NQPAOFU 6-20 October 2000 special issue: serious parenting ahead, week deux (week one)

Parenting Ahead week two

What went before... running a two week single parent household seemed like a Subject Worthy of Logging, for 4 reasons which I don't repeat here. Well... 'single parenting'... single parenting deluxe, that is. With all the advice and preparation the Mother did before she left, this can't compare in any way to the real struggle. Also, we've been playing our parts pretty damn organized and equally divided for over seven years now, so I know how to fry an egg. Single parenting hardly, but Parenting Ahead, for sure.

My sister raises 4 kids by herself, 3 boys and a girl, from the moment she got separated from their father—at the time they were age 2, 6, 10 and 13 or there about. She knows about single parenting. I can only dedicate this exercise to her,

to Rienke, with love

13 October 2000

David Thomas, Pere Ubu, 'Story of my Life':

I was born in Miami, Florida, in Nineteen-Hundred-
First thing I did was crack the back of my head on the floor
I stepped on a bee when I was four
I slammed the door of a '57 Chevy on my hand when I was six
Little did I know that darker clouds were gathering
on the horizon of my life.
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story of my life

Later on, messing around in the backyard—
I was nine—
I stumbled onto the secret of Anti-Gravity
"It's such a simple trick," I said to myself
"I hope I can remember"
Instinctively, I knew that trouble...
And I spell that with a "T"...
I knew that trouble was bound to come
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story...
That's the story of my life

Still later, I met a girl named Sue
Only daughter of the football coach
I liked her
I think she liked me
The family moved to Toronto
Naively, I said to myself
"Why, that's the story of my life!"

That's the story of my life

David Thomas at 9 in anti-gravity research
illustration from the CD leaflet, by Peter Blegvad
little David stumbled onto the secret of Anti-Gravity

One last day before the week-end is here, with a no-school Saturday and an even less-school Sunday—but for the homework, which we'll spread evenly over both days. I have no project thought out. The weather forecast is good. There's the Saturday market, for biological fruit and cheeses. And the best saucisson à l'ail. And Delphine of Le Mazot. And Mme. Seutin of the farm up hill (not the Grange). The Saturday market is when and where we meet and kiss, especially in the winter, when it is almost as small as only featuring the above and one or two vegetable stands. At the café R+r can call the waitress 'Mami', which means as much as 'granny'. It's small. And we kiss a lot.

Roemer theorizes on growth and sleep today. First he suggests at wake up time that if you don't go to school you won't become a grown-up. I'm quick to agree: let's get dressed pronto and go to school and learn to be a grown up. No no no. Kids get so impatient if you're dumb. School is where you celebrate your birthday and no birthdays means no progress and not growing up. His idea about sleep, tonight, follows a same simple logic: if you would sleep several days in a row, skipping even school (risking not to grow up, I'd say, after this morning's lesson, but his theories are not related) after a long sleep like that, you wouldn't have to sleep anymore. It all adds up, that's exactly what it does. Roemer also says 'onbetelbaar', mixing up the Dutch words for uncountable ('ontelbaar') and unpayable ('onbetaalbaar'). And he is onbetelbaar serious when he thinks this stuff out, very slowly and precisely formulating.

When they return from school I'm late at the bus stop and find them in Cathérine's car, just about to drive off to the Moulin. They change cars and meet Patrick and Florence and their big fat sticky chocolate cake, and my sweet and buttery tarte tatin all gathered in the kitchen. Guess what's for tea and for diner and for breakfast tomorrow. It's the week-end and we're halfway ahead and we're being bad. Bad!

Rolf is working on a drawing in Photoshop which' title is The Diamonds. I hope to have it on display tomorrow. It's unfinished. When he goes to bed he asks me to save it frequently. Like if a 'save' would wear off. I'm pretty sure it does, I like the philosophy of it because it supports my infatuation with decay, but I guess he must have witnessed my saving all the time when working on documents like this. It's a habit that came with the frequent power cuts. Save.

