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Young Tom (1989-94)

Tom celebrating his 5th birthday at Disneyland Paris in October 1994, with Nick in the picture and the rest of us around the table, all courtesy of Grandma Stock. She offered us all annual passports during that visit, and during the ensuing two years we all fell in love with the Wonderful World of Disney! Goofy is hugging both boys in the California Grill, and Marie-Hélène’s arm is poised to prevent some pending calamity!

Tom was born in Paris in the same week in 1989 that the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area. The World Series was in progress, with the players on the ball park warming up when the whole ball park moved and the stands lurched and swayed. There was a lot going on that week! Chrystie, his maternal grandmother in Palo Alto, likes to remind Tom that he is her “earthquake boy.” This nickname may also have a little to do with his direct and powerful approach to the world.”Hello world: it’s Tom!”

Tom next to the graves of his ancestors. The photo was taken in 1994. As the gravestones say, two of them were called Thomas. They’ve been gone a long time. I never even knew my grandfathers. Perhaps as a result, I occasionally follow up on other ancestors. The London cemetery that the graves are in had been renamed years ago and “renovated” recently, but somehow these graves survived. Not even knowing if the graves were there, or where they were if they were, we bumped right into them just strolling around.

Tom next to the graves of his ancestors. The photo was taken in 1994. As the gravestones say, two of them were called Thomas. They’ve been gone a long time. I never even knew my grandfathers. Perhaps as a result, I occasionally follow up on other ancestors. The London cemetery that the graves are in had been renamed years ago and “renovated” recently, but somehow these graves survived. Not even knowing if the graves were there, or where they were if they were, we bumped right into them just strolling around.

His birth itself was not the simplest. Within an hour after he arrived on this earth, the doctor diagnosed an infection, and promptly put him into an infant intensive care ward. A reasonable precaution: the only problem was that the hospital where his mom had given birth did not have an infant ICU. So he was transferred a couple of miles away to a hospital which did in the 13th arrondissement. His mom stayed where she was. Every day, I visited his mom and then walked the sidewalks across town to visit Tom. He was inside a plastic incubator to protect him from other ambient infection, and on an antibiotic intravenous feed to cure the one that he had. I couldn’t touch him or hold him, and neither of course could his mom, who was still miles away in her own hospital bed. That part was hard. I would stare at him hoping that he could feel me there, and when Nick was with me I would hold Nick up so he could see who was in that transparent plastic box.

Water has always been a source of pleasure for Tom. This one was taken at the pool at a London Airport Hotel in August 1994 on the day that I scraped my nose on the floor of the pool while diving in. Ouch, more for the embarrassment than anything else! The children, of course, behaved much more rashly, and did not get a scratch.

Water has always been a source of pleasure for Tom. This one was taken at the pool at a London Airport Hotel in August 1994 on the day that I scraped my nose on the floor of the pool while diving in. Ouch, more for the embarrassment than anything else! The children, of course, behaved much more rashly, and did not get a scratch.

I don’t know how much he was conscious of his solitude in that incubator for the first week of his life, but I do know that he has a lot of fight in him. Tom is a very tough nut to crack.

Opening Christmas presents in le Tahu in 1994: happy day!

Opening Christmas presents in le Tahu in 1994: happy day!

In part, that must have come from his early years. For one thing, his older sibling is Nick! That’s a challenge right there. Not that Nick isn’t kind to his little brother, which he is and was starting very young. But he also was not entirely happy with learning to share. Every older sibling has that problem early on, the transition from being the only subject of all that parental affection to playing second fiddle, and second to a more dependent and needy little person at that. In this case, I remember noticing that three or four of Tom’s first birthday presents were broken within a few days! Could have been Tom, could have been Nick, could have been nothing but poor quality merchandise: I’ll leave it at that.

Tom with Nick in the back garden at Grandma's house in Marlow, around Christmas 1991.

Tom with Nick in the back garden at Grandma’s house in Marlow, around Christmas 1991.

Tom also arrived right in the middle of a parental conflict zone. Certainly not his fault. But his mom Sunshine and I had a deal when we moved to Paris, a simple deal: we would return to California after a few years.  When she was pregnant with Tom in early 1989, she changed her mind, and announced that she would never return. Months, years of arguments and mutual reproaches ensued. I had already done my part of the bargain, finding a job in Paris and moving her there. I always felt like an outsider in my new home town, and now she was giving me no choice but to stay there indefinitely. Well, there was a theoretical choice. I could return alone to California and leave my young sons in Paris. That was simply not a practical alternative.

Nick, Tom and me in Sunshine's apartment on la rue Boulard. My maid's room was a couple of blocks away, and I spent more time with them than when I'd worked at the firm. My worry was that they would pick up on all the hurt I was feeling so much of the time with that osmosis that children have.

Nick, Tom and me in Sunshine’s apartment on la rue Boulard. She and I had been apart for almost a year, and I was living in a maid’s room a couple of blocks away. As I had left the law firm, I was spending more time with the boys despite the separation.

It was a debate that continued for years, and Tom arrived right as it was getting rolling! Dealing with Nick on the one hand, and with his feuding parents on the other, must have toughened him up. More significant perhaps for baby Tom was that from the age of about eight weeks, he spent every weekday first with a “nourrice,” a state-licensed child care person who looked after him and several other babies in her home. Both Sunshine and I had demanding legal jobs, and neither of us was able to take a prolonged maternity or paternity leave.

During a visit to California during the summer of 1993, we had a squirt gun battle in Palo Alto at his grandfather's house.

