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Tag Archive for ‘Mother’

How on Saturday night I got a famous grandfather.

The other night He-weasel and I were watching a special on the history of the Jews on PBS  and it got me thinking. You see, my mother’s maiden name is a name that could be a Jewish name. It is the kind of name that could have been altered upon arrival in Ellis Island. My mother has always denied any Jewish heritage and denied it so vociferously that it has always made me wonder. As I already knew the history of the Azkanazis I ignored the TV and started to Google my mother’s maiden name to see what I could find.
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Progress report

1. Yesterday, here in the states, it was mother’s day and I didn’t cry once. Let me also say that I didn’t spend the day with my mother, his mother or anyone else’s mother. It likely helped to not spend the day fete-ing what they are and what I will never be. It also helped to read Anne Lamott’s fantastic piece “Why I hate mother’s day”. I considered watching Mommy Dearest to make my mother’s day complete but I couldn’t find it on Netflix on-demand.
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Mild paranoia

No, I don’t think my phone is being tapped. I don’t think that the CIA is reading my blog or that I need to wear an aluminum chapeau to protect my thoughts from being read by alien life forms that would then use satellites to communicate my inner most secrets into coded messages in the scores on Dancing with the Stars. No, my paranoia is of another variety. For example: The other day when I had tons of stuff I needed to tell Igor. I needed every one of those 50 minutes and even then I wasn’t sure I was going to get it all out unless I was uncharacteristically laconic and terse. I decided that today would not be the day for small talk. I wouldn’t spend the usual first five minutes of the session making small talk, chit-chat and social pleasantries. I wouldn’t ask him how he was. I would have to resist the impulse to ask him how the Lakers were doing( as the truth is I don’t really care). I planned the order of my conversation in bullet points in my brain. I would stay on task and if after sharing something with him I saw him begin to enter one of his long winded silences I would ignore it and just keep talking. And, if necessary when I hit the 50 minute mark and I hadn’t gotten everything out I might be forced, for the first time ever, to ignore my invitation to leave and just keep talking.

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Palms: A tree in four seasons

This is a repost from a post I did when I was living in Austin, Texas. I thought I would share a few of my favorite posts while I am off on a birthday getaway trip to Santa Barbara
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“Home” by Corine at Hidden in France

Am I a French woman who lives in America, or am I an American woman, as my passport insists, who happened to spend the first 20 years of her life in France? Could anyone reading this help me sort it out?

If you’ve been an expatriate for long enough, you cease to define yourself by your roots. But of course none of those around you do. No matter how American I feel, to my American friends I am first and foremost ‘Française’. I come with a full package of preconceptions, specters of baguettes, berets, whiff of camembert and doubtful personal hygiene and also– just as puzzling to me– inherent elegance, sex appeal and that dab of ‘je ne sais quoi’. My own son recently wrote an essay on our family and every third word mentioned the fact that his mother is French. But to me, things are clear. Home is where I cook burgers on the barbecue. Home is where I wear flip flops to the grocery store. Home is where Barack Obama is.

In a recent blog post I admitted that the title of my blog Hidden in France might as well be Hidden from France. (Warning: digression: my blog is not a safe place to bitch and moan about the (toxic?) nature of home as my mother might read it. Although she has sworn to never lay eyes again on that heap of garbage again. Probably a good choice: To my defense she reads my posts (or refuses to read them) through an online automatic translator and the result is quite surreal. You get the idea: home is not where maman is– No, home cannot possibly be France. All France equals in my mind, is pathos. As a matter of fact, I have not returned to Paris in the five years since my father died. That’s how detached I am, that’s how grown up.

It is pumped up with American patriotism and sentiments that I find myself bravely boarding a plane for Paris this summer. Paris as a tourist will be wonderful, relaxing and so very exotic.