14 October 2000

I sleep in till 9. Nine? 9:07 is what the alarm sez. Where's R+r? I remember it going off at 7:15 and they were both next to me. They're probably collés to the television since... I allow them to watch Digimon and Pokémon and decide for an outing to the city, immediately afterwards. So I have them swear to me to get dressed and be out of here within 10 minutes, after Pokémon. We have a deal. No more mystery cooking from yesterday's assorted leftovers (the 'butter, feltpens, old sneaker, left-over chocolate cake, selected bits of Judith's Treasure, inevitable paperclip and precious stones' I found in the kitchen yesterday night) which I had planned to work into some sort of demi-consumable clump today (Medusa's Moon style). Today's entertainment day, passive. You're never passive around kids anyway.

The idea to go to Auxerre rises after Francine phones in and reminds me of the Fête du Livre today and tomorrow. I guess it will be more of a programmed thing in Auxerre than in St. Germain des Bois, where the library only opens one afternoon a week and the bibliobus passes once every two months or so, to refresh the offer. Presciently we brought our own library when we moved, with quite some unread material in it. But Auxerre has a McDonalds, which is still comparatively rare in France. We're in-between two of them. The other is in Nevers. It is 60kms either way. And they have figurines with their Happy Meals, Action Man branded. Do I love to over-compensate — parenting-wise. Nevers we visited more often than Auxerre, so that's how we decide.

R+r do collaborate convincingly and are out within a jiffy. All dressed down, shirts hanging from their trousers, shoelaces untied, zippers half closed, no jacket ('it's not cold, it doesn't rain'... who would argue that). So we grab the lacking material, take two bottles of water from the shelf (which will come in handy, as the story will show. Every parent knows water always comes in handy. Have water, will travel). We'll soon hit the city en Fête.

The first street we choose shows major cultural activity. Street theatre, so it seems. About eight to ten adult French dressed in scotched together garbage bags, burlap sacks, and ropes around them to keep stuff up, like the bra one of the women has made out of two mineral water bottle tops with bright blue screw on nipples. Not unlike our own bottles (the ones that will come in handy), as R+r remark ('pap, die ene vrouw heeft twee tieten van flessedoppen gemaakt' here shows their Amsterdam years haven't been wasted). I think: these people look a bit like the clumps I imagined our mystery cooking to produce. One policeman at the corner to redirect the traffic, around the spectacle. Eleven bystanders. 14 now. What goes on? They recite a text while chalking it on the street. Lire en Fête. Thank god for McDonalds. Glad I'm not a tax payer in this country yet, ha ha ha. But there's more. We visit the Monoprix, where I forget to buy a new sweater but R+r enjoy extensive reading in the book corner and playing in the toy aisles. Like later at the Géant supermarket (26 cashiers). In the street we spot a sweets stand. They have Barbe à Papa: candy floss! Time to redeem an old promise. Now we have to get back to the car, back to the water. They get stickier with every bite. I pour an entire botttle of Badoit over them and we're ready for McDonalds. After some shopping for tomorrow's lunch. Something extremely healthy chockfull of vitamins.

Out of four possible different items McDo, as it is called here (pronounced McDuh), hands out exactly the right paraglider sporting figurine this week. We're lucky. I foresee odd spots to recover these dangerous airborne figurines, but that's for later. We force in some food (you don't go here for food, but prefer Burger King for that, at least in A.), visit the playground and head home. I make a giant bowl of fresh fruit Bulgarian yoghurt and cereals for diner. They love it. I say to bed. They do it. I read them some pages. They play with their action men. I go down and crash in front of the television. I zap the five channels our roof top antenna grants us. Stick with a documentary on an archaeological find in Kazakhstan, a frozen Scythe grave. Then I alternate between Le plus grand cabaret du monde (Magic? Who can tell?) and some musical show. Why looks everything so French? There's too much talk. Like the street theatre this afternoon. I'm entertained anyhow.

Them come down at 10:30 to say sorry we're still around but can we go into your bed? Love their blackmail.

