Why French babies don’t get sore teeth

by Julie Alpine-Crabtree






So I’ve tried Bickiepegs and powders and soothing gel rings chilled in the fridge and Calpol and Calpol and Calpol but still feel pretty helpless in the face of Nini’s teething pain.

And then the mail arrives and there’s a package for my red-cheeked girl. And a card. “Dear Nini,” writes Marion, a beautiful, thoughtful friend who swapped Camden for the South of France and now buys her milk in the kind of impossibly glamorous places that I’m more familiar with via the lyrics of Peter Sarstedt songs. (I mean, Juan Les Pins, for heaven’s sake!)

“It was lovely seeing you in London and having the opportunity to spend time with you and Milo. I hope that you will enjoy receiving a little parcel. Maybe your mummy likes the idea of you wearing a natural Baltic amber necklace to provide you some relief from inflammation and fever. This appears to be commonly used in France to relieve teething pain in infants. Don’t chew on it though. Just wear it on the skin. Its warmth releases oils from the amber which are therapeutic.”

Well, it certainly has a more elegant ring to it than Bonjela, n’est ce pas?

Nini tries the necklace on.

She stops crying.

Whether this is because the oils have already started working or because she likes getting pretty, exotic gifts from overseas, I can’t say for sure. Either way, all is suddenly calm. I can hear myself think.

This is what I am thinking: “That is the fiftieth siren to have wailed by this morning and I am falling over Milo’s toys and where, oh where, is Milo going to go to school and how are we ever going to afford a bigger flat and how can I leave this area when it’s been home for so long and everything is so near and I love it even though it’s gritty and the kind of place that adults should run away to rather than children be born to and there’s just no way we can afford private school and WHERE IN GOD’S NAME IS MILO GOING TO GO TO SCHOOL? (Except wherever it is, it won’t be in God’s name because we are not churchgoers and didn’t even plan ahead and get him christened in case of educational emergency.)

I begin to wish Milo would come and clunk Nini on the head with his Lego and her crying would once more drown out this infernal panic. This is my first proper primary school freak-out (though, judging by the horror stories I’ve read on Mumsnet forums, it won’t be my last) and it’s unsettling, to say the least. Milo is, after all, still only two-and-three-quarters; school is still two years away.

Incidentally, in France they don’t have a tooth fairy; they have a tooth mouse. Whether this has any bearing on why French women don’t get fat is not clear.

I register with an estate agent in Wimbledon, sign up to see properties within the catchment area of, whisper it, an Outstanding primary school and we – all four of us – travel though the rush-hour traffic by train from Waterloo to see a house.

The word ‘house’ has raised our hopes. This place fails on every count. There is mould on the (pink) walls. The only bathroom is downstairs, the bedrooms upstairs. The stairs are precarious. The carpet is putrid. The rent is sky-high. The ‘garden’ is a small paved area out the back of the bathroom.

“Do you think we could fit a trampoline in here?” I ask Milo. The boy may be only two-and-three-quarters but he can recognise a rhetorical question when he hears one.

We retrace our steps: taxi, train, bus, through (still) rush-hour traffic, Milo overwrought from the chocolate cupcake someone has kindly given him, Mummy overwrought from the not knowing how to tell Daddy that she is never going to leave this postcode ever again. I’ll home-school them, goddamn it. Our friends who live in the jungle of Costa Rica do it. How hard can it be?

Shaun leaves the chicken under the grill for too long. The smoke alarm screams, drowning out the sirens from the street. Nini wakes up, notices her teeth hurt, screams.

Unfortunately, however, I can’t give her the amber necklace. In her cot, it would be a choking hazard. And besides, I’m wearing it myself. Waiting for those calming oils to kick in.

Thank you, Marion. We love you.