My close friend of 20 years has come over from London to help me with the baby while my husband is off to work as an accompagnateur en montagne.
E was a highly paid nanny for many years, working for an illustrious broadcaster and a journalist, respectively, before moving to another profession.
Shortly after arriving at my door via transfer from Geneva, she exclaimed that she’d expected me to look like the crazy cat woman from The Simpsons, but was relieved to discover me showered, dressed, and composed.
She told me that as she’d been traveling from the airport, gazing out the window of the van, she’d kept noting it was ‘gorgeous, gorgeous scenery, yet completely not Victoria’s natural habitat.’
C’est vrai, mais je dois etre ici pour maintenant.
E happily cooed and exclaimed over my ‘beautiful, beautiful’ boy, and he immediately took to her with her large bosom and animated face.
We went out for lunch and a walk. A mission with an infant in tow as one must bring every conceivable item one might need for an excursion.
Lunch was a good catch up. E made me laugh by not even attempting to speak French with the waiters, instead, she irreverently mimed her needs, such as putting her hands to her lips and making the noise ‘num, num, num, num’ to indicate she wanted to eat. I work so hard to be polite to the French, aware of their disdain for the outsider, and am often met with blank or disdainful looks for my efforts.
When I began breastfeeding the boy at the table, E quickly raised my scarf to shield the world from my breast, which she declared is like a woman in National Geographic: “Jesus H Victoria! The size of that nipple! It’s the size of my little finger! Good grief woman, cover that up, you’ll cause a traffic accident!’
That said, she stopped nursing her own boy when he started giving her (what she thinks were) lascivious looks.
After lunch and during our walk, my boy pooped three times. I worried we’d run out of nappies and wipes and have to wipe his bottom on the grass, or dip it in one of the basins provided in the countryside for the animals to drink from.
Over the course of her stay, E has been most useful as a sounding board for my thoughts and worries. I can completely be myself with her at a time when I’m not sure who I am anymore.
She advocates a mother maintaining her sense of self and her own interests, even as she puts her child, or children, first, which I’m receptive to.
E encouraged me to have fun with the boy, and to do things the way I want to, and when I want to, in order to ‘create the child you want.’
To this end, she’s encouraged me to let him cry and not to jump at his every cry, in order to retain my sanity and to allow him to soothe himself. She’s been teaching me to get him to sleep alone. Thus far, I have had to hold him, or sit touching him while he falls asleep, and its almost as though he has a sensor because he realises when I move away and then wakes up.
E has shown me to sit with him for a moment or two, coo and talk softly to him about sleep, and then slowly move away.
The first couple of times I’ve tried this he cried, but E encouraged me to stay away for 5 minutes, go in, assure him, then leave, and repeat in 10 min intervals.
It’s really difficult to hear your baby cry for you and not to go to him, but it’s well worth the liberty of being able to go and do things while he sleeps.
That said, I still check on him every two minutes, despite a baby monitor at hand, causing E to laugh at my expense and telling me ‘You won’t be like that for long! You’ll let sleeping dogs lie soon enough!’
Further encouraging some semblance of autonomy for us both, E has also taken to feeding the boy with formula once in the night so that I can sleep. Very helpful, and I feel revived.
During a trip to Italy, she taught me to simply let him cry when we’re driving, particularly as stopping just makes a journey tedious. Knowing I’d need some logic to back up my doing this, she would remind me to note the checklist: ‘Is he hungry? Is he sullied? Is he ill? Is he cold or hot? If none of these apply, he just wants you and there’s nothing to be done for it while you’re driving…’ I do see the sense that an attentive mother is not the same as a hovering mother.
And that a happy mother does contribute to a happy baby.