Category — Kids
Our road trip continues. We spent a rainy and cold week in Normandy – which felt appropriate for visiting WW II sites, but annoying all the rest of the time.
Then it was a week visiting the gorgeous Renaissance castles in the Loire Valley.
It was during this part of the trip that Z’s first tooth began to come loose. In France there is no Tooth Fairy. Here the Petite Souris (little mouse) comes to collect teeth and replace them with money. Same basic principle – but a mouse instead of a fairy.
Z really wanted the Euro that she had been told was the standard rate for a lost tooth in France! The pharmacist in our village had given her the most adorable little container – just the right size to hold a euro coin – so she was ready.
However, Z was worried. She thought that since we were driving around the Petite Souris wouldn’t be able to find us. Or if the tooth fell out after we left France the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t know she was back in California. Our many hours driving in the car offered ample opportunity for our chatty 5-year-old to explain everything that was probably going to go wrong with this important tooth loss experience.
Of course, as luck would have it, things did go wrong. She got hit in the face with a soccer ball and the tooth fell out in a playground full of grass and small pebbles. Even with a playground full of children and parents searching we couldn’t find the tooth. We emailed the Petite Souris to explain, and put a small white pebble into the tooth box as a proxy for the lost tooth.
It worked! In the morning the pebble was gone and the Euro had appeared. Tooth magic works no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on.
July 31, 2011 4 Comments
We are spending a few weeks this summer driving around Europe before heading back “across the pond”. We spent a week in Switzerland and now we are in Alsace.
Being on the road as a family is great, but it does have challenges. Work has slowed down, but it hasn’t stopped, and it’s harder to get things done when we’re all jammed into small vacation rentals.
Fortunately, the girls have reached the age where they’re pretty good at entertaining themselves for an hour here and there while we grab some email time. This morning they were sitting at the kitchen table being very quiet (always a worrisome sign!) so I asked them what they were doing. The answer:
“We’re drawing weapons.”
Umm… OK… Sure… And why?
“Because we like them.”
Yes, my lovely little daughters are into weapons and they know all about them.
It’s our fault. While we have been in France, we have visited a wide range of Medieval fortresses, read books on Chevaliers (Knights), and generally learned a lot about that part of history including the fighting and armies and attacks. Prior to coming to France, I disapproved of weapon-style toys. But apparently I’ve changed my opinion because we bought the children quite a few, as I discovered when I started to pack up to go home.
Here is the “toy weapon tour”.
Or in French if you prefer.
July 14, 2011 7 Comments
Welcome to the Hôtel Doctrinaires, an old college founded by the Pères Doctrinaires of Avignon in 1635, now fully renovated and converted into a nice hotel in Beaucaire. Surprisingly for a 17th century hotel, it was very comfortable, and our room was large with a jacuzzi bath.
Here are a couple of pictures to give you a sense of our stay…
It’s interesting that this hotel was almost empty, despite its awesome charm and great comfort, whereas the much more expensive Best Western was fully booked. Go figure…
Dinner was revealing, however, when I realized that L had now fully developed her palate for French gastronomical cuisine. Indeed, when given the choice between the standard “kid fare” of steak haché and frites (hamburger patty with french fries), she instead opted for the adult salmon main course – along with a small provençal quiche, an awesome preparation of mixed vegetables and a little side salad. And Z who was notorious for eating only plain pasta, rice and bananas before coming to France, had to “copy” her sister and ordered the same dish. They’ve fully embraced the local culture. Now that’s my girls !
May 27, 2011 1 Comment
The village hosted an egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Our kids had been to egg hunts in California too (shout-out to our fabulous neighbors!), so we weren’t expecting this to be any kind of new experience. We were wrong. There were a couple of things that were very different.
- The eggs are chocolate. These French mamas are not at all shy about sugaring up their children for birthday parties, school events, or the after school goutez (snack). At Easter the eggs are chocolate and they are LARGE. Among our friends in California it would be quite a faux pas to give kids large amounts of candy, so it’s typical to hunt for plastic eggs filled with stickers or small toys. I mentioned this to one of the parents from the village, and she were concerned about the environmental impact of all the plastic eggs. Her view was that the kids just eat the sugar and then it’s gone, but a plastic egg will live for centuries.
- The eggs hide in the rocks. There are no lawns in our village, but there are lots of rock walls with plenty of cracks just perfect to hide an egg in.
- Kids don’t keep their eggs. After the hunt was over the girls proudly showed me their eggs. I was very surprised to see them dump their precious eggs into a big basket, and watched as every village child was given exactly four eggs (one big, three little). The eggs the kids went home with had nothing to do with the eggs that they found on the hunt. I wondered if this was just a village thing, but the girls told me they did the same at school. Everybody shares.
