Life in Pink

Everything good that Paris could have been, it was.

Before we left my mom was like, “Oh, man, you have a two hour layover?  Ugh, that’s awful.”

False.

One must only lament a layover if one is laid-over with children. That layover is like a hangover.  Layovers solo are like a precious amulet of alone time, presented with a book and beverage.

Despite LAX having precisely zero signs signaling the way to the international terminal, I said to myself, “This is the no-complaint trip.  I shall have zero complaints.”  How could I?  So I walked around the soon-found international terminal grinning like an idiot and basking in the quiet of walking without talking.  It’s an odd and welcome pleasure.

Speaking of pleasure — a nine hour flight with nothing to do but eat, drink, watch movies, read, and nap is a vacation unto itself.  Every mother of toddlers reading this is thinking, “I’d pay the airfare just for the alone time.  You could circle my city at 30,000 feet and bring me straight back.”

I was only able to sleep a short nap on the way over, but deplaned saying, who cares? I’m in PARIS!  ONWARD.

The surprise to Erin and Joey of my coming on the trip wasn’t able to come off like we’d hoped, because my parents and I couldn’t find each other after customs.  Turns out concourse E has two floors.  Who knew?  And again, who cares?  To Paris!

We Uber’d into the city and paid to drop our bags at a hotel down the road from our apartment, since it was several hours prior to check-in.

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We had a quick espresso at a café to perk up after the flight, said goodbye to the honeymooners and off we walked the short distance across the Seine to:

Notre Dame herself.

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I whipped out my Rick Steves and started our self-guided tour.  For those unfamiliar, Rick is the European travel guru of our time, with dozens of books, a PBS show, and a brick-and-mortar store here in Edmonds, WA.  I don’t travel without him.  He’s like Uncle Rick to our family.  It helps that his son (also now traveling for a living) is friends with my dear friend Maggie.  They’ve all gone boating together.  It makes it less creepy that I go hear him speak and get photos with him.

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Not our first meeting, though his riveted expression tells us it’s definitely the only one he recalls.

I digress.

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Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of Paris called the Ile de la Cite.  It was settled by a tribe called the Parisii in 250 BC.  Clearly the plat du jour is a heaping pile of history, served rare.

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Since it was Sunday, they were holding mass.  It was incredible to see so many worshippers in spite of the tourists milling around the periphery.

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After Notre Dame we walked through the Deportation Memorial, which honors the French lost in the Holocaust.  We stopped for lunch at a café along the Seine, which was lousy, but we didn’t have time to find something better since we needed to check into our apartment.

When Mike and I stayed in Paris in 2011, we were budget-conscious; we chose a modest hotel that had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but you could basically touch all four walls of the space at once.  I think the shower stall and toilet were hard to distinguish.

My mom and dad are conservative, but they’re over that way of traveling.  I stood only to benefit.

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Living Room

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Don’t these leaded glass windows beg to be flung open to call ‘bonjour’ to happy passerby below?

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My bedroom – excusez-moi, boudoir!

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Massive balcony overlooking courtyard and the street

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Making ourselves riiiiight at home…in our clothes from the plane. (Peep my mom’s slippers)

We walked to Sainte-Chappelle, which I’d never been to, and were utterly struck dumb when we walked inside.  There’s an old joke when you travel through Europe that it’s ABC: Another Bloody Cathedral.  This isn’t to deride them, it’s meant to imply that you get grandeur-fatigue, like your brain goes blank after the seventh soaring ceiling and flying buttress.

Sainte-Chappelle laughs at the idea of visual boredom; the cacophony of color in the stained glass is more spectacular than in any cathedral I’ve ever seen.  It’s criminal that these photos don’t capture the effect of feeling like you could collapse from the kaleidoscope of stunning ancient light.

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When I first considered coming to Paris, one of my concerns was the nine hour time difference, and not being able to talk to the kids very often because of it.  However, once we arrived, I realized how totally freeing it was to know they were asleep when I was awake and vice versa.  I couldn’t be tempted to micro-manage, check-in, or worry because for most of my day they were unconscious.

So, worry I did not.  We hopped on a cruise of the Seine, wine in hand, and this was the moment when our collective dam burst: we are HERE.  NOW.  TOGETHER.  IN PARIS.  LOOK!

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It was so exciting to go from lots of walking and careful navigating to: sitting back, sipping a Bordeaux and sailing down the river with the highlights of the city rising before us.  We were absolutely giddy.

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Is the French flag too much?  Never.

We ended the day with dinner on a magical avenue in the St Germain neighborhood.  We stumbled upon it, only to later learn from Uncle Rick that this street is the heart of the Left Bank.  This really showed me that I don’t need his books anymore; he sends me places subliminally.

