Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Mamies of Montmartre

For the first few months of Colette's life I was nervous about leaving the house. I would hover above the changing table hesitating about what she should wear. The long sleeved onsie or the short sleeved one? Pants? Socks? The wooly hat or the sun bonnet? Would she be too hot? Too cold? I would end up  jamming several additional and almost always unnecessary accessories into my purse then finally head out the door.

One might attribute these jitters to new-mommy-syndrome and concern about the well being of my new baby but in fact it was a fear based reaction to the glaring (thus caring) grannies of Montmartre. My neighborhood is a mecca for old people. Lord only knows why, considering that there are more steep slopes, craggily cobblestones and steps in our part of town than in any other arrondissement, but be that as it may, Montmartre is packed with Mamies, Grannies. The Mamies of Montmartre have appointed themselves as the monitors of safety. They roam the streets, markets and parks looking for unsuspecting young mothers who may have misjudge the meteorological micro-climate of Montmartre or underestimated the infinitely delicate nature of their child's tender neck skin, and they pounce.

I was attacked once while doing my shopping. There we were, Coco in her sling and I looking over the selection of oranges at the vegetable stand when out of the corner of my I a see a sweet old lady saddling up to us. It all starts off well, she brushes Coco's cheek with her nobly finger and tells me what a beautiful child I have made. But after a few minutes of cooing and ooing and ahhing she strikes, "Bit of a breeze today [raises her eyebrows and sighs as she looks disapprovingly at Coco's obviously too thin cotton onesie] don't you find it breezy?"With her one sing-songy question she clearly called into question my ability to parent and alerted all other grannies with in earshot to the problem.

Mamie number two, who was minding her own business near the lettuces, heard the alert mamie number one set off and hobbled over to supply back up. She took things to the next level by addressing Coco directly, "Oh yes my little cabbage, I bet those arms are as cold as can be! Your mommy really should have planned ahead for these weather conditions." NOTE: It was August. It was sunny and 75. Yes, there was a slight breeze. Now cornered in the stall I saw no way out. It was early days so I did not have a sweatshirt, sunscreen, scarf, and tank-top stuffed into my purse, so against my honest opinion which was that it was not in fact breezy enough to warrant a sweater, I agreed with them. "Mmm. Oui. It IS a little breezy. Come on Coco let's get these oranges and head back home where it's nice and warm." Score one team mamie.

For months the sweet-sour voices of the Mamies of Montmartre would ring in my ears: "Ohh petit amour you look hot in there!" "Oh oh oh you are so cute but your mother doesn't love you very much otherwise she wouldn't leave your little head exposed to the sun now would she?" "Mmm what a little darling she is. Isn't she cold? You know we are in September now." "What an adorable hat, too bad it doesn't cover her pretty little ears."

I took weeks of trying to answer the question "But what will mamie say?" before I finally figured out that there is no pleasing them. No need to keep score. Team Mary will never win. It is just as likely that I am going to be scolded for having Coco in too many layers as it it that I am going to be chided for exposing her to the cold. So now when I leave the house I simply dress her as well as I can and hope for the best.


Matt said...

Ha! So true. I'll never forget the stares and mumbles when Kilobo rode the subway on J+3.

Sam said...

This is so funny. I can totally picture all of the fussing over the baby in such a kind way while attacking your parenting skills. They just want you to be the best mom in Montmarte I guess. So at their core, the mammies are very kind and have extremely noble intentions.

I have a question for you, Madamee Bouron... I just started my exchange program in France and I'm feeling very homesick and totally lost in the language. How long did it take you to acquire enough skill to understand what everyone was saying to you? I've had three and a half years of lessons on French but never have I been completely immersed like this... do you have any advice? haha thank you!!!

Madame Bouron said...

Eee! Sam! Sorry for my tardy reply to your lovely little comment.

When I did my study abroad back in high school (after two-ish years of schoolroom French) it took me from my arrival in September until Christmas time to feel comfortable with the language.

My host family lived in the teeny tiny town of Quiberon which is way way out in the countryside of Bretagne. I was at first not thrilled with this news that I would be living in a place with more cows that people but it turns out that their remote location meant that I was the only American for miles. This my friend, is what enabled me to learn French quickly and assimilate, I was tossed in the deep end and forced to make friends with the French and speak French all day because they were the only people around.

So my advice to you is to avoid your fellow international students like the plague. Glom on to any French person that seems reasonably nice and talk talk talk.

Oh... and get yourself a French boyfriend.



Class factotum said...

I learned a great new word yesterday: "sanctimommy." It could easily be adapted to "sanctimamie!"