This is different from the US egg hunts we’ve been too. If a kid doesn’t make an effort (or have a parent who will make an effort for them) they leave empty handed. This is a very basic example of the difference in the thinking between the individualistic American society and the community-centric French one. It’s not like either approach is clearly better. It’s nice that everyone got eggs, not just the big kids who are faster. But then that kid who sat and whined instead of trying got the same eggs as the motivated ones.
- After hunt glass of wine. Of course, being France there has to be a drink. This time it was juice for the kids, and white wine for the adults – at 10:30 AM!
April 27, 2011 10 Comments
Our girls were not early potty trainers. They were the children the other parents could look at and feel superior because at least their kid was doing better than that. On the flip side, once they were trained, they did NOT have accidents. Ever. So when L started coming home from school almost every day with wet pants, we were surprised.
Our first thought was that it was a physical problem, but she didn’t have accidents at night or on weekends. We asked the teacher what might be going on and I had a motherly talk with L (girl plumbing is apparently Mommy’s job) about the importance of using the toilet at lunch and recess. That seemed to go reasonably well, but the accidents kept happening.
We tried a checkmark list. We tried a serious talk about the social ramifications of smelling like pee. We tried bribery. We were at our wits end when Z happened to mention that L’s class uses funny toilets at school.
Mystery solved. The little ones have regular toilets with seats, but from Grade 1 on the kids use turkish toilets. For the first few months, L had been sneaking into the little kid area to pee, but she got busted and sent to use the potties in her area. But she didn’t know how to use them, so was just having accidents.
The Dilemma: How do you teach your daughter to use a toilet that you don’t use yourself?
I’ve seen turkish toilets before, but I’ve always managed to avoid them. The first time I saw a turkish toilet, the previous user had been severely “aim-challenged” and the smell combined with the site of yucky brown gunk marred me for life. Fortunately, I discovered that there is almost always a handicap stall with a normal toilet you can use. And if there isn’t – well I’ve never had to go that badly.
But I am a Mom so now I had no choice. I needed to figure this out so I could teach my daughter. I started with the internet and read a number of truly horrific posts on the “eliminatory customs” of various cultures. My key takeaways were:
- Empty your pockets before squatting
- Get out quickly after flushing because the spray is unpredictable
I was now able to have a theoretical discussion with L using a variety of visual aids and charades. But we were left with the practical application. How could we find a turkish toilet to practice with? We got lucky on our trip to Italy and stopped at an Aire (truck stop) just outside of Monaco. They had a clean turkish toilet and I was able to demonstrate the finer points of use for my child without sacrificing my shoes.
Problem solved (rap wood).
March 29, 2011 20 Comments
Carnaval is celebrated many different ways around the world. Our village throws a childrens’ festival based on Provençal tradition. It was a charming event – with a slightly barbaric twist.
The day started with costumed children “trick-or-treating” around the village asking for the ingredients to make crêpes – eggs, flour, milk, and sugar. Our village was very generous so that was done quickly.
Next the entire village is invited for a lunch of soupe à la courge (squash soup) and crêpes. We were expecting a simple lunch, but of course it’s France so we had a feast that included sausages, nine different kinds of cheese, bread, three kinds of tartes, wine, homemade liquor made from mountain flowers, and much more.
After lunch, the kids helped to make the carmentran. An old pair of pants and shirt were stuffed with straw, and a head added. The kids painted on a face, and gave him a pair of glasses. He’ was attached to a stick, and straw was piled up underneath him.
Next the kids read the “accusations” where they blame the carmentran for everything bad that has happened to them during the year. This is actually quite funny. Each kid starts with “J’accuse carmentran…” The carmentran was accused of not buying cereal, breaking bikes, never letting the kids do anything, and many more heinous acts.
Finally, the carmentran was lit on fire, while the children danced around happily chanting “A mort carmentran! A mort carmentran!” (Death to the carmentran!). <- This was the slightly barbaric part I mentioned earlier.
To finish up the afternoon, the kids took turns riding on the two donkeys that live in the village.
We enjoyed spending the day hanging out in our village. The people were great, the food was excellent, the kids were amusing, and the donkeys were pedestrian-friendly in all the important ways - important since I simply cannot get into the habit of constantly scanning the ground looking for poop.
I do want to embrace all aspects of our trip to France and the culture here, but I must confess that I was not completely comfortable watching my kids cheerfully demanding the death of a stuffed pair of pants.
March 16, 2011 5 Comments
The BIG tourist attraction for kids in our region of Provence is the Ferme Aux Crocodiles (Crocodile Farm). We were told about it before we came, picked up brochures and coupons from every tourist information we visited, and had other families tell us about it. It was very high on our list of things to do.
However, since all the brochures emphasized that it is always open – even on Christmas Day and bank holidays – and it is mostly inside, we’ve been saving the crocodile farm for a rainy day.
