A quiet corner in Marseilles.

noun, feminine
armpit, underarm

Jean-Marc's dear friend, Laurence, sits on the edge of Jackie's bed. Her long, wavy hair is pulled back into a clip, revealing her luminescent complexion, which is set off by dark Corsican eyes.

"Coucou, ma puce," she says to my daughter, who was up heaving part of the night.

"Ça ne va pas trop, n'est-ce pas?" our guest coos. Jackie lights up from the extra mothering, while a light goes off in my own head: I should be cooing like Laurence! And it is about time I added "My Little Flea" to my own list of endearments for my daughter! Forget "sweetie pie"; ma petite puce is so much more... French!

"You might want to take her temperature," Laurence suggests, and I make for the medicine cabinet, as if I were already on my way to do just that.

Le thermomètre! Why hadn't I automatically thought of it? Instead, I had pressed my cheek to my daughter's forehead, as my grandmother used to do, to judge whether Jackie had a temperature. Suddenly the old-fashioned gesture seems so unofficial, so... négligent!

I return from the bathroom with a skinny glass thermometer sans mercure, one I picked up a few years ago after struggling to get the digital ear thermometer to work. Only one problem: where to insert it while under the watchful eye of a seasoned French mother-nurse?! Do I do as the French—and aim for les fesses—or do I tuck it under the tongue as Mom used to do?

My daughter and her doting Corsican nurse are waiting. The room feels warm now and I wonder whether I, too, am coming down with something? A long hot moment passes before Laurence offers a suggestion:

"Tu peux le mettre sous l'aisselle..." she hints. I swiftly move the thermometer toward my daughter's armpit, as if I were on my way there anyway. Laurence nods graciously, as if she's certain I had been on my way there, too!

I am grateful for our friend's discretion and for all the nursing tips I've just learned (including "add half a degree Celsius to an underarm reading"). But perhaps no one is as grateful as our little patient, who seems relieved that we aimed that thermometer at the armpit and not les fesses!

Your edits here please. Have you enjoyed this story and is it clear enough? Are there any grammar or punctuation problems? Thanks for your thoughts here, in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

coucou ma puce = hello my flea (my little darling)
ça ne va pas trop, n'est-ce pas? = you're not doing so well, are you?
 sans mercure = without mercury
les fesses (fpl) = buttocks
tu peux le mettre sous l'aisselle = you can put it under the arm


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Sushil Dawka

Hello Kristin,
Greetings and bon courage for your new venture.
One needs to add one degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) to an underarm thermometer reading to approximate core temperature.
And "thermometre" in the penultimate sentence is misspelt.
Beautiful text, as always.


In the second-last paragraph you have Laurence spelt with a w instead of a u.


"Coucou Ma Puce" would be better as "Coucou, ma puce," since "ma puce" is not a proper noun. The comma works better, too, since you need to set "coucou" off from the rest. Cute!

Judi Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

I think the semi-colon after Sweetie Pie end quote should come before the end quote. I think many of us can relate to this story and a time when we feel less than adequate or knowledgeable in front of someone dear. I love the picture of Smokey!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you all for these edits!

Judi, I kept the semi-colon as is, because it joins two sentences (the quotes around sweetie pie belong in the first sentence). Let me know if you disagree (anyone reading). Thanks.

Leslie, after putting Ma Puce in small letters (for the m and p) I did the same with Sweetie Pie (changing it to sweetie pie). Hmmm... hope this is right!

lucille a. northenscold

I would not put a question mark after wondering if you are coming down with something. You are just making a statement there.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Lucille, I see what you mean--but I am not sure about that (in my mind it is a definite question). I will keep your suggestion in mind.

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Hey Kristin,

Every mother will relate to this story. We've all had that nagging thought ---- are we doing our best?

You are asking a question---- is she coming down with something?

I love the stories, please keep them coming.

Raining on the coast of Oregon. Stay well!

Diane Young

Put comma after "Laurence suggests" as you are changing from one action to another. In Britain they don't use as many commas as we Americans do, but still think you need it.
Change "o" to "0" in temperature reference. You're dealing with numbers not letters there.
I personally think Smokey deserves the cover. There's great scenery everywhere but there's only one Smokey Dokey.

Diane Young

The printer changed 0 to o so maybe it's a computer thing that zero did n't come out right.

Kathy, Sacramento

I agree that the semi-colon should go inside the quotes: ....sweetie pie;" to follow American guidelines.
Also that even though you were wondering, this is a statement that you were; it's not the question itself.
Another good read; I enjoyed this post and learned from it. It's from before I was a reader of your blog. Keep up the good work. Even as a French teacher approaching retirement I continue to learn from you about both culture and vocabulary. Merci!