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It’s like this couple forgot I wasn’t their family and wouldn’t be giving them this picture.

I ordered beef bourguignon, because it felt right; it was delicious.  Dad ordered duck confit because it’s a French classic; it was delectable.  Mom ordered scallop risotto for reasons no one understands; it was disenchanting.

The next morning we took the metro to the Musee de l’Orangerie, because Monet is my mother’s favorite artist.  The space was designed specifically for the enormous canvases which were his final works before his death.

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My mother was underwhelmed.

“These are a little dull.  His earlier works had more interest.”

Apparently French field trip kid agrees.

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Dad and I thought they were amazing, particularly because what appeared simple from the center of the room was a myriad of colors when approached.

Here’s the same tree trunk seen above, up close.

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After enjoying the artists’ work downstairs (Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, you know, the lesser-knowns), we all felt like a Parisian patisserie was the ideal mid-morning break.  Naturally, I turned to Uncle Rick, who led us to Laduree Paris on des Champs Elysees.  My parents said one metro ride was enough, so we grabbed an Uber.

It was a patisserie worthy of being on the most glamorous avenue in the world.

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It was extravagant; dark carved wood, elaborately painted ceilings, crown moldings two feet deep, and gleaming serviceware.  The pastries, tea and coffee were exquisite, and we sat in the light-filled sunroom in perfect contentment.

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The upper floor was more opulent than the first, boasting a ladies room that looked like a toilette from a doll house.

And their claim to fame: the pastries.  Heart-stopping.

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We ran into Joey and Erin at the Arc de Triumph, which was actually pretty crazy considering the size of the city.

We were on a special mission in that neighborhood; mere days before we left, my grandfather casually told me that he’d worked in a hotel in Paris after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.  I gasped and wrote down the name, determined to find it.

We found it.

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While we rested in the lobby for a minute, a concierge approached, asking if he could help in any way.  I explained about my grandfather working there during the war, and in classic French style, he said, “No, he did not.”

We all looked at each other, until he said, “Follow me.”

He led us outside and explained that The Majestic Hotel was located directly across the street during WWII, but is now a different hotel altogether.  So while we’d found the one, we couldn’t visit it as it was while he was there.  My mom and I nudged each other, because many employees wouldn’t know or care about the history of their hotel 70 years ago, and the one who did just happened to approach us with this priceless information.  God shows off like this all the time, and I love him for it.

Here’s Paris in a nutshell: we headed to Le Café de Flor, a favorite of Pablo Picasso, right across the street from Hemingway’s favorite café, on a busy street dotted with other hundreds-year-old cafes, including the very first café in the entire Western world (1686).  This is why Paris makes people swoon.

The place was bustling and jovial and totally alive with Parisians leaning over tiny tables to be heard above the din.  A gentleman with a delicately creased face and a casual day suit sat next to us reading his newspaper and slowly enjoying his omelette and espresso.

I lifted my phone to take a picture of my parents and stupidly told my mom to reach for her wine glass, which led to:

2018-09-17 15.47.06 Joke’s on me.  It’s the no-complaint trip, and I mean business.

The waiter brought me a giant gray canister of seltzer which was adorable, and useless.

We walked to the magnificent Luxombourg Gardens, which are exactly what you’d hope to find if you opened a calendar of Parisian scenes and watched them come to life: the elderly gentlemen in dress pants and sweaters playing chess under the bougainvillea, the children pushing rented sailboats across the pond, the leathery ladies and gentlemen brazenly sunning themselves across green park chairs, shirts and tank straps removed.

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It is meticulously manicured gardens under a cloudless sky, set against the matchless backdrop of the Luxombourg palace.

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We walked on to the Pantheon, but midway decided after all that walking we’d earned happy hour, so we stopped for a glass of wine.

We approached the Pantheon the moment it closed.  Oops.

After resting on the apartment balcony awhile, we changed for dinner and walked across the bridge to the Ile St Louis, recommended to me by my friend Maija (who lives in Paris with her husband and three kids, having moved there from Seattle two years ago).

Just the walk is a delight unto itself.

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The menu and everyone around us were entirely French, which is always the sign of a fabulous restaurant, but also the sign that we are about to embarrass ourselves.  Here is my father systematically typing in menu items for translation, in a Vacation Dad move so bold I laughed until I was shaking.

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We had a fabulous meal once the waiter basically ordered for us and treated us like old friends.

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Tomorrow it’s on to Versailles — if you want to feel simultaneously awestruck and full of disgust toward Marie Antoinette, meet me here.

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How Am I In Paris?!

I’m in Paris!  For the first time in seven years!  Without kids!  With my mom and dad!  And really sadly, without my hubby.  How did this happen?!

It’s called the miracle of flight.

I kid.  That’s a different kind of how.

