Do Toddlers Find French Tougher than English?

Being a native Anglophone, my perspective on this question is necessarily biased. However, even my Franco husband has concurred lately that many French words are quite the mouthful for young kids, especially because they are much longer and often require articles and prepositions.

Teaching Petit-Homme to speak involves a lot of repetition. I am fairly committed in this endeavour though nothing like someone I read about who insists on speaking 40,000 words a day to her kid.

Having to pronounce the same words all day with perfect diction, careful enunciation and exaggerated enthusiasm has made me aware of what feels good, what feels easy, what fits the context, what I’d rather leave for Sesame Street to teach. Some examples of English triumphing over French:

  1. “Out” – Let’s go out! Get out of bed? Take out the light bulb from your mouth. Out, out, out! Monosyllabic, easy to repeat, rhythmic, fits a myriad of situations. Contrast: On va aller dehors. Tu vas sortir du lit? Enlève l’ampoule ..
  2. “Come” and “Go” – Come here! Nanny’s gonna come tomorrow. Versus viens Nanny va venir demain. The word changes completely depending on context and speaker. No need to get into vous venez and nous venons or je vais and ils iront (You’re coming, we’re coming, I go, they will go) but I have wondered on more than one occasion how French kids figure it all out!

Anyway, I suppose there are some exceptions where the reverse is true. Bicycle is so much mushier than the crisp vélo. Caresse, caresse, I implore, to prevent him from yanking the bejeebers out of Little Girl’s hair at Ikea. That just sounds so much better than stroke gently.

I wonder what it is about certain languages that make them infinitely more appealing than others. I reckon Chinese sounds abrupt because it’s a very context specific language that lacks just about everything (tenses, articles etc.). (Also, we tend to remember dramatic scenes of Chinese people yelling at each other, which reinforces the thought that Chinese is for hurling slimy fish in the marketplace. But watch some Zhang Yimou and the throaty Gong Li …) Dutch sounds coarse perhaps because there is very enthusiastic jaw and throat engagement leading to uncomfortable sounds of buzzing, rasping, some even call it hacking. And French is universally considered the sexiest language because those who speak it well purse their lips and pout a lot, which makes them look like they are about to engage in foreplay (or are currently doing so). Back to the notions of caresse – which everyone should indeed learn early.

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First Attempt at Cupcakes

On our way ...

On our way …

From what I’ve observed, the “mommy thing” goes hand-in-hand with the “cupcake thing”, no matter how out of sync it may feel with your id. So, I finally baked something approximating said nomenclature. Yes, it required a bit of measuring (100ml milk – just used one of Petit-Homme’s milk bottles, no need to dig out the measuring jug) and yes, I learned a fundamental rule about cakes: eggs need to be at “room temperature”. Not quite sure why and how precise this rule is. After all, what if I like my rooms freezing cold? Determined as I was not to ruin this cake mix (how can they call it an instant cake mix if you still have to add butter, milk and eggs?) I allowed the eggs to bask on the counter for a few token minutes. Hoping all that lamplight warmed them up adequately, I threw in the other ingredients and approximated the butter. Seriously, does it really matter? Also, in a pinch, could I substitute infant formula for whole milk?

For the icing, I checked out a “recipe” for lemon icing online but reckoned I could free form this. Who on earth uses 3 cups of icing sugar? I cobbled together some lemon juice, about ¾ cup of icing sugar and some butter – when it looks like a thick sauce, you’re good to go.  Sorry Kitchen Magpie and you other superstar food bloggers, but my goal isn’t to have to run 20km the morning after (if only we had a morning after pill for this kind of night time lascivious debauchery). Plus, I didn’t have enough butter to meet the proper ratios for a gorgeous topping as I had already scraped most of it for the cake bit (see above). The meager ingredients I had on hand meant that the piping bag and tips (required to guarantee cupcake swirls, roses, flourishes etc.) got to continue hibernating in their pristine paper box.

Are you lonesome tonight?

Are you lonesome tonight?

Finally, I took the cakes out 5 minutes early as I usually prefer them moist. (In fact, I reckon lots of people prefer just eating the cake mix. Only public decency prevents them from admitting it.) Everything rose as it should. For someone who doesn’t really like cupcakes, I appreciate that there is [potential for] high aesthetic value and it can make even the most inept baker feel like opening a cupcake business. If you don’t believe me, try watching back to back episodes of 2 Broke Girls.

By the way, I did find them tasty – half a dozen somehow disappeared while watching The Interview (Kim Jong Un seems have that effect on food)- but much better with a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Vaccinating Against Chicken Pox

I hope I never have to know what chicken pox feels like. At any rate, I’m doing my best to save Petit-Homme from having to experience this unnecessary malady. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never had chicken pox despite my mother’s numerous attempts to expose me to the virus by hauling me to diseased relatives’ houses (she was a pioneer of the “pox party” before it became trendy.)

