Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Non-French Dinner

Call me a francophile, a self-hating American or someone whose head is up her derrière. 

When I think of France, (Yes, I know they have their problems too.) I think lovely meals, good food, a je ne sais quoi as far as style is concerned and a positive regard for artists and intellectuals.  A nation that doesn't feed its citizens to the lions as far as social services are concerned. 

And when I think of the U.S. . .

Never mind.

And from the book Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman I've learned that French parents aren't the exhausted, micro-managing, hyper-competitive, strung out lot we American parents are.

They've got us beat there, too.

Via delayed gratification, French babies sleep through the night by a few months of age.  French toddlers don’t whine or meltdown like ours do.  Sans recreational eating, kids are calm at the table and eat meals.  Parents fit their children into their lives; children understand that the sun doesn't rise and set on their little patooties. 

All this (plus social systems that provide generous maternity leave/subsidized daycare, etc.) means that parents in France don’t look like la merde, feel like la merde, or I can only imagine, treat each other like la merde

Stop crying.

Read Bringing Up Bebe, especially if, as an American parent, you want to be convinced that most everything you did presumably to keep your child happy has created the deep, dark prison cell you inhabit today.

Do not, however, read this book before attending an All-American dinner party with the families of two of your fave mommies.  Six adults and six kids, all under the age of four.

I started out the evening optimistic, thinking that if I just said, “Wait, Mommy’s talking/eating/going to marinate her every internal organ in wine,” my children would let me be.  The other parents would do the same, and things would go relatively smoothly.

Can you hear the “Mwoooo-ha-ha-ha-ha” laugh?

Within twenty minutes of our just-shy-of 5 p.m. arrival, each child had established his/her role - the Tittie Addict, The Hurricane, the Informant, the Righteous Victim, Little Miss Naughty and the Trying-to-get-in-the-mix Toddler.  The “attend” (meaning wait) thing was a big fat failure.  The Hurricane and the Righteous Victim began rehearsing for Rocky VII.  And when a Leap Frog Ladybug computer was spiked on the ground, missing Lil' Mr. Tittie Addict's head by inches, it was time for scolding, not overlooking. 

By six o’clock we mothers stood over the counter frantically plating the kids’ food.  We chopped up the chicken (roasted with lemons, herbs and sweet potatoes), and added veggies and homemade mac and cheese (made with sharp cheddar and gruyère to their plates).  Once served, they wiggled at their separate table, and like royalty, quickly found everything positively inedible. 

After five minutes they were back to old tricks. Running down halls.  Disrobing.  Tormenting each other. Our family party had degenerated into the third circle of hell.

Finally, we adults were able to eat thanks to PBS's Thomas and Caillou.  Once the dads ceded the TV to the kids, the grown-ups got a whopping twenty minutes of a civilized meal.  This is what it had come to.

But once the kids got antsy and stepped away from the screen, the men, unable to live without college hoops, returned to the game, much to the Informant’s dismay.  While the menfolk occasionally intervened when the kids got too rough, they didn't seem as vigilant as we were. Perhaps it was the men who were more French, enjoying themselves and only stepping in when absolutely necessary, as opposed to the moms, continually ready to rescue or scold, their spidey sense in fifth gear.

By dessert, however, we could laugh at the mayhem of the night.  Sugared up, the kids were happy, as were we, jacked up on wine, good food, each other’s company, and temporarily free from the tyranny of The Schedule. Especially for the moms, it was an absolute joy to finally spend an evening with women we'd seen only clad in our momiforms on the playground.  And finally the eff-it spirit had set in.  We didn't do this often, and dammit, we were going to enjoy ourselves! 

Although antics/torment continued, the children were able to play restaurant, watch TV (when the Dads weren't hogging it) and have fun.  The fact that it was way past their bedtime apparently gave the kids an illicit thrill as well.  At 9:30 it became clear that the party was over, and we cashed in our chips.

How might this party have played out had we been three French families?  Would we have left the kids to their own devices, letting them work it out on their own?  Would we have been able to enjoy hours of food, drinking and sophisticated conversation?  Would we have been stressed to the point of a mini-existential crisis, wondering if this dinner party was the worst decision since Britney flashed her dop-dop getting in (out of?) a limo?   Since I have started reading Bringing Up Bebe, I think about this constantly.  I ask W.W.F.K.D.  (What would French Keesha do?), and envision some French supermom mocking me as I slavishly cater to my children and look like a yak in drag in the process.

This is probably the only time I need, like my jingoistic, right-wing compatriots, to say who gives a bleep what the French think.  We can learn from their outlook, but high-maintenance American parenting, while stressful, does have the potential to produce a pretty awesome person.  My kids whine, snack like its their job and and sometimes have meltdowns worthy of a straitjacket (on all of us).  On any given day I am ready for a stiff drink by 10 a.m. Still, I am confident my children are on track to be caring, independent, capable, intelligent and creative individuals.

And even though we will certainly be doing a Mom's Night Out for our next get-together, I have to say our non-French dinner was pretty freakin' fun.  


  1. I haven't read this yet, but hope to, once I've satisfied the rest of my Hunger Games addiction. While I agree that my kids need to learn how to be more independent (and less squirmy at a restaurant, if you can call Wendy's a restaurant), I prefer the type of meals you described above. We've done this with couples before, resorting to letting the kids eat first, then turning on a movie so the adults can eat uninterrupted, and I find that everybody wins!

  2. You, Keesha, are a star American parent. After my backpacking across Europe back in the '90's, I realized that I'll never find favor with most European cultures. But, as long as I'm polite (and now, avoid taking my wild toddlers there) it'll work out just fine. :)
    I didn't read this book, but loved your commentary. Wicked sense of humor!!!

  3. LOVED your post. I've been to that same dinner party! It is strangely comforting to know that my husband and I are not the only ones who experience the kid crazy dinners.

  4. Totally love this! Hubby sent me an article on how the french raise such well-behaved children, and I too, would frequently ask WWFKD? Then I decided that I love my son's stubborn, out-spoken, in-your-face toddler speak! When I'm not so exhausted from the constant demands, I'm always laughing hysterically at his antics.


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