But just one step on the carpet of the ‘aeroport’ and I have this strange instinct: I’m immediately able to sense things Americans are probably not supposed to sense. For example I know to carefully say ‘bonjour’ and ‘excusez-moi’ before asking for directions to the baggage claim. In the U.S. I would address people with a direct question. Not here, no no, no… And how do I know when we sit in our first café for a drink that the personality and mood of the waiter is to be studied and navigated and that I better fake humility in exchange for decent service? I also know that merci means so much more than thank you here. I’m ashamed to tell you that this American girl, within a day of landing in Paris, has reverted to full-on French. I only wear my least comfortable shoes because they are stylish. I no longer slouch. I use table manners and get all uptight about the way my kid’s elbow flares up when he cuts his meat. I detail people and know they are detailing me. I don’t set a foot inside a store without saying bonjour as I know that the store is really an extension of its owner and I would be terribly rude to come in and ignore that silent rule. This is exhausting. I’m a nervous wreck. But there is some awesome stuff too: For example: I know my foods. At ‘Monoprix’ I reach for products remembering exactly what they taste and feel like. In the bakery I know to bypass the croissants for ‘chouquettes’ and to ask for my baguette ‘pas trop cuite’. Forget well done burgers, I suddenly look at a steak tartare on restaurant menus as delicacy rather than breeding ground for e-coli. And there are little tricks about the system I simply know. I call ‘SOS Médecin’, the service that will send a doctor to my door in less time it takes to have a pizza delivered (and for roughly the same amount). I let steam out by snapping at strangers because it feels great and I know the worst they will do is snap back at me: there are no full-blown Psychos here, only low- grade ones such as myself. And I know how to communicate with strangers in that convoluted way that will ensure that the gruff post office lady will send my package after hour ‘pour moi exceptionellement’. In France I know the people. I know them intrinsically. I know how they feel and how they function. I know their logic, however absurd, as it is also mine. I know their facial expressions and hand movements because they make total sense; so much conveyed with a wink, a blink, a wave of the hand. In the United States, let’s face it, people have no idea why I wink, or blink or wave my hands about. I just look spastic to them. In France I watch the people sitting at terraces of cafés, gesticulating and disagreeing with one another with gusto, and I want to pull up a chair and join in the fun. In the United States, I will always be too opinionated and argumentative for pleasant conversation. Yes, it is clear to me now. I must belong in France, France is the only place where I can be perceived as normal.

The only problem is: French people don’t feel too normal to me anymore. Here I said it. French people feel grotesque! They are ambulatory clichés. The girl in the flowing dress on the bicycle with the baguette in a basket. The woman shopping at the market with the ‘tailleur’ and the strand of pearls. The man with moustache like this is still 1930. The waiter who woke up on the wrong side of the bed and to whom I must apologize for being there. This is all so weird. Am I really like these people? I suddenly see myself as a living-breathing caricature of Frenchness.

Days later I am back in L.A. the very city I glibly put down in so many blog posts, and I take a big breath of relief. Why do I feel so incredibly light suddenly? My eyes literally caress my small possessions, my paintings, my comfy bed, even that horrid couch that should be burned. Outside the house, I want to kiss people for the directness with which they communicate. I love the absence of mind games. I love the low level of drama, the lack of judgment, the sense that people are basically benevolent. I love the fact that waiters keep their moods to themselves. I love the smog and I love wearing flip-flops. It’s so good to be home.

And immediately, I begin missing France again.
************

Corine does not have a last name. Not yet. Not until she feels that her writing is fit to attach a last name to. She writes all day in the hope of her novels being published one day. In the meantime she grudgingly attends to the well being of her family and pets. You can read more on the blog Hidden in France, which is about color, Bohemia, de
sign, writing, neurosis, and of course all things French. Because she was traveling she has not read what the illustrious other bloggers have written here about Home but has already purchased the bottle of Bourgogne with which she plans to drown her insecurity after reading them.

Okay but seriously

Born and raised in Paris

Studied at the Sorbonne

Worked in advertising

Married an American and moved to California

Two boys age 10 and 17, One husband, one cat, one dog, two birds, 8 goldfish

Three novels, two screenplays, countless articles, very little money but living the dream.

Home in objects by Jennifer

By the time I was fifteen, my mother and I had moved at least twelve times. We slipped back and forth from Wilmington, Delaware to my grandparents’ house on the Elk River, ran from bad boyfriends and money troubles, as she struggled to support us and keep herself together. The apartments were in urban neighborhoods, spaces hacked out of rowhouses or flats in once-stately brick apartment buildings with high ceilings and wide central staircases, the paint faded and the carpets worn.

