.

I have a lot of other thoughts and stories from the trip, not all of the positive, but I thought I’d save those for another day. This drizzly May weather is depressing enough without trying to remember all the stress from France!

Feelings in France

We arrived in France Saturday after a 20 hour journey, and I am feeling much happier than I thought I would. I think a lot of my pre-departure emotions were tied up in worrying about Monkey on the flight. We flew with Iceland Air, leaving at 9:30 at night, and since he’s never wanted to sleep on planes, I had nightmares of wrangling a cranky, horrible toddler on very little sleep.

He ended up sleeping about 4 hours on the first leg, albeit fitfully (it was drier than normal on the plane), and then another 2 on the Iceland-Paris leg. I got maybe 3 hours on the first leg and 1 hour on the second. My husband barely sleep at all, but we were still all in pretty good moods by the time we arrived. I was also really worried that Monkey would pull his usual “I hate people for the first half hour of seeing them, even if I know them” routine with his mamie, but he was happy right away! The weekly Skype calls definitely helped, I think.

He didn’t seem confused at all when we got to the house, possibly because of the excitement about the “new” toys here. He did spend a lot of time here during the first 18 months of his life, including living here an entire month, so even though I don’t think he “remembers” the house, I wonder if a part of his brain senses how familiar it is.

He slept for 13 hours the first night, and around 11 last night, with a long nap today, so that’s been a relief. I’ve been having a harder time, but it’s only been 2 days. I’ve had more wine in the past two days than I have had in the past two months, which probably doesn’t help my restless nights!

So far in just two days we’ve seen three different sets of cousins/uncles/etc, and another two are planned for tonight. I drove a manual car again without any problems, which was a relief, especially since it was my mother-in-law’s new car! The weather has been surprisingly nice for Lorraine, almost hot, and I spent a nice afternoon reading in the sun while Monkey napped. I’m feeling very relaxed, and seeing how happy my husband is to be with his family makes me very happy too. Though he seems a bit stressed about finding time to see everyone, which is a familiar emotion for many expats when they visit home!

Monkey was initially less clingy, but I think seeing so many “new” people in such a short period of time is getting to him a bit. He insisted on sitting on my lap at lunch, which solicited some “advice”…Overall though, he’s been great, and has already picked up a few new words.

For now, I am luxuriating in that wonderful “beginning of vacation, we have lots of time” feeling, knowing that two weeks will be over before we know it!

 

My book is free this week!

It’s done! It’s published! And it’s free for the next 5 days!

85 kindle pages of YA psychic/paranormal/dystopian goodness for you to read, enjoy, and comment on! It’ll take an hour to read, and five minutes to review! (But please be nice, this is probably the scariest thing I have ever done!)

http://myBook.to/I-Dream-Of-Fire 

The link should take you to your appropriate country’s Amazon site. Let me know if it doesn’t work, and/or if you don’t see it as being free between April 18 to 22.

If you’d like to read the first few posts of my author’s blog, here it is: www.daphnejameshuff.com 

Happy reading!

Thoughts on returning to France (for a visit)

In exactly one week we will be on our way to France for a 2 week visit. It’s the first time we’ve been back since moving in January 2016, and I have lots of thoughts that I wanted to get down before we leave.

People keep asking me if I’m excited. I guess I am, but it’s more just excitement/happiness to be on vacation! While we’re both lucky to have 3 weeks of vacation per year, my husband can’t carry any over. It’s nice to know his company encourages employees to actually use vacation time, but it means my plan of saving up vacation time and going for longer trips every few years may not really be possible. Last year we mostly took long weekends, and we both took a week when his mom and sister visited. So I’m looking forward to the first long break from work in over a year. However, I’m not excited about France, per se.

If I am honest with myself, I am not sure that I really miss France. I miss the cheap food and childcare. I miss travelling without a small child. But I don’t wish I hadn’t left, which is what “miss” really means to me.

To be fair, I don’t think that I missed the states when I was living in France. I missed familiar foods, family, and friends. But I didn’t have an adult life here to miss. If I missed anything, it was the (mostly) carefree days of college, which would have been the case no matter where I’d spent my twenties.

I reread my post talking about why I wanted to move back, and I think I’m on my way to accomplishing what I wanted from the move. Someone new started this week at work, and it took me a few days to mention my time in France. It used to be the first thing out of my mouth when talking to people. To not have “expat” be the first thing I identify with is a relief. I have said it countless times in the past year, but finding this job is what has made this move feel like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I am feeling more “myself” thanks to a job I do well and my awesome colleagues who support me and make me laugh every day.

