Our Editor-in-Chief spent a long weekend in Paris with her seven year old, leaving her five year old and husband at home. She learned a lot, and not just about traveling, but about joy, focus, and the value of giving her daughter her undivided attention.
It started out almost as a joke between me and my husband. Hey, why don’t I take C to to Paris for the weekend, while you take Z to Belize? Separate, yet equal vacations, along with a rare opportunity for my husband and me to spend quality time with each of our children without having to divide our focus. It seemed kind of crazy at the time, but once we’d talked to the kids about it, we knew we had to follow through. And, so, with a nod to our enormous privilege at even being able to consider such (literal) flights of fancy, a red eye flight to Paris was booked, a hotel near the Eiffel Tower (my daughter’s choice) was reserved, Rick Steves’ Paris guide was procured, and the planning began.
I haven’t been to Paris since 2001 when I spent a decidedly different kind of whirlwind weekend there visiting a friend who was living in the city at the time. That trip definitely did not revolve around the Eiffel Tower. In fact, the closest I got was to look at the imposing steel structure from Trocadero Square. I had no desire to visit the tower’s summit or even get particularly close. I had 20-something activities in mind that included a late night salsa club, a leisurely day touring the Musee D’Orsay, the Louvre and the Rodin Museum, lovely walks through the Latin Quarter, and raucous, late night dinners in the Marais. Part of me yearned for the Paris weekend of my 20’s (though I’m probably too tired for that salsa club), but I decided to let my daughter’s wishes guide our visit, which—perhaps unsurprisingly—revolved around the Eiffel Tower, and a secondary obsession with the Catacombs.
As the sole parent on this trip, I felt enormous pressure to entertain C at every moment and navigate our travels around the city perfectly without mishap or stress. I wanted to find the perfect brasseries and bistros for our meals, make sure she got enough sleep, and pack every minute with fun. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything perfect. What if we got lost? Jumped on the wrong train? Lost our Metro tickets? Couldn’t decipher the restaurant menu?
I have long touted the idea that kids need to know that their parents aren’t perfect and that we should let them see us make mistakes (and apologize for them, if necessary). If I was going to practice what I preach, I needed to give myself a break (and quickly), or this wasn’t going to be fun for anyone. On the way from the airport to our hotel, we transferred to the RER line going in the wrong direction and I panicked, because I didn’t want my daughter to know I’d made a mistake. What to do? I made a split second decision to turn it into a joke, just another part of our adventure. C followed suit, and, against all sleep-deprived-post-red-eye-flight-odds, we made a game out of getting off the train at the next stop, dragging our luggage over to the platform heading in the right direction, and high-fiving when we got it right. “Sometimes getting lost is fun, right, Mom?” Indeed.
As our trip wore on and we muscled through a visit to the Musee D’Orsay, an Eiffel Tower tour, and a boat ride on the Seine—all in one day—I started to realize that this trip wasn’t about sightseeing for me, it was about showing my seven year old the value of just enjoying your surroundings, and taking everything in, minute-by-minute. I decided not to be afraid of split second changes in our itinerary, and just adjust as needed. And, because I had the privilege of only having to focus on her (and navigating Paris, of course), I could soak up all her joy and awe at each moment.
Without cellular or wifi service outside our hotel, my ability to focus was even greater; my phone was only useful as a camera, which I handed over to C so she could be the documentarian. I actually lived every single moment instead of worrying about what was coming next. And, I realized that when I was able to give my daughter my undivided, undistracted attention, she connected more readily and happily with me as well. Our weekend was basically one long, uninterrupted conversation. We talked about everything you can imagine. I learned about her view of the US Civil War during our walk through the Latin Quarter, a Spanish lesson during every train ride, and a near constant narrative of every single thing she noticed about Paris. It’s possible that my daughter and I talked more over a single weekend than we have in the previous seven + years of her life.
Unexpectedly, I discovered that, even in a city across the pond where we had limited time to explore, it didn’t matter whether or not we made it to the Rodin Museum before it closed (we didn’t; we ate crepes at a ridiculously touristy pop-up cafe in the Tuileries Gardens instead); it mattered that we enjoyed the journey, imperfect as it may have been.
I suppose what I learned during this weekend in Paris is really just a metaphor about life and parenting. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stop talking and listening. You won’t love every minute. But it’s yours. Own it. Live it. Breathe in all its messiness. Embrace the imperfection. Even if you don’t make it to the Rodin.
Mollie Michel is a South Philly resident and a Philadelphia public school parent. A recovering non-profit professional, Mollie is also an experienced birth doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, and the mom of two awesome girls and a sweet pit bull named Princess Cleopatra. In her spare time, she is usually trying to figure out how Pinterest works, training for a(nother) half-marathon with her dog at her side, or simply trying to keep up with her increasingly wily daughters.