NQPAOFU 6-20 October 2000 special issue: serious parenting ahead, week one (week deux)

un, deux, trois, quatre ...and counting

Un... I'll be serving two weeks of single parenting, October 6-19, while the Mother will be doing good old NL time, spending it from her father's birthday, on the 8th, until the 18th vernissage of 'Couture Locale, Amsterdam Fashion 1950-2000' at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum (through 15 January 2001), including eight of her bag designs. She just left and I'm on duty. Dropped her at the train station to start a 12 hour journey via Paris and Rotterdam, to get door-to-door from St. Germain des Bois F, to Zevenaar NL, to the house where she was born.

Deux... sylloge.com's Stewart Butterfield stepped out of line yesterday linking to 1 October days of naze's "When You Have 3 Small Children... You take comfort in the Tao." It rang a familiar bell:

- Quiet moments resonate. In the summer heat at night after the children are put to bed, you sit shirtless in the dark room bathed in the glow of your monitor. Little footsteps on the carpet betray the presence of the four year old. He may bring out his figurines and whisper the narration of the action to himself. He may point at the screen and request you scroll down so that he'll have something new to look at. Or he may quietly play a game of connect the dots with his finger on your bare arms. After a time, calmed and quieted he puts himself back to bed.

...with a closing line, to re-assure every one of us:

- But other than these things, it's exactly like having no children at all.

YMMV. Parenting Ahead is part of the NQPAOFU weblog and will follow the same routines. I just thought to separate the issue, because a lot of what the next two weeks will be about are just plain parenting (I like that word: parenting, parenting, parenting. Plain, plain, plain). And some of the average NQPAOFU readers might not be interested in family filtered gab. They didn't get to reading this far anyway, and will be served the usual swill where they can expect it, or not.

Trois... parentingahead will serve as a journal to the Mother when she returns.

Quatre... R+r will be able to use it in some personal evaluation, at some point, but it is not a letter to the future: it's a love letter to the everyday.



6 October 2000

Upon returning from dropping off G. at the station I first have to disconnect the electrical gate opening mechanism, which this morning got stuck half way when we were in a hurry to leave and I could just steer the car through. One side will still open electrically, pushing open the other side, but closing it will have to be done manually. I practice when the baker arrives to drop bread and pizza dough. Hm, have to call the electrician. I heat some milk for coffee, sit down at Pagespinner to open this document, when the bell rings. Rrright. It's the chimney sweepers. Vous avez quatre cheminées à ramoner? Cinq? We'll return Monday with a longer ladder, if that's fine with you. Sure. Back to the studio. Now I'm hungry. Could I take a sip of wine already? While cuisining? It's midi et demi. That's ok, c'est l'heure. Back later (I'm experiencing the usual restlessness of being alone all of a sudden. Some dizziness in face of the wide open space of kicking habits. How bad do we want to be, or just miss her and be pathetic?...)


We had woken up before 6am this morning, with a first suggestion of light behind the shutters, when Rolf still half asleep swung over to our bed, where Roemer already slept since last night when we found him wet and had to move him. The three of us now half awake (...it's like with the glass, 'is it half full or half empty'? First you're half asleep and then upon something, you're half awake, unable to return to half asleep—as often happens to me, and usually, involuntarily, changes into WIDE awake, too soon) heard an owl repeat a long call and Rolf remarked how beautiful that sounded. It's very gratifying to find your kid sensitive to those experiences, that we moved here for, ephemeral as they may seem. I sneaked out of bed and made tea and breakfast, to get everyone out in time, to school and the SNCF.

When I pick up R+r from the school bus, Cathérine and Corinne remind me tomorrow there's school, the bus will be 10 minutes earlier than on week days, am I doing fine, did Gilberthe get away all right... they both offered help already yesterday. They'll keep an eye. But the boys go home and bake their pizza. Roemer tortures some left-over dough while Rolf starts repeating his 50 words for tomorrow, abeille to chaud, from a list of 340 words which will make out his prime vocabulary at the end of the year. When I read him all 50 shuffled later, for him to write them down, he makes seven mistakes. Beforehand he inquired with me how many mistakes he was allowed and I had said ten. We're both happy.