Our stay at the duplex on Lovering Avenue was an especially long run, from 1976 to 1977. This was the house where three cats died – Sheba after she was hit by a car, Regis, who got an infection at his neutering site (“He was too clean,” my mother used to say, implying that his frequent grooming of the incision caused his death), and Amber, who had a form of pernicious anemia. The three crosses in the garden plot out back grew by one after Happy Easter, my hamster, escaped and gorged himself on rat poison in the basement. Regis’s penultimate move ultimately tipped the balance in favor of life: before going under the knife, he impregnated Liz, our little girl cat, who gave birth to five scrawny orange kittens.

The air in that place hummed with thwarted ambition. 1977 was the year before my mother went back to college, before she really thought it was possible to go back. She had gotten pregnant with me in her freshman year at the University of Delaware, had her life interrupted by a new baby and short-lived marriage, dropped out of school to support my father and me. In 1977 she was twenty-seven and a single mother, unhappily coupled with the man who would become my stepfather. Stuck in a dead-end job and close to poverty, my mother was always one step from exploding. She scared me. It was on Lovering Avenue that she hurled a jar of honey in my direction, that she slapped my face at bedtime after an innocent remark, that she refused to let me go out for Halloween one year because I didn’t want to wear a mask.

But Lovering Avenue was home. It was home simply because she was there, providing the context and the love, however filtered it was through depression and quashed dreams. When she wasn’t angry or hopeless, my mother was funny and loving.

I’ve lived apart from my mother since I was fifteen years old, have had homes in an unheated cottage, a group house, studio apartments and solid Victorians. Although there are places that are simply “home” – Washington, DC will always feel like I was born to live there – I’ve found that the things I carry are what really keep me grounded.

The objects that lead me back to my history, that are stories in themselves, aren’t necessarily fancy. Home is the doily my mother mounted on burgundy velvet and framed in toasted mahogany, a piece that has hung over mantles, in living rooms and kitchens, and is now in our guest room. It’s the chair my husband and I bought at a flea market in Manhattan. A gum-smacking lady from Long Island delivered it to our DC apartment in the dark of night; later Nora the dog, insecure and still new to our lives, nibbled on the right armrest.

The recipe box that my grandfather made for my grandmother 35 years ago, that she filled with yellowing newspaper clippings and sugary coleslaw recipes, is home. So is my grandparents’ flatware lying in the kitchen drawer downstairs, a jumble of basic blunt-ended cutlery from the 1960s, forks, spoons and knives that long-dead or missing relatives grasped and put to mouth. Home used to be that huge 1950s window fan with chipped turquoise paint, so powerful that it could draw a breeze from one end of the house to the other. My mother borrowed it from me and then lost it. She left the fan in the ill-fated cottage on Smith Island, or in the basement at Linden Street, or maybe even in the other West Street house she and her long-time boyfriend Kevin had to exit on the quick.

Home is the small set of drawers that currently serves as my husband’s bedside table. My grandfather sawed and hammered and glued the piece together, coated it with honey pine wood stain. This basic piece carries the weight of memory and guilt by association. Looking at it brings back the scent of his woodshop, a tart mix of sawdust and turpentine with soft undercurrents of sweet creamy coffee, cedar-tinged sweat, and wisps of Pall Mall smoke. My mother and I always downplayed his furniture-making skills. His pieces were not to our liking. He gave the stuff that didn’t sell to his family, our worth measured by the value of his gifts.

The only thing left from Lovering Avenue is an old-fashioned wooden fruit crate that my mother used as a bedside table. The wood has darkened to a reddish brown and there are water marks on the slats left by sweating glasses of iced chamomile tea and heavy mugs of hot carob. My mother would rest her journal here, mark her place with a pencil laid over looping script. I’ve had the crate for over twenty years now, have carried it from Washington, DC to Illinois, Ohio, and California (and a few places in between). It’s been beside beds and has supported phones and coffee cups, beer bottles and glasses filled too high with gin and tonic.

Years ago my first husband’s mother, born of Chicago gentry, implied that the time had come to jettison the old box to make way for “real” furniture. What could be more real than that crate, a tangible connection to the past, stains, sadness and all? I ignored her and eventually moved on, taking my crate with me.

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Jennifer is a writer and the author of Writing to Survive. She has lived in eight different states. Jennifer moved from the East Coast to Berkeley, California. She has almost completely acclimated to “this strange land of temperate summers, incredible produce, and creative ferment”.

About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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