Today Petit-Homme watched the nurse stab him with the chicken pox vaccine with much curiosity but did not emit a single sound! He was rewarded with a Donald Duck plaster. Just FYI, the vaccination is not compulsory in the Netherlands (costs €55 if you insist on it). As the prescribing doctor explained it, the government conducted their cost-benefit analysis and figured that the “cost of vaccination would outweigh that of hospitalization”. Here, even measles vaccination is not mandatory and I have heard of some pitifully sick babies who went on to spread the love far and wide.

For myself, I had two options: (1) Undergo blood tests to see if I had already developed immunity to it – then return for a jab if the result was negative ; (2) Just get the vaccination. Since (1) would involve quite a few treks back and forth the clinic, only to possibly end up in the same boat, I opted for (2).

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds ...

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds …

Unfortunately, the provarivax gods were not cooperating and I was somehow unsurprised to learn that there was only one vaccine left in the entire international health clinic. (Sidebar – someone needs to do something about just-in-time delivery in NL: shops, grocery stores and pharmacies are always “out” of what you need! I’m not even kidding. Three days before our trip to Canada, Albert Heijn’s bakery was out of stroopwafel! That’s like Chinatown being out of soy sauce). I digress. I decided that Petit-Homme would get his today and I’d return later.

So, up to the second floor for the doctor’s prescription. Back down to the ground floor and a 20 minute wait for the vaccine to be dispensed. (see here for pharmacy grumbles). Then back up to the first floor for a nurse to stick it in.

Hopefully it will all go well. I’ll need to get mine ASAP as if PH does develop a mild case in 7-10 days (happens in 1-10% of people, how’s that for a vague statistic), he will be contagious and it would be unhumorously ironic if his immunization were to cause his mother to break out in spots. At any rate, I would thereafter be able to more graciously allow infested humans into my house – after having to deal with one awkward incident where a guest announced that she would be attending a party chez moi with her highly contagious baby ….

The Link Between Cooking and the Capacity to Love

Risotto and Salad A Perfect Family Meal

Risotto and Salad
A Perfect Family Meal

A wonderful New Year’s Day treat at the home of some friends in Toronto prompted me to think more deeply about the connectivity between food and love. Specifically, I have grown to believe that people who love to cook (not the same as people who just love to eat) have a huge appetite for life, fearlessness, and the ability to share. This translates for me into the capacity to love others.

On the 1st of January, we were scheduled to transit at Toronto Pearson for 9 hours. This potential nightmare of boredom and chain-espresso-drinking morphed into a most enjoyable gourmet experience when our friends offered to host us for the entire day. They whipped out prosecco & OJ, award-winning self-made wine, salmon, cheese, bagels, child-friendly squash risotto, walnut salad, crème brulee, berries, freshly ground coffee, etc., allowed us to camp in their divine guestroom, and breezed calmly through Petit-Homme’s frantic antics (involving the near breakage of a few priceless lamps).

I need me some of those fire guns ...

I need me some of those fire guns …

I started rehashing a theory I’d thought of years ago after watching my mother-in-law toil single-handedly to happily prepare feasts for huge extended families. The people I know who love to cook, love to entertain. They don’t expect anything in return (unlike some people who go to restaurants and say “this time it’s me, next time its you – or insist on splitting the check right down the middle each time), and the pleasure of your company is welcomed like a great privilege.  Many of them hold busy professional jobs but still deliberately seek out opportunities to learn and develop a craft in their kitchens. They get an immense thrill from seeing their guests/families demolish their plates, but may be secretly hurt if no appreciation is shown. Loving souls are sensitive souls. These people I know tend to welcome people with extremely open hearts and jump at the chance to share their good fortune with others, without any veneer of do-goodism. When someone says to me, “please come over for dinner”, I feel a rush of kindred emotion and admiration. Treating someone to dinner at a restaurant requires much less effort and openness (not that it is any less generous or kind, I hasten to emphasize). No messy kitchen to hide, no time crunch, no stress, no worrying about allergies or guests’ lack of teeth, no emergency run to the grocery store in an icy storm, no sweaty face and runny mascara from the steamed fish, no opening the door in your undergarments to early birdies.

I used to think I loved to cook. But when I observe true aficionados, I realize that my corner-cutting habits (crockpot, rice cooker only meals, take-out, not inviting anyone home) seemed to manifest themselves most strongly when I was feeling unable to share much of my time or headspace with anyone beyond my own little nucleus. Love-stingy days, perhaps they should be called.

So, my New Year’s Inspiration (resolution sounds too much like the old days when it was all about getting fitter, learning more languages, being abstractedly “kinder”, blah blah) is to cook up a labour of love every month (or two). I shall begin with cupcakes. You scoff at this meager goal, but I’d much rather run 10 km than bake. All that measuring, burning and deflating … I have all the gear waiting for me, piping tips, fancy ready mix. I must do this before January 31. Seriously.

Happy New Year.