Accidental Cassoulet -- an update
French strikes--and Lunch at Chateau de Pibarnon with Eric De Saint Victor!

"Unfit mother" in French + A Celebration

Kristi Espinasse Max
The following is a curious choice for word-of-the-day on the eve of our son's 21st birthday, but the term mère indigne popped up in today's story. I then found an old word-a-day soundfile from when Max was 11 years old. So there you have it. An almost ready-made post! Here we go:


    : an unfit mother

ECOUTEZ: Listen to a then 11-year-old Max pronounce the example sentence for indigne:
Download Wav 

Qui ne continue pas à apprendre est indigne d'enseigner.
He who ceases to learn cannot adequately teach.
--Gaston Bachelard

"It may be broken but it tastes the same"

    by Kristi Espinasse

Dear Max,

In a matter of hours you will turn 21--and I will not make the mistake I made a few years back when I forgot to wish you Happy Birthday first thing in the morning.

(Quelle gaffe! And for the record: of course I knew it was your birthday! Especially after that first cup of coffee.)

Almost as soon as I gave birth to you in Marseilles, I learned a most dreadful French term: "mère indigne." It was used by parents in a seemingly joking sense: "Je suis une mère indigne!" French moms would say, exaggerating some oversight in the realm of nurturing (like forgetting to give their child homemade dessert, after the homemade main course). And there I was still trying to figure out how to make soup! (Water + veggies, Max. Don't sweat it.)

I won't go into the fears and regrets I had as a young mother in a foreign country before internet (where last month I learned how to make ravioli lasagna for your sister, who turns 19 in September). No! I would rather focus on my réussites, and one of my and your father's biggest successes (apart from your adorable sister) is YOU!

Now for a confession: I am still trying to figure out what to do for you on your birthday, and I thought, somehow, this open letter could be a part of that--if only to record noir sur blanc, my sincere intentions:

SO MAX, here's the agenda for MAY 17th....

1. Wish you Joyeux Anniversaire -- before the rooster crows! Before that first cuppa!

2. Take you shopping. While I believe less and less in shopping, this is one occasion where I believe in it BIG TIME ("big time," not as in "I'm gonna spend big on you!"... big time as in I won't make Mistake No. 2 again: appointing your sister as personal shopper (I was tempted to recycle last year's gift--the one Jackie picked out and charged on my card--that expensive activities "box" where you were to pick among skydiving, car racing, rafting...but I am not THAT desperate (if practical. And increasingly frugal). Besides, it came as a relief that you would not be jumping out of an airplane. Please choose the Romantic Dinner For Two for you and Mathilde. And hurry up before the coupon finally expires!!).

3. Make you your grandmother Michèle-France's gâteau chocolat! This year I'll use real birthday candles and not the ones I scrambled for in time's past (like those fondue candles--exhibit A, below--swiped from I Can't Remember Where...). And I'll try to make a more uniform cake even if, as I have always told you and your sister, "It may be broken but it tastes the same!"

                         A toothless Max

4. I've elected your Dad to cook one of his specialties: magret de canard with pears in honey! (I'll make the rice to go with it!)

5. Toot-toot! I'm going to ask readers to finish today's post and then come back and read this piece about you HERE.

And then I am going to brag to our guest, Chris--friend and wine importer from Portland, about what a wonderful son you are. I'm going to tell him--make that everyone!--about the rainbow-colored flowers you brought me, yesterday, out of the blue. And about how you and your sister dragged me out of the house, last night, to watch you two play tennis. And about how you taught Jackie all your tricks. And the complicité you two share. What a gift to a parent to see her children enjoying each other's company!

My favorite moment from yesterday, Max, was hearing you call out to me, as you have since you first learned to speak: "Mom look at me! Mom watch this! Maman! Regarde-moi!" Last night I watched you run up to the tennis net and--tucking both feet beneath you as you jumped--clear it! That smile on your face. That delight. That wish, want, or need to impress me. No matter how old you are my favorite words will always be: Look Mom! Regarde-moi! Say it at 30! Shout it at 65! I will be watching you forever--delighting in all you accomplish, whether that be graduating college...or urging your sister to call for a second interview (your encouragement worked! Jackie got her first summer job at the water park!).

