English Children Do Throw Food (And Books)

25/10/2013 15:21 | Updated 22 May 2015

Funny baby with food covered face by putting her hands over her eyes to play picaboo during mealtime, wrong time to do so.


My son was 'redesigning' the bookshelves that I had lovingly colour-coded one bored nap time, by placing the books neatly and purposefully into seemingly categorised piles on the floor and then hurling them one at a time across the room.

Narrowly escaping a kneecapping, I picked up one of the offending missiles, recognising it immediately by its gingham book jacket and curly writing: 'French Children Don't Throw Food'.

Oh, how my life has changed since I read that.

Less than two years ago, as a naive pregnant woman, I deluded myself that this book contained all the secrets to successful parenting and was about to change my life. But confronted with it again 18 months after the event, it served only as a cringe-worthy reminder of the difference between the parent I liked to think I was going to be and the parent I have become.

I first read about Pamela Druckerman's 'Why French Children Don't Throw Food' in one of the Sunday papers when I was about six months pregnant. I've always wanted to be French and I didn't want my children throwing food so this was surely the only book I was ever going to need.


Just as the teenage me believed that reading 'Just Seventeen' from cover to cover would somehow make me cooler, the pregnant me thought that by absorbing every word of this book I would emerge the Juliette Binoche of Lewisham's mother and baby circuit.

I would sit outside cafés, sporting Breton stripes and a lustrous bob*, casually flicking through the paper while sipping an espresso, intermittently gazing at my beautiful/content baby (Chloe/Emile) snoozing peacefully against my warm bosom, in a sling.

I know. What a dick.

The premise of the book, if you haven't already heard about it or read it, is this: American woman moves to Paris, has a baby, deduces that ALL FRENCH CHILDREN (based on her limited dealings with wealthy Parisians) sleep through the night from the moment they're born, learn to say 'please' and 'thank you' at the same time they learn 'mama' and 'dada', never need to be force-fed rice cakes, never throw themselves on the floor and scream as though they were being tortured because you won't let them play with the kitchen scissors, and sit nicely in restaurants, eating rare fillet steaks and necking oysters and fine wines. Or something.

The clues were there: Any book with a jacket that looks like it's been modelled on the lids of Bonne Maman jam jars screams 'style over substance'.

I even had stern warnings from experienced friends who had read the book while in the throes of raising children themselves. "Pompous", "ridiculous", "offensive", "unrealistic" were just some of the phrases being leveled at my coveted parenting bible.

"If parenting is as simple as that then my name's Audrey Tautou," said one particularly irate friend, who isn't called Audrey Tautou.

I, being a little 'stupide' (blame the pregnancy hormones), actually thought that the problem here was not with the book but with the timing. They had obviously read it too late and this woman was riling them by pointing out all the bad habits they had already got entangled with.

As the last of my friends to have a baby, I felt like I had the next best thing to the benefit of hindsight. I could study all their mistakes and compile a mental list of what not to do. That, combined with a few tips from some Parisian high-flyers, what could possibly go wrong? (Read more about what did go wrong here)

In Elliot's book-hurling crossfire, I stood there flicking through the pages, and the advice I had coveted all those months ago came flooding back.

Want to get your newborn to sleep through the night? Simply 'pause' before tending to him when he starts crying. You'll soon realise he's absolutely fine and doesn't need you after all, so you can get back to your carafe of Bordeaux.

Want to stop your child from having tantrums? Don't shout, just widen your eyes in a way that says "don't mess with me". This will immediately silence him.

Sick of being ignored when you say "No"? Just say "wait" instead.

Want your pre-baby body back? Then stop eating cakes you fat, slovenly cow.

I looked over at Elliot who was demonstrating his flagrant disregard of French etiquette by attempting to shove a rice-cake into his mouth at the same time as his dummy, while watching Mr Tumble about an inch away from the screen (which I had failed to notice because I was so busy looking at the book). As soon as he saw me he reached out to touch the TV screen because he gets a perverse kick out of being told "no!"

Here was my chance: I paused. "Wait," I said calmly, widening my eyes. He smiled. Had it worked? Then he put a sticky, podgy paw print right in the middle of the screen, shouted "Mummy!" at the top of his voice (even though I was standing right there) and reached out for a cuddle - and at that moment I loved our imperfect, shambolic little team more than ever. San Fairy Ann!

*So much for lustrous French bob. Since having a baby, my already thick, wiry greying hair has become even thicker, wirier and more grey and now appears to be receding - apparently it's a pregnancy hormone thing.

Is the fear of looking like the lovechild of Einstein and the Quo's Francis Rossi too vain a reason to back out of trying for another baby?

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