I used to go to Paris all the time. As a student I would go home for vacation and return to my childhood bedroom. Once I graduated and had more limited vacation time, my visits became shorter but still frequent, as I relished any excuse to go home to the land of crusty baguettes and buttery croissants. Even marriage didn't diminish my transatlantic flights; my husband craved my mother's cooking even more than me.
My trips to France remained frequent, right up until I had children.
We were determined to continue making frequent pilgrimages to France. We wanted our children to imbibe the French culture along with their formula, but the hassle of traveling with small children combined with the expense of additional plane tickets were powerful deterrents.
Our quarterly trips became yearly visits, and then stopped altogether. My children's French passports gathered dust in our filing cabinet and they started thinking that supermarket croissants were delicious. I got lazy and stopped speaking French to them, overwhelmed by the American world surrounding us.
Then this spring, I had an eye-opening conversation with my five-year old son.
"Mommy? Where does Chanchan live? Why don't we ever see her?"
"She lives in France sweetie, you know that."
"No, I don't. Where is France?"
"You've been to Chanchan's house. Don't you remember when we visited her?"
I looked at his blank face and realized that he was a chubby baby during our last visit to my mother's house, more interested in gumming anything within his reach than taking note of the foreign country surrounding him. My gaze then drifted over to my youngest, and I realized that she had never even been to France.
The perfect opportunity to bring back France into our lives presented itself when my husband had a three-week break before starting a new job. We shopped around for tickets, realized that we had just missed a great sale, sighed, and bought the more expensive tickets. The confirmation email from Expedia made it official: we were headed to France for 10 days!
Our trip would be split between Paris and the Loire Valley countryside where my mother lives. We chose to do Paris first so we could finish our trip relaxing in the country. In order to cut down on costs and give our kids a little more room to roam, we opted to rent an apartment in Paris instead of staying in a hotel. We found us a delightful duplex in the heart of the Quartier St Michel, a few blocks away from the Louvre, and within walking distance of dozens of delicious restaurants with outdoor terraces. We purchased our breakfasts and lunches at nearby boulangeries and markets, and ate them either in the apartment or nearby parks. We saved money, and kept the children fresh by not subjecting them to the pressure of too many restaurant meals.
Making the kids behave in restaurants was the biggest concern I had about returning to France. Let's just say that the French are not known for being kid-friendly. Most restaurants in France only do one seating each evening. Tables with children disrupt the flow and take up space that could be given to full paying adults. The cultural norm is to keep young children at home, far away from restaurants.
We had four dinners out in Paris and thoroughly enjoyed the food every night. There were no children's menus, but we found the waiters very open to preparing special plates for the kids of either buttery Filet Mignon (tournedos de boeuf) with crispy French fries, or pan-seared chicken breasts (supremes de poulet) with butter noodles or white rice. The kids behaved, but it took a great deal of policing and entertaining on our parts to keep them quiet. By the fifth day, we were very ready to head to the country, to relax at my mother's table.
Five days later, after a full ten days in France, the kids had picked up some French words, were eating duck and wild boar and asking for seconds, and were thrilled with their trip to France. Next spring, we'll be back for another trip. We're more determined than ever now to not let France escape from our lives again.
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