Feeling French Vol. 3 - "Bringing up Bébé"

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Feeling French Vol. 3
by Jamie Beck

Ask me Anything:

Mom Things Edition

We had Eloise in France January 3, 2019. She is now just over 2 years old.


When did you decide the time was right to have a baby? Finances in order? A general feeling?

Hahahaa, “finances in order”. Two freelance creatives living without a plan in a vacation rental in a foreign country are not exactly “ready” to have a baby. Really, what it came down to was just a feeling- the time was right, we’d worry about the rest later.

How did you survive the first few months and do you have tips for new mom/moms to be? How did you manage with chores and cleaning?

It was one of the hardest times of my life. Physical recovery, little sleep, learning how to take care of a baby, pumping (which I have no idea why I did that now, I was always with Eloise), loss of all my freedoms, loss of my energy, and zero breaks. It broke us a little (we still joke we have PTSD) but it doesn’t have to be that way. Having family around helps, having hired help would have helped, living in not a tiny apartment would have helped. Some advice a friend gave me, don’t worry about the dishes or the clothes- wear the same thing everyday if you have to just to survive. It’ll all get done later. Just help them grow. 6 weeks is a turning point, then 3months, then 6 months. It gets better. It sort of gave me freedom from the pressure to get up and be “perfect”. The perfect mom, the perfect woman, the perfect wife, the perfect professional.

Did you breastfeed and if so, how did you stop?

I breastfed full time for the first year. After she started créche full time I would only breastfeed in the morning and just before bedtime. Of course, if she was sick and stayed home from créche all she wanted to do was breastfeed for comfort. Eventually, as she matured I was able to drop her nighttime feeding by not offering it to her and just letting her decide if she wanted to or not. She would become much more preoccupied with story time and didn’t seem to miss it. I went to Paris for a couple of days early last autumn while Kevin stayed home with Eloise and that broke the morning feeding which she was already barely nursing as she was eating full meals three times a day. It was more about breaking the routine. Around a year and a half I had gotten to the point with my body where I was just really over it and felt she wasn’t reliant on it anymore. I’m really proud, it was a lot of work and a connection that was so beautiful. But, I’m glad it’s over. Lol.  My advice is to watch for queues from your baby and with your body when it’s right to start weaning. I was able to do it slowly and organically and that worked best for us.

How do you manage your working day with a young child?

I can not concentrate on work while Eloise is around so I save things such a meal prep, cooking, washing dishes, sweeping, building fires, all of which she loves to help me do, when she’s home. While she is at créche (french daycare) from 9:30-5:30 it is intense focused work time.

I try to save all of our socializing for the weekends when Eloise is with us as well to maximize my work hours during the week where I really need solitude to concentrate. It was a really difficult transition giving up my weekends, to be honest. I loved working on my art projects Saturdays and Sundays because there is so much less world noise pawing at you for attention. So I have been trying to learn to embrace the slower pace of life and family time.

Before Eloise started créche I was a full time mom and I was barely working, it’s just not possible! She was breastfeeding around the clock, would not sleep unless I was holding her, it was totally exhausting the first year. I managed a few commercial photography shoots but it was incredibly difficult. Kevin and I had prepared that I would be her primary caretaker the first year, I wanted to start her life off as intimately as possible and also be really present as that time goes so quickly. I also need to take time to slowly transition into a mom. Transition into what my new life would become. I tried not to think about work the first year and just be still with the moments with Eloise and not fight it. I’m glad I took that time. It’s the most precious moment of my life. We started Eloise in créche at 11months- part time and it was a HUGE relief off of me. At the same time, I had a really emotional time leaving her. Afraid she felt abandoned or scared without me there.  The childcare is so outstanding though, I had complete faith in them and knew if we could get over this little hurtle of separation anxiety from each other, we would both be able to grow in a healthy way. Slowly, week by week I began to unwind as just being a mom to thinking about my work and what I wanted to do moving forward. Meanwhile, Eloise made her first friend, learned how to properly eat a three course French meal and began to love créche so much we have to stand around waiting until she feels ready to stop playing and go home.

Just as Eloise started full time at créche covid happened. During our first lockdown in France we had Eloise full time at home while both trying to work. What we ended up doing was splitting the 8 hour work day into two. I took Eloise for four hours, Kevin took Eloise for four hours, allowing the other person to work some during the day. The rest of our work day was done after Eloise went to bed at 7pm. It was really not ideal but it was the best we could do. 

Did you doubt yourself artistically after having a baby and wondered how to go back to work?

OMG YES. The transition into being a mother, caring for a child, is total. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got in the beginning and since I couldn’t think about my work or even had the energy, I wasn’t even the same person as before, I thought omg, I’ll never get back to that place I had worked so hard up to artistically. I’ll never have time to research and explore and THINK. I felt dead creatively. I feared I’d never be given the time to be my own person again, not to mention, if and when that day ever came, I wouldn’t have anything interesting anymore to say because I have no time to think about anything anymore! It’s like I had all this momentum in my body of work building and building for years and then overnight, it stopped. Everything stopped. My energy, my ideas, my time. It was scary, really, for me to wonder if I’d ever feel like a photographer again. Feel worthy of creating. Now I can laugh at that as I’ve since had time to sleep, reclaimed my body, and eased back into work and discovered I not only have more to say but I am enjoying and appreciating it all in such a deeper way.

