Today, we have an interview with Kristen Beddard. Kristen is an American writer living in Paris. I discovered her work nearly 3 years ago on Instagram and really enjoyed her vignettes of life in France. She is the founder of The Kale Project and mother to one-year-old Grady.
She currently has a new book coming out called Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes. Below we talk about how she navigated her fourth trimester with Grady, her experience with breastfeeding and resuming a work schedule.
If I remember correctly, you welcomed your daughter last year. I know research and development of a book can take awhile, but how did you manage to write your book and have a baby all in what appears to be the span of a year or so?
To be honest, the deadline of the book was a year earlier than I would have liked but the publisher wanted to release it in spring (Paris in the springtime!) and because the kale trend isn’t getting any younger. I worked on the proposal off and on for around a year and then signed with my publisher in November 2014. My daughter Grady was born in March 2015. I worked on the first 30,000 words or so and the chapter outline until her birth, many of which were already well developed from working on the proposal. After the birth, I made sure to be as productive and efficient as possible while writing the last 60,000 words. It was not easy because my time alone to really focus was not as frequent as it was before she arrived and she’s never been the baby who just “sleeps” while I work.
Did you plan for and have postpartum support after the birth of your daughter? In the sense of cooked meals, someone who held the baby while you showered, etc.
Yes! My mom! I’m an only child and Grady is her first grandchild and she had retired a year earlier so the timing was perfect. She arrived two weeks before Grady was born (at 41 weeks and 4 days), was present for the birth and then stayed for a month afterwards. We rented an Air BnB not far from our apartment and she was absolutely wonderful and so helpful. She is a great cook – I talk a lot about her and the influence she’s had with me and food in the book – so I was very spoiled to have her cooking for me during the postpartum phase. I feel so fortunate that I was able to have her with me for emotional and physical support.
I think that women in modern day, western society, feel this pressure to try to do this all on our own when in reality, motherhood was not meant to be done without help. For centuries, women had their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and communities all helping each other out with knowledge that had been passed down through generations, a spare hand (or even breast!) and more. I tell any of my expecting friends to hire a doula for anything they might need if they will not have help from a family member. It will make such a difference in the first few weeks.
How long did you take off from work after your daughter’s birth?
I started working on the book again when Grady was ten weeks old. I did not have a full time job before being pregnant so was fortunate where I didn’t have to stick to a strict maternity leave schedule. I found a babysitter who came a few hours a day to get back into writing mode. Even now, I am in a fortunate situation where I do not work full time and I have around 12 hours a week of free time to work on book promo, other writing projects, go to a doctor appointment or schedule a lunch with a friend. The rest of the time I’m in mom mode and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Did you have any challenges adjusting to going from being a full time baby focused new mother to resuming some semblance of a regular work schedule?
Yes and I still do! For us the hardest part was that I wanted to do my best to exclusively breastfeed, but from the beginning Grady has been a petite little girl. She didn’t gain weight fast enough for doctors, which meant our first month was filled with breast pumps, tongue tie and a non-stop effort to increase my milk supply. Because of this, we never really put ourselves on a nursing “schedule” and I fed Grady at least every 90 minutes to two hours but mostly on-demand until she was around six or seven months old. This made leaving the house alone for more than two hours difficult because I wasn’t going to an office where I could pump to make up for a feed. I also didn’t have an ample supply of frozen bags of breast milk. And the Parisian café where I was writing was not going to be okay with me pumping in a tiny bathroom. Most French women don’t breastfeed at all, so already I was considered odd. I would say now that Grady is a year and I am starting to slowly wean her, I finally have more freedom to leave the apartment and neighborhood which is giving me more of a “work schedule.” Or more of a feeling that I’m an individual person again.
You brought kale to Paris and influenced an entire shift with your knowledge. Farmers started growing kale, chefs started cooking with it and now it’s available at local farmers markets. Bringing Up Bebe was hugely popular in the United States for a while. Would you say French parenting has influenced you in any way?
I read Bringing Up Bebe when we first moved to France. I loved that book and there are definitely things in it that I remember and think about. I think there is a lot to be said about the idea of the “cadre” and giving a child a safe area to explore and play and learn to be independent versus constantly hovering. But that’s also just a philosophy if REI parenting as well and I really love Magda Gerber and Janet Lansbury. I’ve read a lot of parts of parenting books when it comes to food, discipline, sleep and so on. I think it’s really hard to say that only one theory or philosophy works because every kid is different. There are some parts of Magda Gerber’s book that I really agree with and others that I don’t. I’m a big believer in reading a lot and then doing what works for you.
One area that I do think the French really excel in is how they introduce food and continue to feed their children as toddlers and as young kids. I was instructed to give Grady vegetables first instead of rice cereal and it’s really important to get kids to try all different foods like leeks, spinach, soft and stinky cheese and goat’s milk yogurt. As babies grow older and enter the public school system (some as young as 4 months and every child at 3 years old), they actually take time to eat lunch versus just shoving in some food in 20 minutes. Meals are created and formed like those an adult would eat (fish, lentils, cheese, fruit organized in starter, main and dessert courses) versus the idea of “kids food.” The most interesting part is that kids do not snack all the time here. There is one time of day for a snack – the “gouter” hour – after school. Otherwise, there are no snacks. One book about food and life in France that I really recommend is Karen LeBillon’s French Kids Eat Everything.
I have to ask; does your daughter appreciate kale as much as you do?
Hah! Not yet! Although she doesn’t hate it. I haven’t been that adamant with leafy greens yet since she is still a little young to eat salads and isn’t really into purees anymore. I hope that one day she loves it!
Do you have any tips for introducing kale to children?
I think morning smoothies are a fun way to introduce kale to kids. Smoothies are great because you can include the green aspects and if you add an apple or dates, it’s a natural sweetener and the smoothie still has fiber. I know a lot of moms give their kids homemade kale chips. It’s a fun activity to do together.
I’m visualizing Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes, as a modern day, A Year in Provence, intertwined with good food and French classes! Am I on the right track? What can we expect from the book?
The book is food, vegetables, markets and the stories of our new life in France (the good, the bad and the embarrassing). If anything I hope that it leaves people feeling inspired to take on anything!
What’s next for you?
This question is very up in the air right now. Our time in France was always only for five years so we are still waiting to see what happens next. Either way, I know that I want to work in the food world somehow. I have an interest in American school lunch reform and really want to find a way to make an impact there. Either way it will be a new journey.
Connect with Kristen:
Image credits: Second, by Abigail LaBranche; Third, by Philip Heimann; all other photos courtesy of Kristen Beddard