- One can but hope to make a child laugh or feel clear and happy-headed as he follows the simple rhythm to its logical end. It can jog him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar, lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoelaces that won't tie, and busy parents and mysterious clock time, into the world of a bug or a bear or a bee or a boy living in the timeless world of a story.
(Margaret Wise Brown, 'writer of Songs and Nonsense')

7 October 2000

Woke up at a quarter of six to hear R+r's quiet breathing next door. No walking over this morning. I allow myself a few minutes to think of parentingahead, and Margaret Brown, my yesterday's trouvaille, before I get up and open the shutters and light some lamps, to hopefully awake them slowly. When I return upstairs I trap them in preparing me the surprise of getting dressed. They look disappointed that I show up. But on Samedi the school bus is 10 minutes earlier than on week days (thank you very much Cathérine and Corinne...) and we have to move it. They manage to squeeze out a few minutes of Tin Tin on Tee Vee and it's out to the gate to wait for the bus. Pootjes (the cat) does us the favor of disappearing in some underground pipe to shoot out all of a sudden at the other end where Rolf awaited him. It's Cannonball Cat!, like the mouse I once shot out of the reversed (blowing) vacuum cleaner. After having seen it from the corner of my eye venturing into the hose, mistaking it for his hole, or house, looking for trouble... I alerted R+r and brought a little basket to catch it in. It shot 2ft out of the hose, into the basket and caromed out of it, to get the hell out of the room, leaving the boys rolling over the floor laughing. It's one of the, I think four, mouse stories that we cherish.

more mice, and cats
Beverly Dittberner replied to my mail and sent me a cover of another beautiful Garth Williams illustrated story, which I hadn't yet realized was his too, but I've known for 40 years: The kitten who thought it was a mouse ('De poes die dacht dat hij een muis was'). Do I remember that drawing where the mice plunder the kitchen cupboard... while the cat is on the look-out? It is hardwired into my brain. Beverly lets me know she would like to do a site like Margaret Brown's, on Garth Williams, but doesn't have as much material on him, yet. He deserves the attention. She deserves the material.

from: DE POES die dacht dat hij een MUIS was
DE POES die dacht dat hij een MUIS was

Maarten arrives just off 2pm in front of the Clamecy Hôtel de Vente, where a small crowd has gathered. Zut. I see the price of 'my' canoe going up with every person added, with every Parisien license plate, with every cellular phone call. Once inside R+r run for the guns and hunting gear, when I take another good look at the 1930 wooden 3 seat canadien canoe. It's a beauty, but I don't go for it. They start to hammer off the wines, with the aid of an expert and lots of bidders on the phone, in our otherwise quiet local auction place, where 90% of the goods are divided between two or three merchants (who will then sell at the next vide grenier) and the occasional amateur, who will outbid anyone on this or that special item. Where you can test and try everything before you place a bid: try on that coat, sit on that chair, lie on the bed, shoot that gun. The other buyers will stand around you and comment on whether the item looks good on you. We're a crowd of twenty. Thirty max. Just reshuffling the community's commodities between us. Today, apparently some good cellar is on offer.

We watch the bidding for some minutes, then guide Maarten to the Moulin, for his first ever visit.

Upon arrival from his golden Slazenger bag he unpacks 3 big jars of peanut butter (labelled 1, 2 and 3, one for each one of us guys) and two giant size pots of sandwich spread (exhibits A and B) for R+r. He can stay. We give him the grand tour, including prairies and young bulls and dead trees and Coco (the horse who will hopefully again stay with us this winter, and now lives on an adjacent grass land). We visit the mill works and upstream lock and R+r chase him with cocklebur klisses.

8 October 2000

Glow in the Dark
Rolf has found my bed again at some moment during the night. As we wake up together he discusses changing his (R+r's) room. He wants to paint it black and strew it with glow in the dark stars and paint a dark castle on one wall. Actually he would prefer to live in a real castle and have a much larger room than the 250sqft it is now, and a bridge and portcullis. Then it should be on the river side (glad that's decided) and... in the Netherlands... Aïe. Thought he had given up on it.