Part of the reason to move was to “see if I could do it” on this side of the ocean. And I feel like I definitely can. Probably because of the confidence living abroad for an extended period of time gave me. I know I definitely wouldn’t be in the happy place I am today if I hadn’t lived in France, and I’m not saying I regret it in any way. But I don’t miss the life I had there, not in a regretful or painful way.

For me, it feels like the way I miss life in college. There were awesome things about it, I learned a lot, and made some great, lifelong friends. But it’s in the past, and I’ve moved on. I do feel like this is kind of harsh, like breaking up with someone after 8 years without a backward glance. To stay with the college theme, I like to think of it more like getting a PhD. Some people stay in academia, even stay at the same university. Others move into other fields and put that knowledge to other uses.

When people ask me though, I usually just answer with “yes, very excited!” since I know that’s what they are expecting. I really am excited about visiting Sweden while we’re there, where my brother-in-law is doing an internship. So perhaps my lack of excitement about France is just because it’s not something new. And when people ask if I’m excited, it’s because for them, it would be something new.

This has gone on a bit longer than I intended. The wine with dinner (French, of course!) probably has something to do with that. This seems like quite enough introspection for a Friday evening.

My secret project

I was going to post this yesterday, but didn’t want people to think it was an April Fool’s, because it most definitely is not! I mentioned a “secret goal” in my new year’s post … I set myself the goal to publish a book on Kindle this year, and it’s almost done!

Part of the reason I’m talking about it now, before it’s out, is for accountability. I have had a few close friends helping me A TON during the writing and editing phase, and that has helped make sure I actually finish it. But I could still chicken out and not hit that final “publish” button, so here is my more public accountability push (without going super public and talking about it on Facebook. Which I still will, but only once it’s actually out!).

I’ll be using a pen name, and will have a separate author website and blog, which I will share soon. This blog wasn’t supposed to be all about bébé and kind of automatically morphed into that because, hello, it’s a huge part of my life. It was hard to not write about the journey of writing, since it has occupied hours and hours of my time the past few months. So I’ll see how things go and if I end up merging the two blogs/sites or not.

It’s a shorter book, less than 100 pages, so a quick read for your morning commute. Or, if you’re like me and only have time to read for about 10 minutes every night, it’s a few days of reading. It’s a young adult dystopian because that is pretty much all I read right now. Though recently I have been reading more Neil Gaiman and have lots of fairy/fantasy ideas swirling around in my brain…

So there it is, my secret project of 2017! Stay tuned for more news, hopefully by the end of the month (if I can stop distracting myself with the fun non-writing tasks like “pick serious author profile picture” and “decide on color scheme for website”).

Translating toddler

I’ve noticed an interesting translating habit of Monkey recently that I keep meaning to research more, but so far have only had the time to document it a bit.

We follow a minority language at home (mL@H) approach, however, most of what he watches is in English. He has tons of books in French, but we don’t have any French channels for the moment. He only likes Sesame Street right now, so French channels would go unwatched anyway. I am thrilled about his love of Cookie Monster (despite the less-than-ideal grammar example he sets), since anyone who’s ever watched it knows the show does a lot with letters and numbers. (And emotions, and friendship, and all sorts of other good stuff.)

There was a short on the alphabet, “A for Apple” “B for Bear” etc. and he started saying “A pour pomme,” using the French pronunciation of the letter A. He did this for other letters too “K pour chat” (they showed a kitten), before I explained to him “this part is in English, it’s okay to do it in English.” And when there was another short that was just the alphabet with silly drawings, he would repeat the letters back in French, like he was “translating” them.

So it seems as though he has 100% got the message that at home, we speak in French. Which feels great! And I am not too concerned about this impacting his eventual reading skills, because he is only two and a half. However, I do think he might be ready sooner rather than later to start to actually learn to read. He likes the “A pour X” game, and was saying at lunch today “P pour pomme, M pour maman, L pour Lily” (a girl in his daycare class). He can spell Elmo with the fridge letter magnets, which is kind of cool. I know most of his “reading” books is just from memory, but he’ll say the letters to a word and then say the word, so the skills and desire seem to definitely be there. And, interestingly, if it’s an English book, he’ll spell the word with the French pronunciation of the letters, then say the word in English.

One final translating thing recently happened while reading a (what else?) Sesame Street book. We were naming the characters, and when I pointed out Baby Bear, he said back “bébé ours.” Other things like this have happened, so despite reading quite a fair number of books in English, he seems to be fine “discussing” them in French, once again reassuring me that he understands home = French.

At daycare pickup/dropoff, he’ll switch to French with me as soon as we’re out of the room, but in the room he doesn’t want me to speak French; so it’s like, only parents around = French. Other people around = English. Except when it’s the Spanish-speaking teacher, and then he’ll say little words like “gracias” (but never “merci,” even when she asks for it in French). There’s actually someone in the office there who speaks French, but he doesn’t seem to want to speak it with her, so it seems to be a “family” thing for now.