I’m still getting my footing as an artist and as a mom. But I can tell you that I approach my work with much more confidence, calm, ease and assuredness. It’s like I know more now, in the core of my being, than I did before what this life is all about not because I think about it, but because I lived it. I survived it. Since going back to work, I have found more pleasure to create, to dance, to discover alongside Eloise’s fresh eyes. I also find, having a child really helps you trim the fat to what is most important in your life. Your time is limited with them and with your work so you use it very wisely and I think that has also made me a better artist. 

What about her language skills French vs. English

Kevin and I do not speak French, but we are learning but slowly. We can do basic things but we can’t carry on a conversation. Having Eloise in créche means she is developing her French faster than we can keep up! Right now it’s adorable, “Qu'est-ce que tu fais maman” ”what are you doing mom?”  // “Pardon Maman” “Excuse me mom” literally when I’m in her way // “Moi aussi!” “Me too” popular if one of us leaves the apartment and she wants to go with // “C’est fini” “It’s finished” what she says when she’s done eating and your standard “s'il tu plaît” “please” and “merci” “thanks”. However, soon as she begins to expand her vocabulary and string together sentences it will be more difficult to understand. The advice I have received from bilingual parents is, they are only speaking French at school, you only speak English at home. That is the best way for them to learn both languages. If we try to communicate with her in French she might not put effort into the english language and we want her to speak both, of course! The flip side is, the more french she begins to speak, the more we will learn alongside her even if we are responding in english. As one of my friends put it, she will be the best private tutor! 

How do you manage to look put together all the time?

Well, I’m not! I just don’t broadcast my no makeup, pajama pants days. Remember, what you see on social media is something like only 20% of a person’s real life. Editing, as with any good magazine or photograph or movie, is critical to storytelling. It’s all about what story of your life you want to share. With that said, I will speak to the moments when I am put together. Ever since I went back to work after having Eloise after she was a year old (keep in mind I only wore makeup a handful of times her 1st year!) I decided to approach the creative process as almost ritual-like. I would dress to create. I would start the creative process with a warm up by getting dressed, creating my hair, painting my face (lightly). I would respect the creative process by taking the time to put myself together to present myself to the moment, not unlike getting dressed to go to church. I find it elevates my mental state and allows me to have what feels like a more intimate, serious, defined role with creativity.  A formality amongst the chaos. A respect for the beauty I’m asking to show herself to me. 

Do you consider Eloise consent about sharing images of her?

This is really tough because I honestly don’t think about it. There is no strategy in Eloise content, I’m not looking to make money off a child star or looking for brand deals. It’s just really our life, our moments, the enjoyment of creating photographs with her when they happen or sharing real snippets of our day. It’s the only way our friends and family back home get to enjoy and watch her grow. With that being said, I have ‘hired’ Eloise to model in a handful of campaigns which have been very low impact on her since I’m the photographer and the set is our own home. However, as she grows into her own person this is something that one day we will have to make a decision about. She deserves privacy and to have a say on how ‘public’ she is. It’s a natural instinct for me to capture her life and share it, it’s just the nature of a photographer, but she is absolutely her own person. I will respect those boundaries. 

How do you ensure she knows about your family in the US?

Before COVID we were committed to nice long visits and had many trips home planned for 2020 as well as having family meet us places while I did commercial shoots. That all stopped overnight. What bothers me more than Eloise not getting to spend time with them, especially as a baby when really they just need to be taken care of to survive, is them not getting to spend time with her and watch her grow which happens SO FAST. That’s the tough part. Kevin is really great at facetime with his parents, I can’t stand talking on the phone and I’m really introverted so I am really terrible at it. For the moment, it is what it is, and I look forward to the future when it will be easier to all spend time together face to face especially when Eloise is a little older and can formulate wonderful memories. The plus side to not being about to travel is we haven’t had to deal with a toddler on an overseas flight with jetlag and tantrums and all the STUFF you have to bring for kids. 

How do you feel about Eloise having a completely different cultural background than your own?

Well, I am in France for a variety of reasons and one of those reasons is that I just fit really well into many of the French ideals. It’s not so much a stretch for me, and for many things, I find I understand the French way of life more than my own upbringing in the United States. The things I struggled with in the U.S. are fluid for me here which is partly why we even have Eloise. I could actually imagine having a child the way they approach child raising in France, something that always seemed impossible to me before. I also think people forget that America was born out of a lot of French culture! We have many of the same ideals and share historical figures so it’s not such a drastically different culture. Also, she’s going to absorb, by nature of both Kevin and I being American, American culture into her fabric of being. Which culture she chooses to gravitate towards will be up to her. 