The boys decide to design Pokémons and trace big typefaces on large sheets of paper. We disassemble my Mobylette (Maarten does this to Kawasakis all the time). Piece by piece (luckily a Mobylette motor only has a limited amount of them) we find why the 40 year old grey machine doesn't run. A filter in the carburetter somehow hinders the gas to stream into the float chamber. We clean every single part meticulously, including the piston head and cylinder. We piece it together and off she runs! We both make an elated zig zag round on the grass and she comes to a halt. We have just used the gas which was in the float chamber and again find it dry when we open it. Only when we remove the filter and the float altogether so we can drive long stretches on the public road in a stream of blue smoke, at a considerable speed. It starts raining and we decide to pick quinces. They're big and bright and yellow. I have been looking at them shining from their dark green foliage over my Mac since some days now. There's a lot of them and they must be harvested, before some jelly hungry French come do it for us.

For diner we have assorted cereals, yoghurt with my blackberry jelly and Maarten's still lukewarm quince jam (scallion tarte tatin style had been for late lunch). R+r kiss Maarten, who will leave tomorrow before they return from school, goodbye and are off to bed. I read them Asterix. Afterwards Maarten and I make more food, drink more wine and down 'just one' Armagnac, discussing the state of um, everything. The usual everything, that is. The all and everything kind.

9 October 2000

up the chimney, not in smoke
The chimney sweepers haven't forgotten about me. They unroll their plastic at 9 sharp, climb the roof and roar their vacuum cleaner. We have breakfast and coffees. Today we'll see about the garden. Maarten's project is the lavoir, cleaning it of ivy and leaves and mosses. I'll shlep branches and other debris to the fire site on the island. Just before noon the chimney sweepers lose their hérisson (one of the brushes, named after the hedgehog for its prickliness) all the way up in the 10ft high chimney, on the roof which can only just be reached with the longest ladder. They go up, try to climb the roof. No chance. They tell me they'll open the wall of the small attic east room to get it out from there. Of course they'll close and plaster it smooth after.

Lunch is salads, cheeses and paté with a slightly pétillant silver medal Gros-Plant du Pays Nantais simple white wine. Maarten leaves for Paris and then NL, I return to the desktop. The chimney sweepers return at 2 and get out their hedgehog, close the hole. I write the check and off they are. They forget their pen. For diner I serve R+r toast with ham and fresh pineapple and the last young Dutch cheese melted on top. Shopping tomorrow. During diner Roemer has a theory about things containing other things. Sometimes I have to look at Rolf for an explanation. This time he doesn't know either. Roemer goes on and on. I get them to bed in time. Half an hour later they are behind my back to request to be in my bed. I'm looking forward to lie in between them and find their warm legs in my sides.

10 October 2000

Another early call. At 6am Pootjes, the cat, who was allowed to sleep with the three of us, wails me out of bed and out the front door to give him some air to breath and a spot to do. He learned to shit outside even after some months of deluxe bathroom facilities in the hall. We didn't like the smell of it and successfully trained him to go somewhere else.

The hardest thing to get done is to dress R+r, at some speed. I keep mixing up their clothes, can't find the right sizes, try on stuff they don't like, thinking all the time where have the good old days of school uniforms gone? Being the Mother's task exclusively (one of the few that are really separated between the two of us), I just can't get their garb right. So we decided last night to arrange their clothes in some sort of meaningful scenery, a landscape which has the R and the r clothes in different enclaves, spread out on the floor and furniture, with toys and other meaningful objects added. It looked terrific and readable, but was too good to be functional the next morning.

memory theatre
First Rolf didn't want to disassemble his landscape and get dressed. Use his waterfall as a shirt?! I must be joking. The lake his pants? Was I still dreaming? He pulls a pile of shirts and pants from the cupboard above his head, they tumble all into his enclave and he starts digging for something to put on. Meanwhile Roemer stretches in his own enclave, equally uninterested to turn it into something to wear. So be it. It takes me 5 minutes to find him two new matching socks. I'm lost in this landscape forever.

Meanwhile we have the whole house already signalling the mother's missing savoir faire... while those things I am used to do go with even much greater ease and discipline and effect than usually. My trains run on time. We eat and read and use the bathroom with great efficiency. The kitchen is spotless. We play a lot of loud cheerful music and move rhythmically to it. Boom boom boom. We'll do the garbage tomorrow the three of us, even if it would take us all day (it's Wednesday-no-school-mercredi). No meaningful theatrical lay-outs this time though. They attract animals of low reputation who mess up the scenery big time and deliver back our leftovers on the doorstep.