Happy birthday, Mr Max. You know I love you. Now don't take me to the cleaners. I'll teach you that English idom when we go shopping later! Because if there's one place you and your sister are complice--or partners in crime--it's at the mall!

Jackie and Max in Aix-en-Provence.

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Tim & Phyllis

Hey Max! I remember the first time we met. It was at a 7-11 store in Phoenix. Phyllis & I had just found a place to park to go and meet your parents for the first time. So you were the first Espinasse we met (I think you were on your way to buy some candy you couldn't live without!)

Have a great 21st -- you will be in our hearts on your big day.


Max - Happy Birthday

May you stay forever young !


Happy birthday to Max! :) Kristi, you and Jean-Marc must be so proud to see your two beautiful, talented, smart children so grown up and competent! You truly are a beautiful family.


Such a lovely family! Happy Birthday Max! Wishing him a great year ahead...

Maureen Winterhager

Such a beautiful family. Happy Birthday to you all!!!

Marilina Santoro

You are such a wonderful mother! No wonder you have such wonderful children. Happy Birthday, Max!

Anne Brixner

Happy Birthday, Max, from Seattle! I'm sure that you don't remember meeting us at your house for lunch in 2008, but we remember YOU! You might also remember praying for my kitty, Alex, who was sick many years ago with your parents, and that we laughed at the fact that my other kitty was named Max. Have a fabulous birthday and year ahead & perhaps your best birthday present for the rest of your life will be realizing what AWESOME parents you have, who raised such an AMAZING son! Anne & Mike


Absolutely perfect post. Happy Birthday Max.

Kate Dickerson

If we are to finish this post, I'll add that the next thing you are going to do for the birthday boy is to give him a huge hug and kiss!! I know you already have by the time you are reading this. I hope ALL of you have a wonderful time celebrating Max's birthday.

Dawn Johnson

Happy Birthday to Max!! Can't wait to see how the next chapters in his life unfold. I wish him joy and success in all he does.
What a great family. He is blessed with.
21st birthdays are so different in fFrance.

Tami Dever

Wishing you a wonderfully-happy birthday, Max! I hope it's been fantastic. You have such a blessed family. May you follow God's footsteps into the future He has in store for you. Hugs from Texas!

Heidi Stiteler

Happy Birthday to my favorite nephew! Your smile lights up a room and your kindness is a gift to all. As you continue this exciting journey called life, please remember I'll always be here for you. Next time I see you I will spoil you rotten and I'd love to be the first to treat you (legally) to a cold beer when your in the states!
I love you,
Aunt Heidi


Our Dear Kristi,
Blessings always to your beautiful son(HAPPY BIRTHDAY!),your beautiful daughter,
and much love to you and Jean Marc.
What joy in life!
And THANK YOU for sharing it with us!
We are celebrating with you!

sharon guzman

Happy Birthday Max!
You are the light in your Mother's eyes. You are growing up into such a wonderful person, I can tell by what your mother posts! You and your beautiful sister Jakie are turning into lovely grownups! Keep up the good work! Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and good luck in the future!!
A reader from Arizona

PD Raffy

K! I LOVE this! Max will too! Bon Anniversaire, cher Max!!


Happy, happy day to you. It has been soooooo much fun watching you grow up!!!

Fred A Caswell

Save this -- it will forever remind Max of your love, not only on one of hopefully oodles of birthdays but also when reread will bring the joy of reflecting on the daily unconditional love of his mother for her family. (Kristi, if you continue sending such touching, beautiful stories, one after another, I will be dehydrated!)

.... BONNE ANNIVERSAIRE MAX! You have the most wonderful people for parents.... every day spent with them is a gift to you! I hope you have a wonderful BIRTHDAY! Kristin , check your e-mail... Best wishes to all! Judi dunn, Tallahassee, Fl.

