The other day, I slept until 8:30 AM. I don’t remember the last time that happened. Then, I went running along the Champs Elysées in actual daylight (which in Paris in January you don’t see until around 9 AM, amazingly). Afterwards, for breakfast-lunch-whatever-but-who’s-counting, I ate the amount of bread I might ordinarily consume in a week’s time, with butter and a cup of coffee. Actually, I did that today, too. I am now on my…third coffee? I’m definitely not keeping track. And I don’t have to; this is temporary. 2019 is not going to be 365 days of fantasy land. I will soon return to normal life with 4:45 AM alarms and driving my daughter to day care in Camberville traffic and going to work and packing sensible, healthy lunches to stash in the office refrigerator and switching to decaf after 11 AM. In fact, there is already a small part of me (it includes my digestive tract) that looks forward to the relief of a routine and of lots of vegetables and of sleeping in my own bed. But for now, I think this might be vacation.
I came into this trip expecting it would be fun, but that it would not necessarily feel like vacation. Flying to a foreign country across several time zones with a three-year-old is not anyone’s definition of relaxing. Parenting in public places with a big audience, parenting while jet-lagged in the middle of the night, parenting while subject to the whims of a foreign transit system which may or may not decide to close every stop you could conceivably get off at on New Year’s Eve (for instance): these are stressful things. I am going to add one more: parenting a child who has learned that a) Paris has carousels everywhere and b) nothing except her withholding parents will stop her from riding each one she sees. You want to set limits like you know parents should, and you also want to say yes as much as you can, and you also want to not die of watching carousel after carousel go round and round, literally ad nauseam. This is Paris with a toddler, and you win some and you lose some.
At the same time, though, living in the not-quite-real world of Paris for a not-exactly-brief time - two whole weeks - is working its magic on me, because outside of the strict non-negotiable of parenting, there is actually nothing, and I mean nothing, that I have to do. And in fact, our AirBnb is so crammed with toys for kids that I can be pretty half-assed in my parenting, too, without my daughter feeling like she’s missing out on anything. Who cares if Mom is buried in the Paris Michelin guide - there are SO MANY LEGOs! And bristle blocks, and weird foreign-language stuffed animals that sing and jabber on command!
When you don’t actually have to do anything, it’s almost alarming…and then extremely calming. I get to wake up (sometimes at 8:30 AM, no less!!) and ask myself what I want to do. I get to ask Ros what she wants to do. I get to ask my husband, who is currently on the longest break from work he’s had in three years, what he wants to do. Even when he was laid out yesterday with a stomach bug, which seems to have been thankfully brief despite its intensity, I could take Ros to do basically anything we both wanted. We just figure out how to make it happen, and we make sure everyone gets something. We’ve oscillated between doing and not-doing, keeping everyone fed and rested without hesitating to skip a bath or stretch a bedtime just a little now and then, if it allows us to eat dinner in a nice restaurant on a French schedule, which is always fun to look forward to at the end of any kind of day.
Especially now that we’ve been here for a week, and especially because both my husband and I have been here many times before, there are very few Paris-specific activities that we feel like we “should” do. I briefly suffered from a bout of “I really should get that Paris Museum Pass and knock out as many museums in a day as I can,” but the stomach bug scare helped shake that one loose. Should I return to the Louvre one day? Absolutely, but it’s not something I really want to do on this trip. And I really, really don’t have to. We return to Paris because it is a place where we feel free to actually do whatever we want. Sometimes we want to eat rich meals in restaurants with large quantities of bread and wine, and sometimes we want to eat salad in our apartment, drink mint tea and take a nap. With two whole weeks to spend here, the feeling that we should indulge at every opportunity because FRANCE and because VACATION falls away, and your body also gets to have a say in your desires. Even with a three-year-old, that is vacation.
Ros, too, has discovered that French food definitely doesn’t suck. At a bistro the other night, when the waiter brought a quart jar filled with cornichons - those little French pickles that come with the mini-onions - she literally burst into song. Unlimited cornichons, cheese, charcuterie - she objects to none of this. She also enjoys, I think, our welcoming of the French habit of croissants for breakfast and our general relaxed attitude towards everyone’s chocolate consumption levels.
This isn’t a vacation because it’s relaxing, although it has had its moments of peace and quiet. This is a vacation because it’s about having that same relaxed attitude towards all forms of obligation. It’s about what we actually want, down to the smallest details in each day. Even in the absence of peace and quiet, and even in the presence of toddler behavior and messed-up sleep schedules, that all by itself is powerful and restorative. I have run almost every day since arriving here because I have genuinely wanted to go running. I have read (what feels like) every single Elephant and Piggie book with Ros (thanks to our AirBnb’s beautiful collection) multiple times because those books are great and I want to read them almost as much as she does (I often want to read them more than I want to read my John LeCarré novel, which I firmly refuse to pick up unless I am distinctly in the mood for it). I have taken her and her Moana doll to cafés to sit at little tables in “grown-up chairs” because I love the way she lights up at the first sip of hot chocolate.
After this vacation, I probably won’t crave another for quite some time, which is good because two-week vacations hardly grow on trees. I will, though, re-enter routines and obligations with a renewed willingness to consider what I actually want on a more regular basis. For me, at least, it’s as close to a New Year’s resolution as I want to get.