Vocab Friday: La honte.

Picture this: A gloriously sunny Saturday in Paris, with summer-like temperatures and perfectly blue skies. The kind of day for sunglasses and flip flops and lazy lounging in a park somewhere, preferably with a picnic in tow.

Now picture us: two newbie parents, trying to profitez during our last months in Paris. We pack up our happy, gurgling bébé and take the bus toward the Jardin du Luxembourg, stopping at Cosi along the way for sandwiches and bubbly water. All is well.

We walk into the park, already filled with people quietly reading or otherwise relaxing, and find a tranquil bench spot under the trees. A family sits down next to us and unpacks a basketful of picnic goodies. We take a nice, deep relaxing breath and dig into our Cosi sandwiches.

And that’s when the bébé starts to fuss. Just a warning fuss, nothing major. So Husband gets up to walk her around a bit. But the farther he walks, the more urgent the fussing becomes. By the time Husband makes it to the other side of the lawn, it’s become a full-fledged cry.

I wave him back and get situated so I can pull out my secret weapon: boob juice. And while whipping out my boob in public isn’t my favorite thing to do, it does usually defuse any volatile bébé situations. So I pull on my hooter hider (an ingenious cover-up thingy) and take our now screaming bébé out of my frazzled Husband’s arms.

She immediately quiets. And none too soon, because people were starting to stare. But just as husband and I are mid parental-high-five, bébé’s gulping becomes frantic. Her little legs and arms start flailing under my boob cover. And then she lets out a wail like no wail I’ve ever heard in my life: an ear splitting, gut wrenching, I should probably immediately check her for stab wounds or broken bones kind of wail.

And it was like everyone in the park stopped and turned their heads toward us in unison. I could feel their eyes shooting daggers at us from their once idyllic perches across the garden. I knew they thought I was a horrible mother. I could feel them willing us to get up and get as far away from them as possible.

Defying all reason, logic and physical possibility, bébé’s cries continued to escalate. And I started to sweat, wrestling with her under the cover to try and get her to eat. Maybe it was gas? Or maybe she was too hot? I peeled off her pants but the screams just kept building and building. Husband looked like he might cry. Or faint. Or walk away and never come back.

At one point the father of the family next to us said “Don’t worry, you’re not bothering us at all!” Which I think he sincerely meant. But it only made me wish even harder that lightning would strike and incinerate me on the spot.

Exasperated and burning with embarrassment, I handed bébé back to Husband for the Bjorn treatment to see if that would help. I watched them walk away, following that unearthly, inconsolable wail when I couldn’t see them anymore.

That’s when the French woman walked up to me. I could see her coming and tried not to make eye contact. But it was too late. She put a hand on my shoulder.

Madame, you should not be ashamed of breastfeeding your child in public. A mother feeding her child is the most beautiful thing in the world. That cover thing isn’t necessary, it was making your baby too hot.”

I wanted to die. But before I died I wanted to tell her lady, public boob-feeding is the least of my worries! Do you not hear the way my child is screaming? I think she was swarmed by a cloud of invisible angry bees!!!!!

Thankfully Husband returned before I could reply and we made a speedy exit, heads hanging and eyes averted. And by the time we got on the bus home, bébé was smiling happily and drooling on herself. I still have no idea what her problem was. But I’m confident that she has permanently traumatized us. And possibly gotten us banned from the Luxembourg for life.

*     *     *

la honte (lah ont) – Literally, “the shame.” But the way it’s used I think it’s more like “the horror! the horror!” As in,

“My bébé was screaming uncontrollably in the tranquil French garden while I flung my boobs around trying to feed her and strangers stopped to stare. Oh la honte!” 


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