Last month we went to Paris for passports, armed with a thick, triple-checked dossier and many backpacks full of the endless items needed for the care and keeping of two little kids. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. I wasn’t expecting a flâneur’s thoughtful weekend or a romantic getaway. But I dared to hope we could manage a little fun in addition to our American Embassy appointment. I mean, it’s Paris. Dripping with art and architecture. Ghostly with history. Capital of window shopping.
We’re only two hours away by train, but it’s not every day (or year) we can make a Paris trip work. The demands of parenting, the cost, plus the seesawing COVID restrictions of the past few years have meant that we’ve stayed fairly close to home in the Beaujolais. Here was a chance to explore a little bit. What’s more, Clara had developed a fascination with the Tour Eiffel. She’d seen it in postcards, books, and in the background of our engagement pictures. She had it on a tea set, a tee shirt. She’d steeple her fingers together: regarde, tour eiffel! She’d find them in the cell towers we’d pass in the car: itsa tour eiffel! We were thrilled imagining her reaction upon beholding the mythical monument. The cell tower at the roundabout would pale in comparison, to put it mildly.
Beyond Eiffel Tower dreams, I wanted to show Clara Notre Dame, which she also recognizes. We’d walk past the glittering Louvre pyramid. We’d pose on the curious striped columns outside the Palais Royale. Maybe we could order a box of pastel macarons from Ladurée and eat them in some storied spot. Maybe we’d tour the Seine at sunset. There could be time for lunch in a brasserie–after two years of back-and-forth restaurant closings and restrictions, visions of steak frites danced in my head.
I had to reign myself in. The most important thing was the paperwork, which was the whole reason we were even doing this. Any bit of fun we could manage would be a bonus. Just a bonus. Victor and I repeated it like a mantra. We would not be disappointed.
The low expectations were a good strategy. You should pretty much assume that things will be a lot harder than they need to be, especially with kids, especially in Paris.
You should expect low-quality sleep, all mushed together in the shoebox apartment where the baby slumbers on the floor of the bathroom, such that you might have felt better with no sleep at all. The metro will be en grève on the day of your appointment, and you will walk more than ten miles when all is said and done, weaving strollers through hordes of traffic like a gallic version of Frogger. It will rain as soon as you reach the Eiffel Tower–not rain, no, but a torrent of aquatic fury unleashed, and you will find you have forgotten your umbrella.
Your daughter will finally encounter the object of her infatuation, the Tour Eiffel, la vraie, and will say: nothing–tired and irritable from the sweaty, masked, two-hour-long embassy appointment where her presence was required.
You will escape the rain in a brasserie–oh joy of joys!–where you then must inhale your steak frites and gulp your white wine one-handed while juggling the baby and trying to convince the toddler not to crawl under the table nor stripe its surface with ketchup. You will try to note the details–the rain streaking the windows quite charmingly, the glass pastry case with its tartes aux framboise, and you will remember why people love Paris–while at the same time plotting the best way to get back to the apartment, like five minutes ago. Little ones need to sleep. And anyway, bedtime is at 6pm, maybe earlier on a day like this, which would mean another night of takeout Chinese, of sitting in the apartment with the lights off while kids sleep, deciding if it’s acceptable to call it a night at 7 pm. And you will decide there with your husband to cut the trip short, to turn a planned three-night stay into one, because we’re going to have fun if it kills us! is not actually fun.
You each take an espresso for fortitude, sigh, and jet out into the rain, zigzagging strollers past some of the world’s most famous sites. You see a shining gold dome. “That’s les Invalides, right?” you shout to your husband, who is halfway across the street already though the lights haven’t changed. You convince him to stop for a quick snapshot on the Pont Alexandre III, your hair whipping you in the face. You jog, riffing off each other to sing a pessimist’s version of La vie en rose that better fits the situation–a favorite joke. You wipe raindrops out of your eyebrows and jog more. You stop at a bright pink boulangerie for blueberry eclairs. You point out the Orsay.
Finally you see them: the sea of fresh flowers in buckets at the fleuriste right next to the apartment. Made it. You wiggle toddler + stroller into the tiny elevator, jog up the stairs to meet her, pack up all belongings in ten minutes, and start your trip home. Before too terribly long the kids are asleep in actual beds and you are enjoying a favorite chicken dish and maybe it was all just a dream.
But no, there’s proof. A token from the embassy: two shining pins featuring the French & American flags side-by-side. You have a memory: well folks, you have a couple of American children on your hands! Success. And, there really is no place like home.