Marilynn Gottlieb

I was picturing the scene all wrong until several paragraphs in. I think you should start off saying Laurence is sitting on the edge of Jackie's bed. I thought she was sitting on the edge of her own bed at first.

Rebecca Q. T. in Baltimore

The first sentence strikes me as somehow off:

"Her long, wavy hair is pulled back into a clip, all the better to admire her luminescent complexion, which is set off by dark Corsican eyes."

It's a misplaced modifier of sorts, even though it does not strictly meet the definition. I think the sentence could be corrected like so:

"Her long, wavy hair is pulled back into a clip, REVEALING her luminescent complexion, which is set off by dark Corsican eyes."

The "all the better to admire" is a little choppy, confusing, and reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood.

In my opinion, this story is endowed with a few too many ellipses. One in particular caught my eye as ripe for the picking:

"You might want to take her temperature," Laurence suggests and I make for the medicine cabinet... as if I were already on my way to do just that.

A simple comma would be stronger.

This one could go too:

"as if I were on my way there anyway.... Laurence nods, graciously, as if she's certain I had been on my way there, too!"

A simple period, again, would do.

You may have noticed that I am not too keen on the dot-dot-dot, as I think it is a crutch, as there are so many other lovely conjunctions, transitions, and indeed marks of punctuation to be used in this great wide world. That's my two cents, anyway! Others will certainly disagree.

I do like the story a lot and am glad poor Jackie did not have to endure the thermometer via the fesses. Quel horreur.

Hugs, R

Vicki, San Francisco Bay area

I believe the comma after 'nods' is not necessary, unless you want the pause for emphasis of 'graciously'. Very relatable story on two levels:
the normal anxieties of mothering our precious children, and the performance anxiety one can feel when being watched by someone we admire.

Kristin Espinasse

Marilynn, good idea (actually, Jackie was in our bed--as children sometimes are when they are sick! but this would lead to further confusion!)

(I will get to the rest of the edits offered soon (after dinner, I hope!). Thanks, everyone, for the excellent help!!!)

Sushil Dawka from Mauritius

I shall not quote the scientific references here, but 0.6 degrees Celsius is the mean difference between axillary and oral/rectal temperature within 95% limits of agreement.
The upshot of the preceding medicalese is to say that you could replace the awkward 0.6°C in your text by 'half a degree C' without losing out much on scientific accuracy or relevance.

Kristin Espinasse

Rebecca; LOL Little Red Riding Hood! You are so right (I have to wonder how many lines from the childhood stories influence such writing decades later!). Ive removed those words and added your suggestion. Also, thanks so much for the encouragement to move beyond the elipses! The comma and period you offered look much better (now to remember to use them next time!)

Kathy (and Judi), the two of you are probably right about this semi-colon issue but I need to sleep on it (the end quote placed after the semi-colon--or technically in the next sentence, for a colon is supposed to separate the sentences--just looks too bizarre to me. And that question mark still feels like a question mark to me!

Vicki, thanks for removing that comma (after nods).

Will check this comments box tomorrow. Thanks again!


Hi dear Kristin,
I loved this and thought it was excellent!
Wouldn't change/correct anything!
Your humor and your love for beautiful Jackie radiate in your words!
Love, Natalia XO

Linda Casey

I also found your story humorous. Your 'red penners' also made some good suggestions I thought.


I love your writing style, chère Kristin. It is so honest and funny. Pour ta phrase "Suddenly the old-fashioned gesture seems so unofficial, so... négligente!"

Un geste, nom masculin, donc, négligent sans E'
Bonne journée!

Kristin Espinasse

Good morning! Well, after sleeping on it, Ive decided to keep those quotes inside the semi-colon:

This is one random site that I found, that agrees (and my faithful editor, Bill Myers, agrees too):  (see the Example section; noticed the second sentence (with Toby) in it.

I realized there are differences in American and English grammar. Thanks, everyone, for your help! 

Natalia and Linda, thanks for your responses to this story!

Millie, so glad you caught that extra e. It is a gonner now!

If anybody is reading this particular comment, all of the edits from here up have been incorporated (or mostly...) Have I missed one? Thanks for a fresh reread!


In second paragraph, "who was up heaving part of the night"--

I might use a different word for vomiting; up+heaving sounds close to upheaval and is just a bit confusing. It seems to be saying something other than what you intend as one first reads it.

Kristin Espinasse

THanks, Christine. I agree. Does anyone have a good replacement for heaving? (besides vomiting...)


It's hard to find a "good" replacement for such a horrid thing but these come to mind: throw up, barf, gag, retch, hurl.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Divya. Perhaps, simply:  My daughter, who was sick all through the night.

Rereading the paragraph, does that sound better?

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