15 October 2000

Happy birthday Ma. I love you too. My mother died in 1984 at the age of 61. It's the worst thing that ever happened to me, against some fierce competition. Gil found me sitting on top of the stairs, helpless. Yet only when I write out the date, I'm thinking of her. Wonder if I would have gotten her online... Not only didn't she live to see R+r, the Internet wasn't on the public horizon either. Nor was the Moulin. She would have loved it here, making her watercolours in the land. OK. Thank you again Yfke—you're so much part of who I am and why I'm here today.

to the rescue
Rolf's Action Man disappears at a most unlikely spot, indeed: it lands on top of the mantle of the salon's fireplace. We don't see it anymore from the floor. I'm afraid the mantle is hollow (wooden construction) and it dropped down. Rolf wants me to lift him to stand on a rim. I'd better get a ladder. Mr. Action Man is still there, stuck by his wings, but indeed the mantle is hollow. We're just lucky that it didn't drop down.

I finish yesterday's entry, while R+r build a Duplo train track in their room. There's plenty free floor space now. Earlier today it needed some reorganisation. I took care of that. If you wait for them, that's long. A short description: from door to door via the windows you have this thick tapestry of toys out of which only the bed sticks out, also covered with books and plastic. You're not allowed to remove a single item, 'cause they were 'just about to start playing with it'. They want to bathe in possibilities. And everything is related to everything else. There's one grand plan that connects all the pieces, the brands and the brandless, the bought and the given, the made and the fabricated, the found and the kept, the broken and the repaired and the brand new, the natural and the industrial—there's a thousand threads connecting every single item in an imaginative networked narrative of boys belief. Which fortunately is indestructible and self replicating. Like when you take away some parts and put them in their proper boxes and return these to the proper shelf, immediately the network adapts itself, new relations are formed and there it functions as before. Lucky belief, boys belief.

In the afternoon we do pizza and homework, while Roemer draws treasure maps in black, red and silver. Rolf has to memorize another ten (##51-60) of his 340 word to be vocabulary. He knows for sure which mistakes he will make tomorrow. So I tell him to pay attention to those traps in the first place. "But I'll lose courage if I doubt." I tell him the first thing to learn is not to lose courage, right? He says: "trying is the most important thing in learning." Very right. Never lose the courage to try, follow that intuition. We talk about the downward spiral of losing courage, failing, loosing more courage, failing more. "But doesn't everyone lose courage once or twice in a lifetime?" he asks me. Once or twice? Of course. You're smart. Don't lose courage.

"Instinctively, I knew that trouble... And I spell that with a "T"... I knew that trouble was bound to come.'

We repeat Nick Cave's Boatman's Call: Rolf thinks it "beautiful but lonesome". I roast the chestnuts Florence brought us from the tree outside their house at Grange Treillard. We take them with salt. The atmosphere is totally peaceful. Outside is grey and dark and silent autumn. We're in the kitchen peeling the marrons. Roemer peels me one. He loves to give a present. Like the drawing he gave Florence and Patrick the other day. Or the leaves he handed them at their own place, when we visited last Wednesday. The peace has all the senses beaming 'happiness' to the brain—we're in sync, we're well fed, we're sensing balance and we're getting all the right stimuli. Good senses.

Later we practice Écriture Automatique and frottage.

16 October 2000

We're anticipating the Mother's return. Old friends Hans and Rini will drive her down and stay some days. So the place better be ready. After H+R we'll have two more guests, followed by 11 girls from Amsterdam for a long week-end, then our accountant and after I'll be off for Doors of Perception and other NL work related. The end of parenting? It won't be as concentrated anymore as we have it these two weeks—I'd better enjoy it as long as I can.

Though today nothing much happens. They go to school. They return from school, 8'45" later. I do the chickens and some light household tasks. I don't feel like the Big Operation yet. That'll be Thursday. Now I work a bit, read a bit. It's more for NQPAOFU: John Berger's And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. At noon I'm with Rob de Kat, who financed the 80FF purchase of my Mobylette, without knowing me. He and his friend Tanja bought a house 30km South, or upstream, not on the Beuvron but on a hill with a view off the blue Morvan hills. Very pretty. They are near an 'Étang du Merle', which is said to have a Moulin du Merle too, but I don't check that out. He moved some stuff for us and I move his bed upstairs with him. We have lunch and I go home. Just in time for our bus.