During a visit to California during the summer of 1993, we had a squirt gun battle in Palo Alto at his grandfather’s house.

Upon occasion, one of us would see his life at the nourrice’s, while picking him up for a medical appointment – French medical care for newborns is impressively thorough and almost free – or for a long weekend. The nourrice was a sweetheart, as you would expect of a woman making her living out of looking after babies. Yet every time I picked Tom up early, he was in front of a TV. She explained that he was happier that way, which I think meant quieter and more easily occupied, but he would have spent less time in front of a TV at home.

Tom likes sand. Here he is rolling around on the beach during the summer of 1992.

Tom likes sand. Here he is rolling around on the beach during the summer of 1992. There’s a cute anecdote around this photo. Tom had met Alban by this time, but had only spent a little time with him. They were born only three weeks apart, but in very different worlds. There is a photo of Alban on his “young Alban” page taken the same summer doing exactly the same thing in the sand!

At the end of the nourrice’s workday, around 4 or 5 pm, another child care person whom we had engaged would come to collect him from her home, and bring him and Nick to our home and feed them and play with them. On warmer days, the boys might be taken to the local playground, the “square de la mairie,” for a little outdoor entertainment. We found good people for this job, and paid them relatively well compared to our French peers. Tom was with Nick, his older brother, during these late afternoons. Either mom or dad, the first parent, would arrive home at maybe 7 or 8 pm, maybe later when there was pressure at work, to relieve the second child care person. Finally. From 8.30 or 9 in the morning until at least 7 or 8 in the evening, Tom was with a professional child care person.

Almost two years old, and playing at the local playground.

Almost two years old, and playing at the local playground, the Square de la Mairie.”

France is a great resource of child care, even infant care, for working couples, but you have to wonder what so much separation from his parents at such a young age does for the child. That’s a comment on the parents, of course, more than on the wonderful institutions which allow them to raise their children in part by surrogates. The way that Sunshine and I lived was an inevitable result of believing that we were entitled to everything, an interesting career, children, the works. We were grateful that Paris was set up for people like us and our children. I wouldn’t do it differently if I had it to do over: there’s no justification in the modern world for denying both parents a career if they both want one. And we did ensure that both boys were very well looked after when we weren’t there ourselves.

Sunshine, Nick and Tom on the bench in the Ford Transit. Tom was three here. Both boys were still in their car seats.

Sunshine, Nick and Tom on the bench in the Ford Transit. Tom was three here. Both boys were still in their car seats.

Life on the weekends and on vacations was the same as if we did not have demanding US-style careers. Okay, so we missed a few weekends when client deadlines required weekend work. But visits to the parks around Paris, and trips to the country, were a constant distraction and fun for the whole family. We visited Chartres occasionally, and Normandy, and Parc Asterix when it opened. Further afield, we explored the Alps in the snow and Biarritz in the sun. There was never a shortage of intriguing destinations. Tom benefited from this French indulgence in vacations as much as we did. US employers (like mine) complained about all the long weekends – there were three in May alone, if I remember correctly – and vacation entitlements in France, but they did make life easier for two-career families.

This was taken at a VVF, or French holiday camp, in Normandie during a short break from the rigors of daily life in the early winter of 1992. The grass is covered with frost.

This was taken at a VVF, or French holiday camp, in Normandie during a short break from the rigors of daily life in the early winter of 1992. The grass is covered with frost.

Here is a cute photo on the left. If I remember correctly, Tom was given the roller skates for his third birthday, just a month or two before this little vacation, and spent much of his time learning to use them happily on his butt!

The required baby shot, taken on the sofa at his Grandma's house in Marlow (just west of London on the Thames) in March 1990. He was about six months old, and our little family was on one of its regular visits to grandma.

The required baby shot, taken on the sofa at his Grandma’s house in Marlow (just west of London on the Thames) in March 1990. He was about six months old, and our little family was on one of its regular visits to grandma.

Back in the real world, by the end of 1991, I had moved out of the family home, into a maids room (a small studio) in the same area as Sunshine and the boys – in the same building at first! Nick and Tom barely seemed to notice. I was around almost as much as before, and Sunshine and I are were being relatively civil at that point. Let’s not forget Grandma! Even though never in the best of health and always easily tired, she was simply delighted to have another grandchild. Tom was her fourth: Antony and Laura, Sue and Derek’s children, came first, and ten plus years later Nick and Tom arrived.

Tom squirming on his grandma's lap at the kitchen table in South View Road during a visit early in 1990. Sitting still was never his thing!

Tom squirming on his grandma’s lap at the kitchen table in South View Road during a visit early in 1990. Sitting still was never his thing!

Grandma didn’t do badly at first with our little whirlwind of activity: the boys were always very energetic, always buzzing here and there and doing this and that, but she figured out how to manage us all. She would lodge us in a nearby hotel, often at Handy Cross, so that she could regulate the time that she spent in our whirlwind. Very sensible! As her ailments worsened over time, we all be came a bit much for her, but she would always want to come back for more. She spent her last years living for the weekends when we would all come to visit, or Nick, Tom and I would come to visit. Then we would arrive, with the boys a constant low-key hurricane of interaction and action, running here and there and everywhere, noise, noise and more noise, and within a couple of days Grandma was looking forward to her peace again!  Tom was only six years old when his Grandma Stock died, and so never got to know her very well. But she was very thankful that she had been able to get to know him and Charlie as well as Nick, and that is what it’s all about.