The newest "it" book for parents-in-the-know is Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.The book's thesis—that American parents could learn a lot from their French counterparts—has sparked much passionate debate among my fellow parents. In this exclusive guest blog post, Druckerman recounts the challenges of being an American mom raising a daughter in Paris, and how she balances her desire to impart some of her own culture, without trying to recreate a Yankee childhood on the banks of the Seine.
But as I discuss in my book, Bringing Up Bébé, making Bean (her nickname) feel American is a lot of work. Since my husband is British, it all falls on me. I begin picking off certain holidays, based mainly on the amount of cooking each one requires.
Thanksgiving is out. Halloween is a keeper. Fourth of July is close enough to Bastille Day (July 14) that I sort of feel like we’re celebrating both. I don’t know what constitutes “American” food, but I’m strangely adamant that Bean should like tuna melts.
They key to infusing Bean with that American je ne sais quoi seems to be reading American kids’ books to her. They’re different from the French ones. In the American books there’s usually a problem, a struggle to fix the problem, and then a cheerful resolution. The spoon wishes that he was a fork, but eventually realizes how swell it is to be a spoon. Lessons are learned, and life gets better.
This is also true in many children’s songs. I notice how deliriously hopeful I sound when I sing to Bean about how, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands and, when we’re watching a DVD of the musical Annie, how the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Problems have solutions, and prosperity is around the corner.
French kids books start with a similar structure. There’s a problem, and the characters struggle to overcome that problem. But they seldom succeed for very long. Often the book ends with the protagonist having the same problem again.
One of Bean’s favorite French books is about Alice and Eliette, who are best friends. Alice is always being bossed around by Eliette. One day, Alice decides she can’t take it anymore and stops playing with Eliette. There’s a long, lonely standoff. Finally Eliette comes to Alice’s house, begging her pardon and promising to change. A page later, the girls are playing doctor and Eliette is trying to jab Alice with a syringe. Nothing has changed; the end.
Not all French kids’ books end this way, but a lot of them do. The message is that endings don’t have to be tidy to be happy, and that there aren’t bad guys and good guys: each of us has a bit of both. Eliette is bossy, but she’s also lots of fun. Alice is the victim, but she seems to ask for it, and she goes back for more.
Which narrative will Bean absorb? The adults I know who grew up in France, with American parents, tell me that they feel American when they’re in France, and French when they’re in America. I think I’ll have to compromise on something similar. I laugh when Bean tells me that a boy in her class likes Speederman—complete with a guttural “r”—instead of Spiderman. But I draw the line when she claims that the seven dwarfs sing “Hey ho,” as they do in the French voice-over.
Luckily, it turns out that bits of American culture are irresistibly catchy. As I’m walking Bean to school one morning, through the glorious medieval streets of our neighborhood, she suddenly starts singing “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow.” We sing it together all the way to school. My hopeful little American girl is still in there. Oklahoma, however, is somewhere behind the couch.
A free sample excerpt from this book is available for download on the product page now!
NOOK owners: go to shop and search for “Pamela Druckerman” to download her books.
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