Otherwise, the best way to remember routines I am sometimes not even aware of that they existed, is to leave their tools and other objects around, so that one can trip over them, thinking 'what's that cotton stick doing here on the staircase... hey I haven't checked their nails and ears since a few days... let's, toot sweet.' Rolf! Roemer!

les enfants de Thurigny
The school bus carries a small band in the back. There's Laura, the twins Clement and Valentin, petite Mélanie, and R+r. These are the children of Thurigny, 2000. They wave at me as they pull up and disappear in the morning haze.

at the Leclerc 'grande surface' supermarket
We run into the Foloppes, previous owners of the Moulin. Like everyone they inquire after our well-being with the Maman away from home for so long. They scan the contents of our cart in approval. R+r had already been spotted by them over at the Halloween department. If I need anything at all il ne faut pas hésiter... I pick up our photos and throw in a box of ice-cream. We hurry home to get it into the freezer. The atmosphere nevertheless is a bit tense. Guess they're tired. I am. Tomorrow we'll play. With Pootjes they pass out soon, in their own bed for a change. Outside the wind increases again, like last night. I need a drink. And scan the boys.

r+R left to right
r+R, left to right

11 October 2000

'Increasing wind', huh? I thought we'd flip the top. So I wake up several times all through the night to listen carefully right through the roar, to whether any parts will fly off of the house, or drop on it, crashing our as of yet uninspected roof. R+r remain undisturbed. Until for some reason Roemer joins me in the early morning, probably mistaking our bedroom for the bathroom and immediately peeing over me. I throw him out but get the load. Upon the noise Rolf comes over and snuggles down on the other side of the bed. Half asleep all the way again. I put Roemer (who routinely puts his pyjamas in the bin and washes his butt in the bidet) in his own bed and squeeze in between Rolf and the Wet Spot, which I had elevated with the help of a cushion and a plush polar bear, to allow it to start to dry. And the wind cries Mary.

Sleeping in is sort of hard under these circumstances. Actually Rolf starts talking to me and Roemer listens in from the other room, inquiring what we are talking about... We get up at seven and the three of us head down. This is no school Wednesday. Oh yeah. Right. So lets have some fun. Days like this start with television breakfast. French TF1 programs some neat entertainment in the early Wednesday hours. When I tell them to switch it off, they find me busy rearranging the kitchen, the same way I rearranged the salon a few weeks ago: by turning it 90° CW. It seldom fails! (just watch out not to mistake that window for a door). They join me in my effort and start installing all the utensils (which I had stashed out of the way, on the floor, under the table) in some sort of balancing act, hanging from the table rim. I get them a clamp-on spot from the attic to attach yet more utensils and light the pretty scene, which they animate by dropping marbles in it. Finally they start blowing balloons and shoot marbles from their nozzles. Time to get dressed.

one hill up
Yesterday Patrick called to invite us to finally visit their secondary home at the 'Grange Treillard' five house hameau. He and his wife Florence are Parisian friends of Philippe and Delphine at Le Mazot, with whom they spent last new year's eve, browsing my sites. Patrick's a composer and theatre man, Florence is a stage designer. They are our age and busy people. He has a daughter of 18 and a son who is 13 years old, who weren't with them. More and more they spend also their working days at the place up the hill, as I can just too well understand. The site is high and dry, with a beautiful 360° view. It is isolated. Patrick has this compact studio dépendance, filled with Macs and musical machines. While we expand our acqaintancy R+r find some toys and a very amiable young cat, which distract them from their balloon guns. They are so at home immediately, stretching out in front of the burning fire in the living, with the cat, sipping their orange juices and generally being invisible and content. Later they go out to find a swing in a neighbour's garden. Actually this neighbour is partly why we are here.