Is Eloise especially easy going or do you have tips and tricks to get her to sit for photos or happily take leisurely strolls through your village?

Eloise loves to run around town so that’s a great activity we do where she’s happy and we just let her explore aka look for cats. As far as sitting for photos, I have to wait until she’s in the right mood and even then it will only last a minute or two. Or sometimes only a few seconds! Some days… not at all. 

How do you respond to frustrated plans and deal with the overwhelm when the balance between motherhood and creative drive gets tricky? Do you ever feel guilt about the amount of time allotted to Eloise vs. your work, how do you work through it?

Absolutely! And now as I’m photographing and writing my first book I’m under an enormous amount of pressure and deadlines and of course, it’s my passion so I want to dedicate myself to it 24/7 but I can’t. I have to remind myself on a daily basis to also continue to focus on this time with Eloise because she’ll never be this age again and she changes so fast. This really feels like I am living one of my lifetime’s greatest eras and I don’t want to lose sight of that behind a computer screen. When I’m with her I’m 100% present. I lose hours in my work day and it is stressful but no matter how good the work is it will never replace this incredibly special time with Eloise. I think the biggest factor in the success of this question is having a supportive partner / co-parent willing to pick up some of the slack. 

How do you handle the dreaded toddler tantrum stage?

Right now it’s kind of funny. It doesn't seem to last very long, the tantrums, so maybe they get worse? So far they make me laugh and I try to find something to distract her with and she moves on. So if we have to leave the playground and she throws a fit I make a new game on the walk (carrying her kicking and screaming) where we look for ducks, or spin round and round, or if she flops on the ground I’ll pretend walk home with her doudou (french for comfort doll) and that gets her going. Mostly though, what they taught us at créche is to speak to your child sensibly and with reason explaining the situation. 9 times out of 10 when I do this with Eloise she will stop her tantrum and say she understands. 

Which part of motherhood do you hate/dislike?

Cleaning up! It feels like, when she’s home from the moment she’s awake to bedtime it’s constant picking up of toys, clothing, food, toilet paper she pulled apart, spilled juice/smoothie/milk you name it, ash from the fireplace she decided to brush out on to the floor, miniature doll house toys strewn everywhere … you get the idea.

I also find packing for trips, the few we have taken, is such an unpleasurable amount of planning, shear amount of stuff that by the time we leave I’m so exhausted. Not to mention you’re full time entertainment director / making sure they don’t destroy someone else’s property or worse, harm themselves. Then setting up where you’re at, always having to carry snacks and liquids and diapers and toys and then unpack it all and clean it when you get home. It’s really work! I do not enjoy! Good news is, this phase won’t last forever and one day it’ll be so fun to go places together and show her the world… when she can roll her own suitcase. 

How did you choose living where you want to live and living near family?

I envy people whose family lives in the region of the world they also want to be. My life would be so much simpler! And a million times better with the baby if that were the case. I just know myself and I know where my heart belongs. I wouldn't be a good mother, daughter, wife if I wasn’t honest about that. I wish we could have it all in this life, be with my family and live in France all together but we have to make choices and I think as a parent your responsibility is not to raise a child that never leaves you, but to raise a child that follows their passions. 

What is the difference between France and the US parenting culture?

This will be a chapter in my book! But to put it simply, less. Less is more.

How do you shop for her?

Well, because of COVID and living in the countryside, I do everything online. First, Eloise LOVES dresses and accessories. So that’s super fun! I love a few online shops like Belle Vie Paris, Smallable and TheTot to discover a variety of cool designers in one place and some of my favorite brands for Eloise are: La Coqueta Kids// Luca and Luca // Bonjour // House of Paloma // Louise Misha // Five Eleven for bows // Minnow for swimsuits and of course two classic French brands: Bonpoint & Tartine et Chocolate for special occasions.

Did you love the Snoo?

 YES, absolutely. I’m actually sending it to a friend in Provence to use for their upcoming baby. I just really love sleep and Eloise only wanted to sleep with me until we started using the snoo. I loved knowing she couldn’t roll over, I loved getting hours of stretches of sleep. She also loved it, it was very comforting to her. We didn’t travel anywhere without packing the snoo which is so ridiculous but we were totally reliant on it! 

Stain remover?

My mom mails me Shout! For Eloise, if the stain doesn't come out I don’t worry about it. They grow out of clothes so fast anyway. 


Books I loved:

Hypnobirthing- Even though I didn’t get to have a natural birth, just the calm visualizations and simple factual expectations of what my body was going through helped a lot.

Bringing up Bébé- Raising a child in France told through the perspective of an American which is very accurate!

The Happy Sleeper- What we followed to get Eloise to sleep through the night in her own crib. 


Want more Mom things?

My Birthstory ||  Reflections on Motherhood 

On our bodies as new mothers… Part 1 | Part 2


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