ooh la la and oy vey: bringing up bebe

“NOOOOO!!! MINE!!!!” as of last week, this phrase has become a common refrain around our house. Ellie, our 18-month old who knows about 15 words, seems to know these two words the best of all. This Friday night, after a major babysitter fail, I brought Ellie to services at my synagogue. As I tried to concentrate on leading services, I heard her confidently assert this refrain as a congregant volunteer patiently tried to corral her in the hallway.  Concerned about Ellie’s seemingly impending diva-ness, I’ve taken to reading books on toddlers and their development. A big fan of the amazing resource on Jewish parenting, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, which focuses on helping kids deal with life with a positive (and Jewish) perspective, I decided to read another book on parenting by a Jewish author, Bringing up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman.

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 I’m instantly drawn to this amusing, informative, and fast read introducing American readers to the typical French parenting style. Druckerman, struggling to raise three kids under the age of three in Paris, becomes entranced by the calm, commanding and endlessly chic French mothers in her neighborhood. She begins by describing an eerily familiar dinner scene, in which her 18 month old daughter trashes the restaurant …while all the French babies around them calmly sit and eat..vegetables and fish! Although we have become very, very good tippers since Ellie arrived, I still often dread going out to eat.  Druckerman perfectly describes the harried strategy for eating out with a typical American toddler- ordering right away, cramming food into your mouth while also providing entertainment, and asking for the check with your mouth still full of food.  I was immediately entranced by her descriptions of French creches (NURTURING AND NUTRITIOUS DAY CARE provided by the state!) wherein toddlers calmly and cleanly enjoy salmon mousse with a fresh vegetable starter.

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Druckerman describes Parisian mothers who say “no” with authority and…kids who listen to them.  I’m concerned about Ellie becoming spoiled and so I appreciate many of the lessons on stricter French parenting, but at the same time I relate to Druckerman’s hesitation and anxiety about setting limits. As she puts it so beautifully, “I want my kids to be self-reliant, resilient and happy. I just don’t want to let go of their hands.”

Druckerman also briefly describes the challenge of teaching her kids about Judaism, as she decides not to allow her kids to eat pork, and she introduces them to Chanukah. She references Blessings of a Skinned Knee, and I think many of her anxieties about giving her kids more structure, both in their diets and in their behavior, would be assuaged by setting limits and providing structure within a Jewish background, as Vogel suggests. Like Vogel, Druckerman also acknowledges the importance of kids developing patience, and learning to deal with life’s disappointments. She describes French parents calmly quelling their children’s protests with the explanation, “C’est moi qui decide- It’s me who decides.” This, in addition to an important lesson about limiting snacks (Ellie’s diet is FAR too reliant on mini ritz peanut butter crackers, taken “to-go”), is something I will definitely incorporate into my fledgling bank of parenting skills. When confronted with another angry rendition of “NO…MINE!” I will try replying firmly but lovingly, “No, Ellie, that’s MY iphone…and It’s me who decides!”

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Eliana, during an angelic moment

Rose Durbin is the rabbi of Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Gloversville, NY. She and her husband Matthew, rabbi of Temple Beth El, enjoy living in Glens Falls with their chatterbox daughter Eliana and their two cats. In addition to honing her parenting skills, Rose has also recently enjoyed watching Borgias season one (for the second time) and, surprisingly,  reading another great non-fiction book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Any new reading suggestions as she begins a three-day trip, sans toddler?!?!

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