Today is crèpes for dinner. All three of us are tired. We make fun with Pootjes, who comes in from the rain and needs a lot of attention, like this morning when he sat on my mousemat and wouldn't move. We all need a lot of attention. So we stretch on the floor and lay on top of each other and are very physical all afternoon and evening until I warm their blankets over the radiator til they're real hot and tuck them in to read them a long story. I go down, switch on the tv to find Stéphane Audran and Marie Trintignant in what looks like a recent thing on adultery and marital crises (search reveals that it is Claude Chabrol's 1992 'Betty'), with lots of smoking and J&C downing. Most of it performed in the Trianon de Versailles Hotel. Just what I need, French bourgeois drama. Rolf comes in twice—that's what I don't need. The second time he witnesses a flashback rape scene in some wine cellar against a Duchampian bottlerack with jingling bottles. I have some trouble to answer his question what the guy and the girl and the bottlerack are doing, without making it too complicated. Also, he understands his French and picks up what is said to the witnessing young Betty (who as an adult is played by Marie Trintignant). That she better not tell anyone about what she just saw. Rolf goes to bed after I promise to take him with me in my bed when I go up. I certainly will. But don't tell anyone.

17 October 2000

So last night when I went to sleep I put Pootjes outside with some food and carried both Rolf and Roemer into my bed with me. They always search for each other when they wake up (mumbling, eyes closed, 'Rolf...', 'Roemer...'—they do talk in their sleep too) and I don't want them to have to guess where the other is, when they half wake up in the middle of the night or early morning. Also I do this to please myself: I love to share my bed with them. I'll do the same tonight. And tomorrow night.

When I check they're both well asleep. It is 10:30pm. I wander aimlessly through the house. Arranging things here and there. Taking them back and forth. Wonder how long I could continue this parenting by myself. It is a lot of work, but the habit grows on you, routines develop, R+r are more collaborative than when they have two parents around, which they can play out against each other. I couldn't handle a full job next to it, but I can write, do correspondences, fix the house here and there, cook, bake, freeze. I would need some household help, for sure, but that's more due to the size of the place, than to the single parenting. More importantly I'd need company. You want to share raising kids, on a regular and intimate basis. In a city you have more bystanders and caretakers than where we are now. They need to have a lot of different grown-ups around, to get to know them, and we want to marvel at them, and share them with other people. I'm pretty sure they benefit by having male and female everyday reference, throughout all the habits, throughout all the rituals and routines, from wake-up to going to bed. I'm happy there's Corinne and Cathérine and Marie-Christine, the other mothers. And the teachers, Madame Fanet (Roemer) and Madame Valet (Rolf). Funny: I wrote that down without thinking twice: other mothers. I feel as much a mother as a father. I know part of R+r relates to me because I'm male, just like them. They expect certain boyish pranks from me and behave differently towards me as towards their mother, or other mothers. Yet, I feel quite mom-ish the way I go about.

- (...) Rediscovering how lovely it is to be parented, to let my father help me build bookcases and hang pictures, to let my mother make chicken soup and to let them take care of me. (...) Now that I no longer have to prove myself adult in their eyes, I can allow myself, occasionally, not to be.
(Judith Zissman, on calamondin.com, sixteen October 2000)

It's getting late. I pop out the "Un Prince à L'école" CD-rom, out of the Performa, to insert Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. It was at their concert in the Hague that my brother in law Piet confided me that he was seeing another woman since some time. Shortly after he told the mother of his two kids, sister to the Mother of R+r. Isn't life confusing? He had to yell it into my ear to get over the Beastie boom. His daughters are at 20 meters from us. You don't want your parents to go to your concerts, or do you? I didn't, but that was 1969. You don't want them to boast their adultery at your concerts for one.

Like with Judith and her parents, or most people I know, and their parents, there's approaches and alienation. The latter seems yet far away for us, but must be hard to deal with, once it shows. Now still, R+r want to live forever with us, their parents, who will never grow old, or die. Promise.

