The Essentials


Dear kids,


I saw this photo this morning, and it got me thinking about what I, as your mother, feel it’s my job to teach you about life. About what to appreciate.


Aside from the basics of keeping you fed, bathed, clothed, giving you a warm place to sleep, and hugs and kisses, and making decisions about your health and well-being, these are the things that I wish to impart to you :


-An appreciation for books and reading. I feel this is important for all the education years that lie ahead of you. I would love it if you developed a love of reading for pleasure, but even if it doesn’t continue after your higher education years, I still feel that reading will get you far through these years to come. So I insist on reading time, reading books every night before bed. We make trips to the local public library for French books, and trips to the American Library for story hour.


This is especially important during this age of screen time, and I struggle with this a lot. It’s so easy to stick you in front of Dora or the iPad. And I’m also a big fan of the screen, so I think the thing it’s my job to teach you is to balance it all out. The pleasure of reading while curled up in bed, and the pleasure of relaxing in front of the TV with the whole family.


-An appreciation for nature, as well as physical activity. Taking walks in the woods, sitting by the sea when we can get there, getting our feet dirty in summer. I’ve never been a sports person, so I’ve decided it’s not my job to teach you to play soccer, but I do want you to appreciate the joys of a nice walk, a slow walk or a brisk walk.


-Giving you free time to be bored. Not over-scheduled. There’s a fine line for that for me, because there are a few things that are really important to me that you do. English, for one, you will need to have extracurricular English. Swimming classes are another, and music and dance are a third. But I also want time for you to just sit and ponder, to stare out the window, to pick up some crayons and start drawing, or to make up stories. Again, I’m not sure I’m doing such a great job of this, but it’s the goal.


-Teaching you to appreciate food. I think we do OK in this department. There’s room for improvement, but I love that you get excited about fresh fruit and cheese for dessert, or that you will gobble down coconut tofu with brown rice. I also love how much you appreciate your 4pm cookie snack. That’s the key, is teaching you the balance, that everything has its place.


I love that you love picnics, and enjoying a hot chocolate in a cafe.


-Teaching you to pick up after yourself. Again, I’m not the best role model for that, but, well kids, do as I say, not as I do. Also basic manners: saying hello and thank you, table manners, offering your seat to elderly people, holding doors etc.


-Taking you traveling, on adventures in our neighborhood, showing you the great art museums of Paris, taking you to children’s theatre. Whether you like it or not is not the point, but I wish to teach you to be curious and open-minded, and up for adventure.


-An appreciation of the seasons, of lying in the grass in summer, watching leaves fall in autumn, moving inward in winter, staring in wonder as the flowers begin to bloom in spring again.


-To cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I am just now learning this, but I think expressing gratitude at the end of the day (or beginning !) can do wonders for mental health. I have started asking you what your favorite thing about today was. I hope we can continue with this.





The things I don’t think I need to do, or should not be doing, are :


-solving your conflicts for you. It’s our job as parents to teach you to manage conflicts, and definitely to stand up for yourself and defend yourself, but not to come running every time I hear yelling. I’m trying more and more, whenever you two start squabbling, to stand back and let you resolve it. Not always so easy, especially when your caveman instincts start coming out, but I don’t think I’m doing you any favors by always jumping in.


-Not always helping you get up when you fall. Assessing whether there’s blood or not, and then let you pick yourself up. You will always get a cuddle though if you need it, but I need to try not to coddle you every time you fall.


-We also need to let you fall, to put you in situations that test your abilities, even though that means you might fall and bruise and scrape yourself, or maybe even more than that. This one is hard for me, just last week Son, we had a lovely morning in the playground at the Jardin du Luxembourg, and you climbed too high on one of the structures, and couldn’t get down. I was watching you and wanting to let you climb higher, to test yourself, but then I saw that it was too high for you. Finding that limit is still a challenge for me.


What did you want as a child? A quiet environment. Freedom from chaos and conflict. A window seat, a view, and a pad and pencil. Some music. The chance to make mistakes without anyone caring. The chance to chew on some blades of grass and stick beans in your ears. Books to read. A Saturday movie. French fries. Nothing mysterious, nothing theoretical. Can’t you extrapolate from this vision of your ideal childhood, exactly how to parent?” Eric Maisel, “A Writer’s San Francisco”


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