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!)

Accidentally swearing in French

When you first start learning a language, it’s always a good idea to learn the bad words. This ensures that even if you can’t speak very well, you’ll know if someone is insulting you or not. Since swearing in French was not something I learned from the teachers in my immersion school, my friends and I first had to learn the bad words in English. Then, naturally, we would look them up in our dictionaries to see how to say them in French. However, this was a fairly unreliable method, since even if the dictionary had the word you want, it didn’t always tell you how to use it (our dictionaries were actual books back then, no Wordreference for us!).

Also, in general, there seem to be less truly bad words in French, since so many of the translations of things that would never be heard on American television or radio are perfectly acceptable here. Not that every other word is “merde” or anything, but the French have a relationship with words, and a way of playing with them, that is very different than in English. There are less words in French than in English, so they are very creative in the way they use their words. I am always particularly proud when I can figure out a pun without someone explaining it, and have even made one or two myself over the years.

There are also other ways of being rude than swearing. For example, my husband was telling me that he got so angry at the post office the other day, he left without saying goodbye. More than any bad words he could have said, this showed the person how upset he really was.

In my years in France, I’ve picked up a good number of foul expressions and slang that I use much more liberally than I do their English equivalents. Somehow it just doesn’t have the same weight as in English. I think it’s also still a lingering habit from childhood of using the French word so my parents couldn’t understand what I was saying (this being the main reason for spending all that time looking things up in dictionaries, of course). I thought I knew most of the worst ones, but I accidentally stumbled onto a few more this week. And while at work, of all places!

The first was while talking about the name “Fiona” and I said it was Irish, and I said something like “all ‘Fion’ names are usually Irish,” which made my colleague burst out laughing. I asked her what I’d said, and she whispered that “fion” was a very bad word. The internet translated it as “ass,” which doesn’t seem that bad, but it’s apparently quite vulgar.

For the second, we were discussing hair color (names and hair color are always hot topics in an HR department), and my mangled pronunciation of auburn turned into “aux burnes” which has to do boy bits . . . Later that day, my husband helpfully taught me the phrase “casser les burnes” which means to annoy someone, but I am under strict instructions to not use this in front of his mother, which means it’s definitely pretty bad.

So of all the ways to learn new bad words, what happened this past week was probably the funniest way. If I’d said similar things at a family event, everyone would have been too polite to say anything, though they may have snickered a bit. Even if I generally dislike situations at work where I make mistakes in French, sometimes it can be (unintentionally) hilarious, and I got to learn a few new things as well (though not really things I can use on a regular basis!).

Almost homophones in French

For some reason, lately I’ve been having trouble with almost homophones in French. Not every time the words came up, but often enough that I was worried the pregnancy is affecting my language. Googling only brings up all the ways my actions during pregnancy can impact bébé’s language development (like I didn’t have enough to worry about already), so I have concluded that it’s probably just because I am very tired and I have eight thousand other things to think about besides perfect pronunciation. And maybe since the words are similar they’re stored in the same place in my brain so the right one doesn’t always get accessed immediately. Or maybe they’re Freudian slips, though why I’d have suppressed feelings about ostriches is uncertain . . .

Autriche/Autruche – one is a European country, one is a flightless bird. The country comes up in conversation more often than the bird, but you don’t want to accidentally book a vacation to an ostrich farm instead of Vienna. Also, I heard the expression “politique de l’autruche” the other day, and asked my husband what was so special about Austria’s politics.

Ouragan/Origan – the first is a violent storm, the second a mild Italian seasoning. While contextually the difference should be clear (you don’t look usually for hurricanes in your kitchen cabinets), out of context phrases that start with “I need/I want/Where is/Have you seen/Is there any” aren’t always immediately clear.

Jeun/Jaune – to be “à jeun” means to have an empty stomach, something that has definitely been happening a lot the past few months with all the different tests I’ve had to do. Though the nice lab techs didn’t even bat an eye when I mistakenly confirmed that I was “yellow” (jaune).