PJ Pleasants

Joyeux Annivesaire Max!


Happy birthday ...Bon anniversaire Max. I hope that you get real candles this time. Sounds like a great meal. Enjoy!


Andrea Hughes

Bon anniversaire, Max!
Psssez une journee inoubliable!!


Wonderful children, and you and Jean Marc can be very proud.
And please send a very happy birthday from Maxine to Max- Bon Anniversaire!


Happy 21st Birthday Max! I just love the top photo of you and your Mom. I hope you treasure that photo of you and your toothless grin holding the lopsided cake with the tea light candles. That cake was made with so much love.

Thanks for the post Kristi!

lou bogue

HAPPY BIRTHDY MAX, I missed meeting you when I came to help with the harvest, you were off to some kind of camp, did get to meet your little sister who was quite shy at the time but have got to watch you grow up thru your MOTHERS eyes, a beautiful thing to watch, a son and daughter growing up to make their parents PROUD, may it be a long and happy life. LOU BOGUE

Joan L.

Joyeux 21e anniversaire de Kankakee, Illinois!

ann sorocki

congratulations to you & the family on Max's 21st! May he continue to jump over that net for many years to come! He all certainly be bringing you joy forever!

ann sorocki

perhaps you & Max can help to type on the computer correctly!

edie schmidt


I'm sure you are proud.
You have a wonderful son.
Happy birthday to Max and many more.

Edie from Savannah

Sh'reen Morrison

What joy !!!!


Bonne fête, Max

David maxey

Best wishes, Max, from an old Philadelphia lawyer (happily retired) who shares the same birthday with you -- but more than sixty years apart, and who admires your mother's way with words -- soit en Francais, soit en anglais.

David Maxey

Angela Sargent

Happy Birthday Max. You sort of share my husband's middle name(Maxwell). Have a wonderful day and here's to a great future wherever it takes you. Your family will always be there for you.

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

Happy birthday to Max with the smiling eyes! If the eyes are truly mirrors of the soul, what you described on his 16th birthday must still shine through. That post left me in tears, the kind of tears that are generated by love and emotion.

How comforting it must be to watch your children become the young adults that they are. Hats off to you and Jean-Marc for giving them the opportunity to grow, blossom and excel and to become such good friends. This birthday is indeed a milestone for your whole family!

Marjorie Cannon

Happy 21st Max,

A bit of a Spanish b'day song from So. California for you

Estas son las mananitas que...tra la la!

Elizabeth Dawson

Happy Birthday Max! Today is my wonderful son Marshall's birthday also. Enjoy life with all your heart!

Bill in St. Paul

Happy birthday, Max!


Hold on a moment, Max. I want to wish you a very, very happy 21st birthday, but I have to find a tissue first. Your maman keeps making my eyes water for some reason . . . :) Happy Birthday! (And, congrats on clearing that net! :) )


Kristi, What a wonderful tribute and birthday gift to your son. Max you are very lucky to be surrounded by such a loving family. Joyeux Anniversaire!


Oh, how I love this post! Merci!
Happy 21st ,Max! May you always be blessed...from the west coast of Canada.

Kitty Wilson-Pote

** All the utmost best to you, Max, as you pass the milestone mark, having now 21 years behind you! Onward to many more challenges and wondrous successes, with plenty of laughs and love each day. As all older adults do, I must marvel at the speed with which you've grown into a man -- shaking my head in amazement!
** Here's to some marvellous celebrating with your parents, sister, and of course with Mathilde as well. All of you are so blessed to belong to each other!
** Kristi, thank you as always for sharing your children and many of your lives' richly human Truths with us. We treasure how the love ripples out and then back to you, like ocean waves!

Suzanne Dunaway

Bonne anniversaire! Auguri, Max. I cannot believe we have all watched you grow from a little boy to a 21-year-old man.
What a pleasure for all.


