Sunday, May 28, 2006

Similar, but Not the Same

The drawback to traveling anywhere with toddlers is, in order to keep everyone happy, it is necessary to go to children’s museums, McDonald’s and parks—in other words, to do the same things you would do at home. Why would you torture yourself by traveling half way around the world to do the exact same things?

They are the same things, but they are not the same. Taking the kids to play in the Luxembourg Gardens is like stepping into a Parisian painting. Yes, it is a playground where they run and jump and climb, but they do so in a sophisticated, symmetrical garden lined with trees and carefully placed flowers. They play with the young, well-dressed French children and discover you don’t need a common language to climb together.

We took our kids to the Luxembourg Gardens, but also to the Pompidou Centre, a bona fide museum, where there was an exhibition on faces. The 15 minutes of entertainment probably wasn’t worth the 15-euro entrance fee, but they went and they had fun!

We rode around in taxis, took the elevators up the Eiffel Tower and walked and walked and walked (with them in the stroller, of course). We visited toy stores, ate ice cream and generally enjoyed ourselves. In some ways, you could argue that Paris was meant to be savored with all the curiosity, eagerness and exuberance of a child.

In the evenings, my husband and I had time alone (thanks to the babysitter who stayed the week). We went to our favorite restaurants, ate, drank and reminisced about falling in love in the city of love. We reconnected with waiters we knew and restaurants we cherished.

Paris with children was an colorful journey filled with sweet, simple pleasures, but as a couple we also reconnected with the stunning, sophisticated city we knew and loved. It was similar to trips we took alone, but it was not the same. It was even better.

Paris for the Babar crowd

Flying around the world with toddlers is not for the faint-of-heart. It requires great planning, an abundance of patience and a large quantity of sedatives, if available. I spent a fair amount of time planning; I brought their favorite toys, their blankies, special in-flight surprises and, in case all else failed, Baby Benadryl. I bought car seats to confine them and then hired our babysitter to fly with me. What could go wrong?

We first flew to Detroit where we stopped, had dinner and a bad glass of wine, let the kids run and play and then boarded the plane for the trans-Atlantic flight to Paris. The kids were excited; I was excited, yet I was also fully cognizant that the next few hours could be some of the worst of my life. Alex played for a few minutes and then fell asleep. Kate could not relax and did not sleep. We spent hours trying to get her to do so. I had a black blanket to block out the overhead lights. She was snuggled to her blankie and had a healthy dose of Benadryl. I gave her all the tricks in my proverbial bag and still she cried.

The honeymooners a couple seats over were glaring at me- wondering how I could have possibly thought this was a good idea. They must not have seen the article in The New York Times a few days prior that announced Paris was a great destination for the "Babar crowd." Too bad they probably didn't know who Babar was.

We did eventually land in Paris- once all the planning, patience, and sedatives were spent. At least now we could commiserate over a good glass of wine- a really good glass of wine.

Packing up your life

Settling the affairs of one's life is actually, ironically perhpas, a bit unsettling. It feels like the type of thing that should only be done once you have departed this Earth and- to that end- it should only done by other people. Going on sabbatical, however, requires you to do so. It requires that you tie up the loose ends and, generally, put everything on hold while you start over... at least for awhile.

We have, my husband and I, packed up our two and three year old for a semester-long sabbatical in France. I think Paul has been preparing for this since we last lived here 10 years ago. Alexandre, the three year old, spent the last 6 months learning French (for one hour per week). Kate... well, she's only two. For myself, I have been hoping to spend time in France since we first had an opportunity for a sabbatical about three years ago. I'm hoping this time gives me a chance to spend quality time with the kids, romantic evenings out with my husband and to spend some rather intesive time reflecting on what I want out of life after we return.

Here's to "la vie en rose!"