want to spend time in France? read carefully
Mr. and Ms. Clement's house is for sale. It is in Grange Treillard—actually it is the place which is referred to as the Grange, which it isn't, I mean a barn, you know that's a barn, a grange. OK. It's a hill top compound, the first place when you arrive at GT, sitting on 6000 meters of land (54,000sqft), existing of the house and usual dépendances, some of which have over the years been added to the living spaces. It is not a huge place by its measurements, but it has space. The main room measures 8x8meters (24x24ft) and is high and has a mezzanine of half that surface. Then there's three bedrooms, a chambre de toilette and on the ground floor a large kitchen/dining room, a large bathroom with separate toilet, and a garage you can access from the kitchen. The garden is well kept, there's a vegetable garden, a summer kitchen with a barbecue. What's to add, it is a great site. We're down by the river, this is high and dry indeed. Fields, woodland, agricultural lands, deer, birds, great neighbours. Why leave?

the Grange at Grange Treillard
the Clements' Grange at Grange Treillard

Mr. en Ms. Clement are an ageing couple for whom the maintenance of the place and land is getting too much of a sorrow. That's the general story here. While they hate to go, older people leave their places to live nearer to where are facilities, shops, doctors, help—or family. The Clements are not originally from here, but moved to retire from the 'région Parisienne', almost 30 years ago. For 13 years they have been permanently settled in Grange Treillard, a hamlet of five houses with two permanently inhabited, and Patrick and Florence who keep returning from Paris with decreasing intervals. Mr. Clement is a retired carpenter and has a small atelier next to the house where he lovingly built some of the house's windows and doors and landings and other details. The house is in perfect state of maintenance and faces no major repairs. The couple moves to nearby Varzy. They sell their place directly, no brokers involved, no extra costs, but some notary contracts.

There's tons of places for sale in France, at competitive prices, from castles that cost millions, down to places as low as a couple of ten thousands of Francs.. I could be selling full time. This place is special in one way. It is around the corner from the Moulin. One hill West. There's a small community of gentle people here. There's no one particular friend I can think of who has the urge to vacation or work (from) here. They would all want, but it needs some imagination, to decide to go forward. Take a look at the house and the hamlet and send me mail at jk@nqpaofu.com, if this place seems interesting to you. It's priced at 670,000FF, roughly $100k.

a bump I owe you
So we sit with Patrick and Florence and eat Ms. Clement's gateau aux pommes and sip coffees and a small glass of home made Framboise liqueur. I meet Le Mazot Delphine's sister who passes by with her beautiful 2.5 year old daughter Sophie. They live at the Moulin(!) de Boutefeuille, 15km upstream from where we are. Later I visit the Clements' house. When I am in the garden Florence comes to tell me Roemer hurt himself real bad but doesn't want them to get me. Also he doesn't cry but hides under a wheel barrow. All pretty alarming. Or just très Roemer? I have to force him from under the small cart to find an enormous growing bump on his frown, with a straight 2 inch long bloody line over it, skin-deep I can tell, but it doesn't look pretty. There's a hesitant story from both of them about colliding swings and them falling off and Roemer getting hit by the returning two person iron seat... Don't ever try to find out what happened. Just take care. So we return quickly to Patrick's place and disinfect the wound and put ice on the bump which still grows and we deal sweets to all present and half an hour later Roemer is on the up swing again and when I find him asleep at midnight his bump is under so I bet he's fine.

12 October 2000

Expect Velthoven to be late for his mush, not knowing how to cross a swollen Beuvron, R+r finally to hit the bath and three rounds of laundry. Honest to God, it was one of those days. Oh, and our egg production doubled: I found two.

R+r are hard to get out of bed, our bed. The alarm is at 7:15am, we have to be outside the gate and on the other side of the road, at 8 sharp, to catch the bus. Which is often several minutes late, time well spent repeating homework. Janvier, février, mars, avril, mai, juin, juillet, août... eh... September is not his favorite month. We memorize it is the month of the Rentrée, which was in one of the poems he learned by heart... Déja septembre, finis les vacances... that's 6 weeks ago. Six weeks of hard work for Rolf. They spend from 9-4 at school, including a four course warm lunch, and they travel another 75 minutes in total. Then Rolf brings an average of three quarters of an hour homework. But he reads poetry, has a morning of theatre and rhetorical exercise(!), goes to the swimming pool every Monday afternoon. Primary school, French style. Feed your head, but don't forget the bouffe.