Max sure looks like his dad, especially when he was younger! Happy Birthday Max!

Karen Cafarella

Have a wonderful day and birthday Max. Such a joy to watch you grow!

Augusta Elmwood

Kristin, what a tender, touching letter :*-) Max, bonne anniversaire and many more. You are fortunate for so many reasons... most of all two loving, caring parents.

Petrina in Brittany

What a lovely post. Warmest wishes to you all & a special 'Bon Anniversaire' to Max.

Claudette  Huot-Kunsay

Chère Kristi !
I write comments very rarely as I don't find much time to do so.
But today reading about your son's birthday Max and your write up on " une mère indigne", you touched my sensitive cords... I have no children and I have lost most of my family. Your son Max is such a loving, compassionate, generous,patient, helpful, thoughtful and a " cool " young man ! He has many more qualities I can bet on it ! As a mother describing him, I had tears in my eyes ! What a sensitive soul ! He is the son I would have enjoyed having ! Mon cher Max, je ne te connais que par le "net" et par ta maman mais je t'aime de loin et je te souhaite un très " JOYEUX ANNIVERSAIRE" !

Claudette  Huot-Kunsay

Chère Kristi !
Very rarely I write comments on your post as I don't find time.
But today reading about your son's birhtday Max, and mentionning " une mère indigne",you touched some sensitive cords.Tears came to my eyes.
I don't have any children and I lost most of my family but having a son like Max, I would enjoy him every moment. Max is loving, compassionate, generous, patient, helpful, sensitive and a " cool" young man ! He has many more qualities I can bet on it...
Cher Max, je te connais seulement par le"net" et par ta maman mais je t'aime de loin et je te souhaite un merveilleux Anniversaire !


What a delight. I was one of your early subscribers. Then life got in the way and I "uncluttered" my in-box. Now I am back and enjoy your writings as much as before. You are a great mother and have two wonderful children. Congratulations! and congratulations to your adorable son! From Cave Creek, Arizona

Cynthia Lewis

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAX !! You are quite an admired young man and rightly so. Even though only about thirty minutes of your birthday have elapsed, you are now officially twenty-one years old. (A big deal here in the States.) Years ago I recall my husband's grandmother describing her birthday as, "I'm ninety-one out in me ninety-two" when she reached her ninety-first birthday. Anyway you describe them, I wish you and your family many, many more happy birthdays together.


Beautiful post...beautiful son...beautiful family. As the mother of 3 sons now 28, 31 and 34 (how did that happen??) I know how fulfilling it is to have them still seek your attention, approval and love no matter their age (and you, their's).All of you are lucky to have one another! Happy birthday, Max!


Spoken like a true mom! Happy Birthday handsome Max. Have fun at the mall.

Dave Kapsiak

Bonne Anniversaire, Max et beaucoup de plus!

Patty Cargill

Happy Birthday, Max!

Kristi, this is the most beautiful post of all. Love and blessings to la famille Espinasse.


Congratulations to you Kristi and Jean-Marc for raising such wonderful children who are now adults. I first met them at Domaine Rouge-Bleu just after Blaise had her puppies. I have Max has a fabulous birthday.


Happy Birthday, Max! Wishing you an awesome day to enjoy!

Devra Long

Happy Birthday Max!! We will say cheers in your honor tomorrow in Madison Alabama! People will be celebrating your birthday all over the world. Enjoy your special day with your loving family.

Nikki Maxwell

Happiest of birthdays to you Max, from a complete stranger in Melbourne, Australia.
Small place this world!

Brenda Prowse

Happy Birthday Max! I hope your day is marvelous

Ulrike Lüdiger

Happy Birthday Max. Wishing you a marvelous day with your Family.

Fatih Bozkurt

wish Max a happy birthday and a healthy life.. He is also a lucky boy having such a wonderful family. I also liked your quote "Qui ne continue pas à apprendre est indigne d'enseigner.He who ceases to learn cannot adequately teach. --Gaston Bachelard" Thanks for sharing it. Cheers from Rep of Turkey..

