Sunday, January 22, 2012

Take Your Baby to Paris

“No, it was easy. I’ve had worse times taking him grocery shopping,” is what I’d tell people to ease their surprise and concern. And then they’d relax and nod, understanding. Taking an 11-month-old baby who’s just discovered walking is an astounding feat anywhere, really. Why not a three-day train trip to Paris in the middle of winter?

Why not, indeed. We’d been visiting my old grad school friend and her family near Portsmouth, England. How could we travel all that way from Seattle and not go to Paris?

On the train to London, we sat in an aisle seat next to a woman preparing a resume, and I tried my darnedest to keep The Boy contained in my lap as he opened and closed the tray table with joyous abandon. He was desperate to get his hands on our seatmate’s sweet, sweet pen, and we locked ourselves in stifled combat as he reached and I restrained. This went on for pretty much the entire train ride. I was thankful for the group of raucous football fans on board, making us look downright prim by comparison.

At Waterloo station, they took one look at the baby sleeping peacefully in my arms and bumped us to the front of the line, I suppose because the risk of him waking up and wailing was simply too great to leave to chance. While we waited for the Eurostar train, I let him toddle wild in his little turtle Robeez all over the station. On the train, a French girl amused him with a rousing game of peek-a-boo.

And how amazing and sublime, seeing France for the first time from a train window, snowy fields punctuated with trees in perfect willowy lines. Mr. Black’s face lit up like Christmas morning as we rolled into Paris, remembering his last visit. We walked through the dusky drizzle to our hotel. It seemed as if the whole city were made of pastries.

I don’t speak a word French. Mr. Black taught me how to say “Je ne parle pas francais,” and I could barely even manage that. But it was a strange child-like luxury of sorts, letting the others do the talking; basking in the dreamy isolation of only being able to look, smile, and drift.

The next day was sunny and so cold and absolute perfection. I bundled The Boy into his snow suit and Björn’d him all over Montmartre, where he had his very first carousel ride ever. Later that afternoon we saw the Arc de Triomphe and wandered in and out of shops on the Champs Élysées, where The Boy laid waste to Virgin Mega Store’s punk section. We wisely decided to skip the Louvre, letting him toddle around in a nearby sandbox instead before heading to the Eiffel Tower.

He took his naps on the go – every Metro ride was like a magic snooze machine for him. At dinner in a small Latin Quarter restaurant, there were no high chairs. But a friendly waiter set a bread basket right in front of The Boy, who spent the rest of the meal happily gnawing.

“Ça va?” the waiter asked The Boy, grinning. “Ça va?”

“Oui, ҫa va,” Mr. Black answered for him in a squeaky voice. The Boy grinned right back.

The next day was less adventurous, sleeping late and devouring coffee and pastries in the hotel room. We spent the afternoon in a fancy department store, where my friend and I shopped while Mr. Black hung out with The Boy in the play cafe. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the train station.

And that was it. My one and only trip to Paris.

A few weeks later, I was back in Seattle getting ready for The Boy’s first birthday party. He’d mastered walking and would soon move on to running, climbing, and carrying huge sticks everywhere he went. As the months went by, I found myself increasingly grateful that we’d taken that trip when we did, because this kid could no longer be contained. He was fierce and wild and free. No Baby Björn could hold him.

Even now, at a sober seven-and-a-half, it’s hard to imagine hauling him and the rest of this crew back to Europe. Legoland and the Oregon Coast were challenging enough. Between The Boy’s Aspergian challenges, Mr. Black’s recent Crohn’s diagnosis, Little Girl’s tearful refusal to use any bathroom but her own or eat anything but bread when we travel, a geriatric cat with kidney disease whom I’m very reluctant to leave behind, and my own recent bouts of raging anxiety…well, it looks like we’re just going to be homebodies for a while.

But, you know…we’ll always have Paris.

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