So at 8 they're gone and I have until 4:30 before I go out to pick them up in nearby Thurigny. I could request another stop at the house, but I prefer to see the other parents, Cathérine, Corinne (or her husband Frank), Marie-Christine. We chat about the other Thurignons, the kids, the school, the bouffe. How is Gil doing in NL, did I hear from her? Tonight, she promised. I enjoy horrifying them with yesterday's swing story, which for a French parent would mean an immediate visit to the doctor, to avoid infections, scars, fevers. What do we care? I turned three washes today... they are deeply impressed. All the rest of the day I've been sitting at my computer, typing away to tell the world about you and your kids and our community... then I try to sell the Clements' house online... and in the passing I picked up on the fact that online expenditure is slow to a crawl and we're waiting for the holiday season to rock those figures... Hardly the kind of conversation at the Thurigny bus stop. Ah, there they are, les voilà! Roemer has a habit of throwing out his bag before he steps down. I have to catch it before it hits one of my friends in the face. When all five are out, the bus can continue its delivery. Roemer climbs the tree next to the halt and Rolf wants us to leave im-me-di-ate-ly to go home and watch television. Must be good for his French is our usual lame excuse for letting him. Actually he starts being interested in programs that are made for a higher age group, like the children's news show. Which I think is fine. Soon however we will find ourselves delivering different content to the two of them. Separate stories in bed, separate television shows or videos, separate outings, or sports or musical lessons. They have become a tremendous team, much more so than they were in Amsterdam (they grew, and grew closer), but we'll face the fact of different levels of entertainment and education soon anyway.

Between washes I pick corn and a cucumber from the vegetable garden, which needs attention by the way! Demain. Like so many things 'demain'. Before, I pour an overdose of Kneip lavender oil in the bath tub, to shrink R+r into loveable, sleepy, soft, slow, silent, warm and clean somethings. They throw in two Playmobil pirate ships, and lots of other plastic to have another battle of some kind. I go down decidedly not to get them out within half an hour, when the water temperature drops to a freezing lukewarm. I quickly go out to get the chickens and ducks in. Where's Velthoven? (the big black and white one who tramples his own food with his big flappers). He's on the island facing a Beuvron wild and grey and a meter higher than yesterday. He doesn't seem to notice the bridge. I cross and gently drive him home. He panics and jumps in the stream to disappear quacking out of sight. Forget him. When I'm back up in the bathroom to dry the boys, I see him pacing back and forth in front of the run. Drat. I have to go down and let him in. We eat and do homework, I have to phone Cathérine because one book is missing from Rolf's bag, Roemer wants to go to sleep (Lavender!) and I follow half an hour later with Rolf, read him Asterix, excuse Pootjes who is still out there moonlighting and say I love him and go to sleep, now. Period. Pootjes is found, fed and sent upstairs.

Ten minutes later Rolf asks me if he can go into my bed. Sure. Once in the room, he changes his mind and comes out again. Good night.

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parenting ahead links

Margaret Wise Brown
My own absolute favorite children books when at (R+)r's age, were Margaret Wise Brown's The Friendly Book ('Ik hou zo van...') and Mister Dog; The Dog Who Belonged to Himself. ('Meneer de hond; de hond die van zichzelf was'). Both Golden Books illustrated by Garth Williams, which can't be accidental for my fondness of them. The Margaret Wise Brown site is an example of pure dedication. I wrote its author Beverly Dittberner a thank you note, with a scan of my 40 year old copy of Meneer de hond attached:

Mr. Dog / Meneer de hond dutch Golden Book cover

Another MWB site lists her incredible production in a short life, much of it unpublished ('A Trunk of Stories') and contains other valuable information. Margaret Brown unexpectedly died at the age of 42. Her will stipulated that her body be cremated and her ashes scattered to the sea in Maine. A simple rough stone was to mark the site with the words "Margaret Wise Brown, writer of Songs and Nonsense."

Maurice Sendak
(courtesy Judith Zissman)
I've read In The Night Kitchen a million times to R+r ('Mama! Papa!'—Mickey when he takes a fall...). I bought it when I was still in art school and thought one day to be a children's book illustrator myself. Years later in 1995, at Printed Matter in New York, I bought some full size sheets of We're All In The Dumps With Jack and Guy. I wonder how these got there, amidst the artist's books? Think they used them for their shopping window. I just asked if I could buy some and they sold.

Mitt Liv Som Hund
(My Life as a Dog)
Lasse Hallström, 1985

Jouke Kleerebezem 2000