Monday, September 19, 2011

City of Fight

Paris is my absolute most favorite city in the world, which isn’t saying much since I have only been to a handful of cities in the world, and most of them are in the US.  I studied French four years in high school, and spent the last month of my senior year living with a family in the suburbs of Paris.  Although back then I was a whiny little brat who didn’t really know how completely awesome it was that I was able to have that opportunity, I became the worst kind of Francophile who loves everything French with the same obnoxious devotion that my husband has for his college football team.

So when my husband found out that he was going to be spending five weeks in central France for work this summer, I became obsessed with inserting myself and our children somewhere – anywhere – into his trip.  I wanted to tag along with him the entire five weeks, but trifling commitments like the kids’ schooling and not being as equipped to raise our debt ceiling as easily as the federal government prevented us from spending a month-plus overseas. However, I did enough finagling so that the kids and I could piggy-back on the tail-end of his extended work trip, so we rented an apartment and totally kicked it like natives in the City of Light for two weeks.

I loved the idea of staying in Paris with my kids, sharing with them the sights, the food, and just the coolness of leaving our bland suburban life for one in a rich European cultural hub, if only for two weeks.  Because I knew it would be overwhelming for them if we went full-on European Vacation the whole time, and because there were several days in which I was traveling alone with the kids, we managed our time in a low-key way, with late mornings spent wandering around our neighborhood, dinners in and early nights relaxing.  We did our fair share of tourism, too, eating and drinking at cafés, visiting museums and churches, playing in the gorgeous parks, riding the Mètro from one end of the city to the other, and traveling by train - to Versailles (which they hated) and France Miniature (which they loved).

I’d been to Paris as an adult several times, and speak passable French to follow directions and order food.  I have smugly found on past trips that I was able to pass as European, if not Parisian – I try to fit in, and at least don’t get stared at as much as my husband does, due to his wardrobe of favorite plaid shorts, college T-shirts, and white running shoes.  I have even been stopped by a fellow Frenchman for directions once or twice. 

However, on this most recent trip, my incognito and coveted French cultural heritage blew asunder with kids in tow, kids who weren’t always so awed by the city (as their mother was) to forget to fight about – well, everything.  In Paris, instead of arguing about who gets control over the remote, they argued about who gets to be first in line to enter the Louvre.  Kid stuff, really – but no less grating to the nerves of parents who really just want to relax and have a NICE FAMILY VACATION FORTHELOVEOFGOD!!!!!!!!!!  As soon as I opened my mouth to discipline – or, let’s be real, here – yell at my kids, my semblance of unruffled Frenchness vanished as quickly as a bag of snack-size Snickers stashed in my freezer.  A cool breeze of indifference would suddenly wash over my family and I, ugly Americans we are, who loudly discipline their unruly kids with an escalating tone of desperation and ineffectiveness that is best left behind closed doors, away from the highly cultured crowd, or plain old Parisian parents who wisely step out sans enfants to avoid a similar scenario.

Which I guess doesn’t make me any more American or any less French.  Traveling with kids usually produces at least one person in tears, and it ain’t always the children who do so.  It doesn’t really matter what nationality you are.  On this trip, more than any other, I noticed French kids in tantrum form, and I saw their parents discipline, even yell, at them.  I guess on previous trips I just wasn’t paying attention.  Maybe I was indifferent to their failed parenting because I was intent on enjoying my vacation.  Maybe my kids are normal kids who fight because they’re kids, and I’m just a normal parent who wants peace and quiet for fortheloveofeverythingthatisholyinthisworld.  French or not, I’m fighting to raise my kids to be decent human beings, and if I seem overly dramatic or overly American, then so be it.  I’ll practice my French accent when those little buggers are civilized.

Or maybe I’ll just travel without them.

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