Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shhh -- Children Crossing

Going to market in Dijon

Children seem to be everywhere in Dijon.  And I don’t mean in the running-wild-will-somebody-just-shut-that-kid-up way.  They seem to be cherished, but they don’t seem to be catered to.  They’re not the center of the universe, and I find that such a welcomed relief.

While trying to raise our two kids my husband and I frequently felt like we were not just swimming against the tide but were trying to dog paddle in a bog.  We weren’t the house where all our kids’ classmates wanted to gather.  It had only one video game console instead of every one on the market – and only the games my son was willing to buy with his own money.  The bedrooms had no televisions and personal computers.

Our kids had to sit up straight at restaurants that had no children’s menu and eat what was in front of them or not eat at all (their choice).  One evening when one of my son’s friends stayed for dinner I was shocked silent when that young visitor left the table where we were eating pork tenderloin with raspberry marinade to – uninvited – scour the shelves of our refrigerator for something else to eat.  He wondered if we had any leftover pizza.  At that age I had mastered the art of choking down dinners of fish and brussel sprouts when at a friend’s house for dinner.  I had found that other children being raised by my boomer generation had never eaten any vegetable but peas because, well, they just didn’t like them and nobody made them.  Clearly they didn’t grasp my own youngsters’ love of turnip greens.

We listened for about ten years to “Everyone else is doing it “ and knew that in our corner of parentdom our own kids weren’t exaggerating.  Many classmates were getting to go on unaccompanied spring breaks, have prom parties in hotel rooms rented by parents, leave household chores to the weekly cleaning lady, return late to school after Christmas because family vacations took priority over class time.

While sitting at my favorite tea salon in Dijon this week (read about the salon here) I saw a familiar sight.  Like ducklings paddling close behind Mama, string after string of nursery school students would pass through the crowded market day crowd, making not a sound but keeping up with their leader.  They all held hands.  They all wore the ubiquitous summer sunbonnets of various ilk.  Some wore fluorescent yellow safety vests just in case they got separated, I suppose.

The square was filled with children wearing sun hats, some even with sunglasses.  They were comfortably holding hands with parents, grandparents, and each other.  They were talking quietly, even if excitedly, as they made their way to or from the carousel that dominated the square.  They were helping to carry the groceries and holding the dog leashes.

No, I’m not saying that this is a nation of perfect children.  I’m sure teenagers frequently scream that their parents are ruining their lives.  And I’m sure that more than once a toddler had drawn on the wall with crayons or a child has refused to go to bed when told.  However, I can also report that no restaurant meal of mine has been interrupted by crying kids or 3-year olds left to run around the room so parents could eat in peace.  I’ve never seen any child have a public meltdown in the grocery store.  In fact, on an average day I rarely hear a child’s voice (even on a bus) because they seemed to be trained to speak doucement (softly) from an early age.

Yet the children are everywhere.

The French have written books on how to dress, how not to get fat, how to run a country, why their language is so magnificent.  Perhaps they would be so kind as to translate into English one on how to raise seemingly perfectly obedient children.  Does it involve large amounts of wine and chocolate?  Why are they keeping this singular part of their “perfect” French culture all to themselves?

Meanwhile, I’ll just smile at all the sunbonnets for the rest of this month.

What are your best/worst children in public stories?  If you’re a parent how did you make your children “ready for primetime” when they were younger?  Share your stories in the comments box.


Annie Boreson said...

I find that children in Europe are treated a little differently than other places. Like you are finding, they are everywhere and well-mannered. Yes, if someone has written a book on why this seems to be the case and the secret to well-behaved kids, I would like to know. Love the photos and your observations!

Unknown said...

Lovely post and such gorgeous pictures. It *is* hard to raise your children against the grain. My son is afraid to invite people because we don't have a Wii.

Muriel said...

Hi there! I am actually French, but I live in London -I found you on She Writes. I have to admit that I am not sure that I agree with the way you describe my fellow countrymen. French mums are just like American mums -rushing everywhere, having no time, trying to do their best!
Oh, and French women DO get fat. Sigh. Love your blog. Will come back!

Julie Farrar said...

But they seem to do all that and still have well-behaved children. Nothing like young American children. I was hoping you'd have the secret for us. Come back and visit more.

Muriel said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my post Julie...Again, I am not sure that we French women have any secrets to bring kids up (I wish). We are just doing what we can...just like everybody else!

Julie Farrar said...

I believe you're a little more patient, Muriel. I think Americans can be impatient in all things.

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