I feel like someone reading this 30 years ago would be freaking out about his “mixing” languages. But we know now this is totally normal for bilingual kids, so I am not stressed at all. Quite the opposite – I think it’s insanely cool! And what I want to read more about is ways to show him French isn’t just for the family. French channels will probably help. But I think our trip to France next month will help even more! And we’ll definitely have to plan a Canada trip too later this year. He can be our little translator while we’re there!

New apartment

It’s interesting what we’re willing to forgive about our “new” apartment, simply because it isn’t new. And actually I think it’s called a “condo” since it’s just a two family house, and it feels weird to call it our “house” when we’re only in half of it. For a house built over 40 years ago, some creaking and drafty windows are to be expected (though we did mention the window to the landlord, to make sure our heating bill stays reasonable).

Our first apartment here in Boston was a brand new building, and no one had ever lived in our unit. So every single tiny (and not so tiny) thing we made sure to mention. Even the fact that we could hear our neighbors through the wall was upsetting, since you would think that a new building would have proper soundproofing. But even though we can hear our upstairs neighbors even more here in the condo, it doesn’t seem to bother us as much.

I think there are simply enough things we like about this place to be able to put up with the things we don’t. There’s a yard, with a plot for a vegetable garden. There’s a ridiculous amount of storage in the basement, and a new washer and dryer just for us. There’s a fireplace. There’s only one bathroom, but the shower head is new and movable (a big deal for a Frenchman, let me tell you). The bedrooms are not right off the living room, so we can watch TV at a normal level without worrying about waking anyone up.

Since this is the kind of property that is very common in the area, I wanted to at least try a two-family home before we rule it out of our house hunt. We have a goal to buy in 2 years, so we know the noise has an end date, and maybe that also makes us more willing to put up with it. Paying less than we were before also helps make it feel like the annoyances are “worth” it. Whenever you feel like you’re paying too much for something, you’ll be critical of every little thing. But if you think you’re getting a good deal, then it doesn’t have to be perfect.

The biggest thing though is that the neighbors have kids, so everyone is usually asleep when we are. Before we lived next to two young ladies who seemed to “wake up” literally the second we put our heads on our pillows at 9:30 every night. So as noisy as it is, the noise stops when we need it to. And it almost reminds me of my mother-in-law’s house where you could hear everything on the second floor. It’s only been a few weeks, but it already feels more like a home than our previous apartment.

Sleep is an elusive friend

I am always amazed at how I was able to function when Monkey was a baby and I didn’t sleep for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time, and woke up at least twice during the night to feed him. Your body adapts so quickly to whatever is happening. So as soon as he started sleeping longer, it was that much harder to wake up a few extra times on occasion, since my body was quite happy to have readjusted to longer sleep.

However, I have consistently been sleeping poorly lately, and I really really feel it. All it took was one night up with Monkey coughing until about 2am a few weeks ago, and I haven’t felt at 100% since then. The stress of apartment hunting didn’t help, but even with that over (soon to be replaced with the stress of moving!), I am constantly fatigued. My boss even noticed. In a nice, concerned way, not a critical way, but it’s hard to not feel like I can give 100% at something I usually really enjoy.

It seems like even though I go to bed at the same time I usually do, I don’t feel refreshed when I wake up. And some nights I can’t sleep no matter what I do. Or I wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep. And I’m too tired to exercise or make decent food, which I know doesn’t help, so it’s just kind of an ongoing cycle.

This past week Monkey has apparently woken up at night a few times (usually just a fallen pacifier – I really want it gone by the time he’s 3!) and I didn’t hear him. Which is insane, because I usually hear him breathing from two floors below. So it must mean I’m really really exhausted if even his cries didn’t wake me.

My husband usually lets me sleep a bit more on weekend mornings, but since our apartment is open space, I can hear everything so it’s not like I can actually sleep. And it sounds like they’re having so much fun! Talking, eating breakfast, laughing about who knows what. I hate that I’m too tired to participate in weekend rituals.

But then I remind myself that it’s okay if he has things he only does with his dad. And nothing lasts forever, so a year from now, weekend mornings may look very different. Even in a month they’ll look different since we’ll be in a new apartment. With a living room and dining room down the hall from the bedrooms. And no next door neighbor who snores so loud you hear it through the wall. And no commuter trains that pass by just as you’re finally falling asleep.

So even though it’s only 7 on a Saturday evening, I am already curled up in bed with a book, hoping to fall asleep quickly, and dream of next month when I’ll be rested enough to do all the things I keep saying I’ll do.