18 October 2000

After late last night's brooding, today is sort of the Grand Finale, or the Last Try Out before tomorrow's Première: receiving the returning Mother at dinner time. We are all collaboration at 8am. At 4pm we still haven't got anything done. We practise our Razor scootering in the hall. In typical just follow daddy bravura I manage to throw my leg over the steer and back to the board while riding! Good trick! Now the other leg. Bravo! Now one after another in one same glide. Kaboom, I find ze kitchen door closed. We do all the known curls and bends. Roemer's more like a kamikaze pilot, drilling the silver bird into walls and hall objects. Rolf is careful, elegant and precise, but less spectacular and easy to give up. In a next attempt to get near to where the hard work is waiting, we go upstairs and look around the bedrooms. Hm. I start in one corner of theirs, R+r in the other. I pick up things and try to sort them. They empty crates and try to mix things at approximately the same pace. A mountain emerges in the middle of the room. Let's go shopping then. We need some food for tonight and for tomorrow, all the basics have been depleted. At Auchan we don't hesitate and buy big. Finally R+r take me to the Halloween corner and show me a skeleton print suit. They want it. It is age 8-10 ...but so much nicer than the age 3-7 suit, which has this plain white flat print. This print is real fat, with a skull penchant going with it. Please... At home they try it on. Rolf needs to roll up the bony legs and arms a bit, but otherwise looks good in it. Roemer wil have to wait for Halloween 2003. That's ok with him. He wouldn't even have minded had I decided not to buy it. He liked a screaming skull with red blinking LED eyes far better anyway. It even came at the same price.

It is 6:30pm. Rolf still has his homework to do. Roemer wants to watch a video. I again gather 3 eggs when locking up the volaille with some food, to proceed to the kitchen. 'Write ten times cirque, cinq and chienne' Madame Valet wrote in Rolf's schedule. I grill three small steaks, cook broccoli (which they haven't had for months since we only harvested from our garden) and line up three Nestlé Duo Mousses for desert.

Roemer fades out while I read them the story that he had picked, entitled 'The young Englishman', actually a trained well-behaved orang utan, that fools a small provincial town with his faux German and neat dancing. Today I notice R+r's faux Dutch: they start translating French into Dutch in their everyday parlance. There's no accent yet, but they construct their sentences differently, and use other words than they would otherwise. And their dancing has been fooling people all along.

19 October 2000

The bus disappears in the direction of Ouagne. Rolf is in it. Not Roemer, who decided for the first time in two weeks to take the second tour. We discuss how he''ll spend his extra hour. TV, computer or Lego. To my surprise he chooses the latter and goes back up to his room. I bring another food item after him. When his bus disappears in the direction of Thurigny, I start counting.

Un, deux, trois, quatre... wonder how long I have to keep on counting with my eyes closed before the fairies have cleaned up the house. I decide to start top down, unlike my usual approach in matters. The attic is fine. But how come I haven't found the time to finish the plaster and paint job here? I find the vacuum machine and take it one flight down. Here I sense serious work, 'and with a "W" I spell that'. In the guest room there's five machines worth of laundry on the bed. I sort and distribute it. There's something about the room that I don't like. Whenever I clean up I'm seriously challenged by an urgency to redecorate. We've always been known for our compulsory rearranging. See whether my latest skill, the infallible 90CW, is applicable here. Nah. I have two French windows and a fireplace on three walls. Leave the bed where it is. This room is one of the finest in the house, for light and view. But it seems a bit underdecorated. It needs a touch of Nest. I drag the dumb 10" thick high gloss slice of a tree on three legs in from the landing and place it next to the 1930's Art Nouveauish bed. Looks great. We have been dragging it around quite some, but here it really shows off its natural beauty. Looks like final destination. Adorned with a table lamp it is even better. Then the round table goes in the other corner and that table goes into the chambre de toilette. Reshuffle the figurines and vases et voilà! Another half hour well spent on artistic license. I should have become an interior decorator. This is some highly improved room.

