Je chausse, tu chausses, elle chausse …

October 27, 2009

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that.

The prosaic truth is that I’ve been busy – but also that (and this will shock everyone except you) the more interesting stuff Piaf does, the more time I spend dealing with the fall-out from said interesting stuff, and the less time I have to write about it. 

The main interesting things she’s been doing recently are looking cute and screaming. 

The cuteness angle she covers by being naturally pretty (yes, I’m biased, but other people say it too, even people who I suspect don’t really like me that much), wearing the wide array of impossibly posh clothes we never seem to stop buying her, adjusting woolly hats at rakish angles, jumping, and saying things like, “come on, daddy!” when you least expect it. A doddle, in other words.

 The screaming has been much more of a learned behaviour and one senses that she has put some real work into it, but it is nonetheless a very polished performance. 

She is stubborn, you see. Neither maman nor I can work out where she gets it from. (“She does like her own way,” said her nursery school teacher this morning. “So do I,” I said.) 

This morning was all about the shoes.

 Since our return from Lille, Piaf has become something of a dab hand at footwear. Her new “Charlotte aux Fraises” slippers – no trouble. Her new pink wellies with the flowers and the Japanese girls – such a breeze she cannot even be bothered to use the handles provided. Her old gold Clarks with the light-up soles – almost an insult to her intelligence. 

However, the latter, as well as starting to pinch the tiniest bit, disgraced themselves in Lille by flooding when plunged into a puddle (hence the trip to the welly shop) and have now been replaced with a much more robust shoe, purple in colour, and with a tongue. 

As Piaf has no experience of shoes with tongues, and because I hate to see her fail when I could help her to succeed, I decided that I would help her to put them on.


She said “no”; I said “si.” She pulled; I hung on. She pulled harder; I gripped. She let go and started to cry; I stood my ground. 

End of Round 1. 

As she rolled on the floor like an Italian striker, I said what I usually say in these situations; “tu me diras quand tu seras prête, hein?” When she seemed calm, I asked her if she was, indeed, ready. She was; but, as soon as it became clear that I had not given up on my evil plan to prevent her from spending an hour struggling with a purple shoe, Round 2 began. 

The final round saw her so furious, tired and sad that she was the same colour as the shoes, beyond words, screaming like Noddy Holder with his hand in a vice, while I struggled not to lose it and start crying (in my defence, she had woken up much earlier than usual and we were a little bit worried that she might be ill, so by this stage I couldn’t be 100% sure that it really was a tantrum and not, say, black, searing and mysterious agony.) Incidentally, by this stage, both shoes were actually on; she was not only beyond words, but beyond facts.

A dummy broke the deadlock. With the dummy came calm, and with calm she allowed herself to be picked up and cuddled, and with the cuddle came the reminder that face-offs come and go, but we fundamentally adore each other. 

Still both subdued, we made our way to nursery. As I signed her in, I heard her in the other room. She was laughing out loud. So much for emotional damage.

I would do it again like a sot, of course, because I cannot stand the thought of the alternative – a child who cannot stand not to get her own way, but also a child who never really has fun or learns anything because everything is just so hard and discouraging when you face it completely alone.

The other thing that struck me was that our life – I mean, specifically mine and hers – is bounded, to an unusual degree, by language. So much of what we do is guided, modified, sometimes even wholly driven by questions, not of practicality, but of the development of spoken communication.

And yet there are still so many parts of her life where, for want of a better expression, language simply does not work, where what she wants, thinks, feels is literally inexplicable through words. Not just because we speak French – she still mixes languages with both of us, English is still dominant overall, and yet she did not even attempt to explain what she wanted in either language. She just screamed.

To push the idea maybe too far, my early feelings about using French with her – could it really do the job, could I fully express myself, would I cope in extremis? – are very much like her current feelings about language in general. She remains sceptical that it is up to scratch. 

Until I can convince her that I am right and she is wrong – about anything at all, let alone about this – the Slade impersonations will continue, I fear. 

Come on – feel the noise!


7 Responses to “Je chausse, tu chausses, elle chausse …”

  1. Khlari said

    Eh bien, et elle ne se dechausse pas encore??? t’as de la chance…..!

  2. Dan said

    err…. Oui?

    I can barely converse in English never mind french. However I can speak the international language of tantrum.

  3. Kristin said

    Came across your blog quite by accident and I love your stories. My fiance is French and I am anglophone and I can relate (although without a toddler in the mix) to occasional obstacles caused by language.

    As far as the tantrums go, bon courage!

    • papaetpiaf said

      Glad you like it and thanks for the wishes – although I am beginning to suspect it’s more a case of “bonne continuation” …

  4. […] notice (probably because I hadn’t read the article) and now, as her crying is of the sort of Ground Zero tantrum variety I have described previously , I cannot make out either language and have forgotten how to interpret non-linguistic […]

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