Deborah Zajac


What a beautiful tribute to Max today on his special 21st Birthday!

Happy Birthday Max! I hope your day is fun, and wonderful, and your year fantastic!

My baby girl is 27 today so, we'll be celebrating here today too!

Don't forget to make a wish before blowing out the candles that Mom got especially for your cake this year!

Audrey Wilson

Lovely, lovely post . Treasure it Max.Look at it on your 30th, 60th , & so on . Such great memories it will be for you. Happy Birthday !!

Sandy Schwanke Howell

Joyeux Anniversaire to Max! He was an adorable child, and we've seen him grow up into a caring young man. You should be, and I know you are, very proud. Let me say that one thing I love about your blog and your books is that you share your true self. You are honest about any perceived imperfections, such as your earlier attempts at gateau. You say you will try to make a better one, but it was the love you put into it that Max appreciated, I'm sure, and you're does taste the same, whether it's flawless or imperfect. I love that you talk about your gateau because I have never been able to make a perfect layer cake. One layer will slide off the other :-) Have a wonderful day with Max!


Diane Young

Joyeuse anniversaire, Max. Je regrette que je suis un jour en retard mais la pensee est encore la meme.
Congrats, Kristi and Jean-Marx. You have done a super job raising a wonderful young man. Like the Romans, "tempus fugit" and now he's grown! Kristi, thank you for sharing come of the highlights of the years with your devoted readers.

Kaaren Scanio

What handsome children you have Kristi!! I read your notes fail fully even though I have never written. You are truly charming as well as beautiful. We live in a small town named Gy, just outside of Geneva for 2-3 months of the year in a 1500's home. It has been in my husband's family over 200 years. My French is poor but it doesn't stop me from enjoying my wonderful neighbor's. A young man living next to us, Simone, is turning 26 just as soon as we get there next week and I will tell him of your son's birthday. the two of them picked a glorious month to grace this world with their presence. As we toast Simone, we will raise a glass to the young man in Bandol, Max, and his lovely family!
Kaaren Scanio, Queen Creek, AZ


Happy Birthday, Max. What a wonderful day - 21 is such a special year! Hope you had a fun, celebratory day. A loving family will be always in your thoughts and memories, no matter how old you get!

Mary Deignan

Simply beautiful expressions of live from a mother to child (no matter the age).

Mary Deignan
Gettysburg, PA

Deborah Page

Happy Birthday to Max, what a handsome, strong, confident young man he has become. And you are an inspiration too, when my own baby girl turns (gulp) 28 next week, I will try to celebrate her as with as much love and enthusiasm as you are modeling for all of us!


Happy birthday! What a lovely tribute.

Patricia Sands

The best role in life: mother! You model it so well, Kristi! Félicitations to all!

Marianne Rankin

Bon anniversaire, Max! I first "met" you in 2006, when I found out about French Word-A-Day, which I've been reading, along with your mother's books, ever since. I feel as if I know your family (and had the privilege of meeting your father three times when he visited the States on wine tours). I've followed adventures described in the books, as well as stories from FWAD: having to write "cent lignes" for some school infraction; changes to your hairstyle; serving as an intern in a restaurant when you were about 14; some early military service at 16; "J'ai conduiiiiiiit!" when you were learning to drive; help around the winery; moving on to college . . . I'll always be interested in what you and your family do.

In the USA, turning 21 is a "milestone" year. In the old days, one had to be 21 to vote (now it's 18). One is old enough to buy alcoholic beverages, and to do certain things younger folks cannot, such as renting a car in most places. One is truly regarded as an adult. I hope you will enjoy activities in France that might be new for you at this age.

My son will turn 25 in a few days, so I identify with your mom's feelings as you have reached maturity. Yet it seems you've always been mature for your age.

I wish you "toutes les bonnes choses" for the rest of your life.

If les Espinasses ever get to the Washington area, I'd love to meet you. Meanwhile, take care and have a wonderful day and year.

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