Last week it was raining, so we decided to head out first thing Wednesday morning and spend the full day with the 350 crocodiles plus alligators and turtles and other beasties. We managed to leave the house at a reasonable time and about five “Are-we-there-yet?”s later we arrived to find this:
Stuff being closed has become a part of our life here in France, so we’ve learned to roll with it. We still hope to see the crocodile farm one day, but in the meantime we visited the perfume factory next door and watched a machine fill little Eiffel Tower shaped bottles with cheap perfume. We also took the opportunity to visit Pierrelatte for the first time, where we discovered this little gem of a sign:
The evidence on the ground gives no indication that the dogs in Pierrelatte understand this sign.
January 18, 2011 1 Comment
Sometimes the kids do something that really just wouldn’t have happened if we had not come to France.
Last night we made spaghetti for dinner. The girls were helping set the table and stir the sauce (why do kids love pots of boiling hot liquid?) and for a brief moment we were having the kind of positive family time you might see in a pasta commercial. The girls asked for a piece of dry spaghetti to play with, which I gave them since they asked so nicely.
So my guard was down when L turned to Z and said, “Let’s go play smoke break” and they confidently put the sticks in their mouths and inhaled.
I’m not one of those smooth, natural, and unflappable mothers who easily rolls with the unexpected. My first reaction is usually to freak out a little bit and assume I’ve damaged the children yet again. This time was: AARRGGHHH!!! What is this country doing to my children?!?!?
But I am working on being more relaxed and I’m learning to embrace these times as “teachable moments”.
I am also figuring out how to introduce them to all the medieval stuff. History tends to be pretty violent, and there is a LOT of history here. So the kids end up exposed to the kind of violence that was common in medieval times. The otherwise cool knights and fortresses come with all kinds of nasty ways to kill people. Those medieval lords seemed to get quite a kick out of throwing people over a cliff after they conquered a particularly well defended fortress. (Not that there isn’t violence in American – duh – but it’s different.)
I think I did an o.k. job explaining how stocks were used for punishment without causing any nightmares. Although I confess that I arranged to slide them quickly past the gibbet before the questions started since I wasn’t ready to handle that.
I am comforted by the fact that we grew up with Bible stories which are really kind of frightening – baby Moses being put in a river full of crocodiles, lions’ dens, fiery furnaces, crucifixion, stoning, and on and on – and we survived.
The most likely scenario is that the kids will be just fine.
December 14, 2010 3 Comments
It’s been COLD in France this past week. For a few days it was o.k. to hunker down at home, but the kids were starting to drive me crazy. JM was sick, so I just needed to disappear with the girls for an hour. We were introduced to the perfect place by a neighbour in our village: Esprit Gourmand, a tea shop in St. Paul Trois Chateaux.
(Side Comment: There is not even one chateaux (castle) in St. Paul Trois Chateaux.)
A tea shop usually wouldn’t strike me as a place for kids, but not all tea shops are run by the amazing Yves and Loupile. There are a couple of things that make it great:
- Kid Books: There is a whole shelf of kid books in the back room. L and Z are each allowed to go (one at a time) and get a book to bring to our table. Last time they grabbed a “Where’s Waldo” style Smurf book. Working as a team, we got through the book in about an hour. The perfect break.
- Big Dominoes: Guests are welcome to use the game of huge wooden dominoes – either to play a game, or to set them up and push them over.
- The owners: I simply can’t say enough about the wonderful people who own this place. Not only are they completely patient with my bad french and keep telling me I’m doing fine (which is really all it takes to win my heart in this country!), best of all they genuinely love kids. Every time we visit the tea shop they do something a little special – suggest a book, bring a cookie, gently tease the kids about their umbrellas, or give them one of the little sparkly things they used for Christmas decorations.
Esprit Gourmand also meets my absolutely #1 requirement for a trip alone with the kids in Provence – easy parking close by!
December 6, 2010 3 Comments
The Pont du Gard is less than an hour from our village and is a perfect day trip.
When we first arrived we were shocked at the price for parking – 15€!! But it was actually quite a deal since the price covered access to the entire site for the whole family – including an extensive hands-on kids educational exhibit, a museum about the history of the site, plus miles of trail and of course the absolutely amazing pont itself. It was built in the first century by the Romans as part of an aquaduct to move water 50 miles from a spring in Uzes to Nimes. It took about fifteen years to build and used almost no mortar. The result is still stunningly beautiful thousands of years later. Those Romans were really impressive builders!!!
In the summer you can swim in the river right under the pont itself. For only 25€, you can buy an annual pass that includes the day of your visit, so we were upsold the extra 10€ and definitely plan to go back.
And it gets even better. If the sight of such an amazing Roman architectural feat inspires an urgent need for a penguin postcard – you are all set.
November 29, 2010 4 Comments