Somnifère/Sonisphere – my husband has been sleeping poorly lately and the doctor gave him some sleeping pills. My husband has also been talking about what other heavy metal concerts he wants to go to this summer, since the Sonisphere has been cancelled. I’m sure my mother-in-law was relieved but also slightly confused when I told her the other day “I have been sleeping poorly as well, but I’m not allowed to have any heavy metal concerts.”

Péridurale – this is not a homophone with anything, and the mistake is really just because I have been lazy about learning pregnancy vocabulary (reasoning: I am only pregnant a little while, and words related to babies/kids will be more important in the long run), but I keep saying “épidurale” instead. My mouth just refuses to say the French word. I’m sure this won’t cause too much confusion at the hospital, but who knows how many other mistakes I’ll make that day (having never given birth, I don’t know how exactly I’ll respond to the pain).


I’ve definitely mixed-up other words over the years, especially the first few years here, but I try not to get too discouraged. Even in English, things don’t always come out right 100% of the time! I just try to pay extra attention in important situations, and laugh off my worst gaffes with friends.

Crazy stuff said during pregnancy

I am nearing the end of week 31, which in theory means less than 9 more to go! But it could be as little as 6 or 7 weeks . . . Either way, I thought it was time to write about all the crazy stuff said during pregnancy. By me as well as my husband. I know it’s our first baby, and I know there are no “stupid” questions, but sometimes I think we could have maybe thought things over just a little longer . . .

Him: “We know a few other Franco-american couples, and their kids are all redheads. Does that mean ours will be?” (During one of our first doctor’s appointments. Because obviously hair color is dependant on nationality, not silly things like genetics.)

Me: “Wait, how can we see his brain?? Doesn’t he have a skull?!” (During a sonogram, when he showed us the two hemispheres. He answered, quite patiently actually, that we can see though the skull, just like we were seeing through my belly, thanks to modern technology.)

Him: “So he showed us the diaphragm, it must be a girl! Only girls have those!” (Said in the car after the same, apparently very confusing, sonogram appointment. Biology was not his favorite class in school . . .)

Me: “Since it’s a boy, if you test my blood, will I be both male and female?” (During my most recent blood test. I still feel like this is a legitimate question, but my husband laughed a lot about this. Whatever, I was more into chemistry anyway.)

Him: “When he’s born, he’s all covered in stuff, so what if they give him to me and he just slips out of my arms??” (The other night when discussing our birth plan. I’m sure he’s not the first future papa to worry about this, but it was the motions he did while saying it that were just priceless.)

Me: “He’s been kicking really really hard lately, he can’t like, tear through anything and suddenly burst out of my stomach, right?” (I blame this on Twilight/Alien. He kicks super hard! But again, the midwife was very patient and explained all the physical reasons why this is not possible. So maybe I am not the first to ask this!)

Him: “But if I put the baby in the stroller in the apartment, how will I get him down the stairs?” (This is actually a recurring theme with my husband, wanting to know how he’ll physically manage things like getting both groceries and the baby into the car, or where to put the baby when he’s getting ready for work in the morning. It’s sweet, to know he’s already picturing it, but also funny to hear all the various complicated situations he can imagine for himself. I feel like once bébé is here, it’ll all make more sense to him.)


And maybe it’s just hormones, but my doctor has been getting on my nerves lately, because he says stuff like: “Really? You were crying? Contractions don’t hurt that much.”

I realize he was just trying to determine what exactly had caused a very scary pain a few weeks ago, but I am kind of regretting my choice now to stick with my male doctor, even if I’ve been with him for years, since things like this make me want to punch him in the face. At least the midwives are almost all women (notable exception being our patient sonogram guy), and unless something goes wrong, they are the ones who actually deliver babies in France.