Experience design doesn't take over my next activities. I routinely do the other rooms and bathroom (R+r's I leave as is, yesterday's mountain untouched: a monument to boy belief), and proceed to ground floor and basement. I turn up the volume on Aart Fastenau's 'Ceci n'est pas du musique' mix; which he made for our departure from Amsterdam in 1999. Still getting me where I live. Is that vacuum cleaner still on or what? Can't hear it. It increases my speed until lunch. After I crash and lay down eyes closed in the library, to smell the books that I didn't get to touch over the past weeks. Finally I'm tired. Let's take half an hour.

Follow cooking preparations and a call from Gil. They just turned on to the Route Départemental west of Troyes. It'll take them another two hours. I prepare hot lavender marinade for the boys. After homework (preparing tomorrow's test on passé, présence, futur, which Rolf seems to get quite well, they immerse. All of a sudden things go fast. I run up and down, back and forth between the kitchen and the bathroom, between the vinaigrette and the marinade, between fried zucchini and broccoli au vinaigre (leftovers!) and garden cuccumber in yoghurt, pasta and salmon, and pink pinkier R+r. Rolf wants to do the hair and looks for styling foam. He doesn't want a single hair to stand up from the coif. I told them to be ready when they ring the door. Roemer is submarinading looking for the last pirate in the tub. There it is. The gate. They don't want Gil to see them before they are Ready. Where's Rolf's Chinese pyjamas? In the laundry! Two flights down. Oh hi Gil, Hans, Rini. I'll be right with you. Fix yourself a drink. You must be tired. I ain't. I dig up the pyjamas and spray it with Biotherme Eau Relaxante. Roemer wants to smell just as good. Another cloud of Eau fills the wet room. Off they are to kiss and more kiss. But hey, what's this? Do they see presents. Action Man walkie talkies? C'est super cool! You should hear the way they pronounce that 'cool', very sexy. Can I pour myself a Vinho Verde?.

Dua cukup is Indonesia's birth control mantra: two's enough, two will do. Two's a lot of fun to me. That's two weeks.

20 October 2000

Rolf scores 20/20 on his test. Jeez! I'm proud. Don't lose courage, or like he put it himself recently: "trying is the most important thing in learning." He's low on his French vocabulary, still, but picking up quickly. Concepts like past, presence, future and their different formulations seem to have no secrets for him.

First day that Maman interferes with our schedule and wake-up routines, we nearly miss the bus. We're four at the gate, I blame her and make fun with Dominique, the driver. The international habit of joyfully insinuating men and women's competition. That's what moms do, entr'eux, around the globe. Roemer at the latest minute decides to also take this first round with Rolf and is thrown in holding a bag and two jackets, no time to dress him up, or check his breakfast traces or kiss goodbye, licking off the peanut butter.

I pass the day cursing my server, which feigns to be busy on all three of my sites (at least now I know they run on the same server, which I should probable request to be changed), during 10 hours, for no obvious reason. So I turn to recreational gardening and plastering. Returning to the desktop every hour or so to find my sites still closed. It feels like being held hostage by technology.

At pick-up time Gil joins me to the bus stop, where making fun continues with Cathérine and Corinne. I phoned Cathérine twice a day in desperation, crying for help... he he he, now if that would be true. Leave it to moms like us. Gil walks home with R+r on their request. The want to check on the deer cadaver/skeleton that they spotted along the road a few weeks ago, when I said to leave it there a while to let it rot away before we take it home to boil it clean and add to their room. Hope it's been taken care of in the meanwhile. C+C and me talk at length on doctors, medicine, esp. pain killers, oral and rectal, the right way to introduce them, they call all the brands I forget, tell me to never give aspirin on aspirin but alternate aspirin and paracetamol but never turn to the remède cheval, which is called the same in Dutch, the 'paardemiddel', or rough ('horse') remedy, like <another brand name which I can't remember>

Driving home I see G+R+r just entering the gate dragging no skulls or ribs, so I bet that problem's solved by nature or the garbage people. Leaves the jawbone on the cellar shelf I suddenly remember, waiting to be bleached. That I will find a pot to fit it in.

this is not a weblog:
find latest additions last

parenting ahead links

Last Hula Doll
by Edgar Beals

Roemer's pick at animationexpress

Stick Man
by Randy Jamison

Rolf's pick at animationexpress

Jouke Kleerebezem 2000