Two summers ago we took a family vacation to Paris. It was an incredible ten days of eating, drinking, sightseeing, relaxing, reconnecting with family and basking in a Europe-wide heat wave.
Now, trying to get my kids excited about anything less than a five-star eco-lodge with an in-room hot tub is almost impossible. When I suggested we check out Niagara Falls this summer my oldest replied by wrinkling her nose and saying: “Niagara Falls? How about Spain?”
Taking your kids to Paris for their first real trip is like giving a baby a cinnamon bun when she’s ready for solid food. Get her all up in that sweet, gooey goodness then replace it with mushy peas for the next two years.
Here’s a little bit about our Parisian adventure, just so you can get a sense of what I’m dealing with.
It all started with an overnight flight. While my husband and I dozed, our daughters (then aged eight and five) stayed awake all night binge watching Treehouse TV and pillaging the snack cart. I assume they also kicked the seats in front of them and ran back and forth down the aisle 600 or 700 times.
After landing at Charles de Gaulle, we jumped in a rental van with my brother and sister-in-law and headed to a lovely farmhouse in the Loire Valley where we spent the next three days swimming, drinking champagne, eating cheese and touring castles.
There were no firm bedtimes, no chores, and no rules about eating vegetables. It was basically “Kids Gone Wild, France edition.”
Naturally, there were melt-downs but we powered through them, emboldened by the laissez-faire, ‘who gives a shit if he falls in the fountain, it’s his own damn fault now pass me a glass of Prosecco’ style of parenting that makes the French so awesome.
The Sights and Attractions
Back in Paris, we checked into our Airbnb apartment, met up with more family, and planned our next few days. One by one we checked off things like climbing the Eiffel Tower, shopping in Montmartre and tolerating Disneyland. We took the Metro everywhere and shopped at our local grocery, stocking up on pastry, pickles, bread and jam and mini hot dogs for the kids. Gourmet! We bought adorable Parisian sandals from a chic little pop-up shop on the street. We walked along the Seine and rejoiced when no one fell in. In Montmartre, the girls had their portraits done by street artists while the adults lounged at a sidewalk café.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, my husband and I were treated to a night out together, sans kids.
My sister-in-law arranged it, sending us speeding across the city via French Uber to the kind of place where you’re asked to leave if you dare request “French fries.” While we ate, my SIL took our girls on a hot air balloon ride, because, Paris.
When she sent me a picture of the three of them huddled together in the basket my heart stopped for a second and I wondered if we’d taken the “no rules vacation” thing a little too far. But then the third course arrived and I forgot about it.
In short, Paris was the perfect vacation. We relaxed, we had fun, we saw the sights, we got some culture, all with kids in tow. Basically, we did the impossible, and if that makes you want to punch me in the face don’t worry, I get it. I feel the same way when I’m reading about other people’s adventures (and most of their successes). But trust me, this is NOT how we usually roll. Two years later we’re still talking about how we pulled it off, how great the kids were, and if we’ll still be able to walk unassisted by the time we can afford to do it again.
When I was 15 and in grade ten, my parents sent me to London and Paris on a high school trip over March break. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair of pre-trip excitement, obsessive planning, and the incomparable feeling of arriving in a place that’s entirely new and ready to be explored.
I get more of an adrenaline rush from this than anything else, and Paris is one of those places that’s perfect for exploring: top to bottom, inside and out, every nook and cranny. Even the dodgiest spots, to the wide-eyed traveller, seem magical. Paris is also where my husband and I decided to “pull the goalie.” For those not familiar with hockey as contraception analogies, this means we decided to stop using birth control. I flushed my pills down the hotel toilet and expected to be pregnant pretty much the next day. Nine years later, it seemed like the perfect place to take our two adopted daughters for their first real trip.
Paris was about introducing my kids to the world outside their classrooms, extra-curricular activities and walks to Shoppers Drug Mart. I wanted them to experience a new language, new food, new place, new smells, new sounds, new everything.
And while I regret nothing, it is making planning for future trips a tad difficult. I’m sure my parents faced the same challenge when I returned from Europe (beret, fake accent and snotty disposition firmly in place), because such is parenting, right?
If the price of teaching, inspiring and captivating is saying “no we can’t go to Spain this year but let’s put that on our list,” I’ll take that deal every day of the week.