Writing them all out makes me feel a little better, since they don’t seem as bad as when we first said them and there was an instant “d’oh!” feeling. Everything about the pregnancy is still perfectly normal and boring, so maybe our questions are too, I’ve just never heard them before because I’m not a doctor!

Funny French music

One thing that’s fun in a “bicultural” relationship is sharing your culture’s music, movies, books, etc. I know this probably happens in other relationships too, since everyone has their personal taste, but I love that when I show something to my husband, I can be almost sure he’s never heard/seen it before. And having a more personalized knowledge of French/American culture makes it seem like we’re creating our own little subculture between the two of us, blending what we both bring into it.

Discovering French music has been particularly fun for me, since my husband has . . . eclectic taste. He’s made sure I know all the words to the Noir Desir, Les Inconnus, and Michel Sardou songs that make an appearance at every soirée. Indochine or Téléphone are just as likely to come up on his playlist as Marilyn Manson or Slipknot.

In another life, I think my husband would have been BFFs with Weird Al Yankovic, since he just loves making up funny words to songs. Though he tends to worry less about things like rhythm or tune and more about making the words as ridiculous as possible. And it was interesting for me to see that as his English progressed, so did his enthusiasm for including English words and songs in his repertoire. He sings while he’s getting ready in the morning, when we’re in the car, or when we eating dinner. He plays a few instruments and has been in different bands over the years, some more serious, some with the sole purpose of making funny music.

So when he started singing about a “beau lavabo” (beautiful sink) the other day, I thought it was just another one of his silly songs. But it turns out, it’s an actual song. One he was so excited to have remembered after all these years (it came out in 1989, when he was pretty young), he made a special request that I share it on my blog, so that even more people could be exposed to this weird craziness.

Your tidbit of French culture for the day, Lagaf’s “Bo le lavabo”:

My favorite tumblrs

The internet is a magical, wonderful thing. It can make you incredibly productive, or suck hours and hours of productivity away. Assuming that if you are catching up with blogs right now, you are probably in the latter situation, so here are a few of my favorite tumblrs to waste time on. Please share your own, because helping others to waste time is also what makes the internet such a wonderful thing.


Men taking up too much space on the train. STORY OF MY LIFE! Not to be read on a Sunday or you will lose all desire to go to work the next day.


Boys Clubs. Speaking of work, this is slightly related to my job in HR, so I can totally justify sending it to colleagues along with instead of tumblrs about cats.


Beyonce Art History. Though sometimes I wish art was still my job.


Mean Girls of Panem. Mean Girls + Hunger Games. You’re welcome.


Notes to my future husband. A few of the more PG-rated excerpts (the rest is mostly R!):

HUNGER GAMES. I would totally kill you last.

AS YOU WISH. Every once in a while, I’m gonna turn to you out of the blue and say “Farm boy, fetch me that pitcher.” You’d better know the proper response.


Writers and Kitties.  Favorite writers and cute cats. What’s not to love?


Brides throwing cats. Just in case you need more cats, here are some (I hope!) photoshopped at weddings.


Reasons my son is crying.  Uhhhh, I’m actually taking a break from this one for the next few months, or I’ll just curl up in a ball and hide for the next 18 years.


Suri’s Burn Book. If you don’t know who Suri Cruise is, then you probably won’t know who anyone else is who she talks about, and you probably won’t think it’s funny. My tiny bit of brain space that isn’t already being used to keep track of these (mini)people finds it hilarious.


Kate Middleton For The Win.  My favorite of favorites (or should that be favourites?), though sadly looks like updates have definitely ended. My love for all things royal amuses French people to no end. My argument is always that they cut off the head of their king, but we just moved away. So admiring/mocking from afar is très American, non?
Kate Middleton For The Win

(I may or may not have already bought a few of the same Seraphine maternity dresses she wore. But as I am due in July, studied art history, have a sapphire engagement ring, have a middle name Elizabeth, and am several months older than my husband, we are basically the same person anyway.)