Over a year ago my parents and their best friends booked a house in Italy for a week, and they had an extra bedroom, so they invited my sister Erin.  They later invited me too, assuming I was an easy no, because HELLO, I had four kids under four.  (But they were wrong – joke’s on them.)

I prayed and waited for an answer from the Lord about whether to take such a big trip when my kiddos were so little, and He answered resoundingly when Mike spontaneously told me that he was taking time off and he wanted me to go.  He has traveled fairly extensively for work throughout most of our parenting years and he was ready to stay home with the kids and let me take an adventure.

I verbally committed to the trip, though I was filled with anxiety at the thought of over a week away from my babes, halfway around the world.  Since we’ve had kids we’ve taken a weekend away once or twice a year, but the most we’ve ever been away is three nights last March for Mike’s work trip together.  This was a big leap from that.

The best part about waiting for the trip was dreaming about it; if I was having a long day with the kids, or was feeling overwhelmed with the work of caring for them, I’d fill my mind with images of walking the streets of Cortona with a gelato and an approaching happy hour overlooking a vineyard.

I mean, come on.

Then…enter Joey, my sister’s first and forever love and the answer to the longest continual prayer of my life.  When they got engaged after only four months, I didn’t hesitate to tell him he’d also won a trip to Italy.  No part of me held back when I gave him that trip, because the blessing of his arrival in my sister’s life (and ours!) magnificently eclipsed one silly vacation.

I felt like not going on the trip didn’t actually diminish the joy it had already brought me for almost a year.  The happy anticipation lifted me in harder moments, and not flying to Italy didn’t take that away.  Of course I was bummed not to go, but I couldn’t feel sad when the reason I wasn’t going was because my sister was honeymooning.  What could make me happier than that?

Fast forward to about a month ago, when my parents told me they were adding a leg to the trip.  They were going to Paris first, a new place for them, and while Erin and Joey would be going too, they’d be staying somewhere separately and doing things alone, because honeymooning with your parents generally isn’t done.

Then my mom casually asked, as I could tell it was just occurring to her, why don’t you just come for that part of the trip?  Come to Paris for six days and then fly home, and we’ll go on to Cortona.

I did Mom Brain, naturally.  No, no, I couldn’t do that.  It’s only a month from now!  I have the kids!  Mike has work.  No, no, of course not.  Thanks for offering, but it’s just impossible.

Except it wasn’t.  Mike started saying, “I have the days off, we were already prepared for this…you should go.”  Brief hesitation.  “Man, I can’t believe you’ll be in Paris without me.  I want to go!”

So I handed it over to the Lord and said, are You serious?  I let this go — I’m really fine!  I don’t need this!

But nothing got in the way.  And then I checked airfare and it wasn’t obscene, but it wasn’t cheap either.  And then one day I prayed and checked again, and it was $837.  Roundtrip.  And I looked at my mom and she said, “Why are you surprised when He answers your questions?”

I booked it.

Et voila!

Recently it occurred to me that August was the first month in five years and nine months that I have not been pregnant or breastfeeding or both at once.  Five years and nine months without a single day that didn’t involve nursing or carrying a baby inside me.  The time is staggering when I think of it in those terms.

I’ve been thinking about the timing of that and the timing of this trip, and it feels like a victory journey, a roar of accomplishment, a squeal of glee that Jesus sustained my body through the most intense demands ever placed on it.  My body is solely mine for the first time in almost six years, and Paris feels like the right place to celebrate.

(Anyone who knows me also knows I’d be pregnant tomorrow if it were only up to me.  But it’s not, so…pass the champagne!)

There’s also a tension I’m carrying because I don’t deserve this, this wild extravagance.  I work hard as a mom, but I work no harder than all the moms shouldering the same responsibilities alongside me.  So many moms work harder, have husbands on deployment, are themselves deployed, have children with special needs or more children than I have or very few resources to get by.  When I’m given gifts like this I feel so unworthy and embarrassed.

But I know the Lord is sweet, and He’s generous, and while I don’t understand, I want to accept His gift with joy and gratitude.  I’m hoping He’ll mold my embarrassment into a grateful humility that’s acceptable in His sight.  It’s delightful to be reminded that I’m not in control, even of the fun — for me the trip was over and He was probably laughing like, oh daughter, just you wait.  Because He loves to spoil His children; His love is spectacular.

My parents are like the Lord in that way; they spoil their children with abandon. My dad and mom have worked and saved their entire lives to be able to casually add a week in Paris and invite their kid along for the ride. 

My meager offer in return is a scrupulously detailed itinierary to wow them with all Paris has to offer; times, costs, hours and notes crisply laid out in a spreadsheet for maximum efficiency.  Whether it wows them or makes them beg me to stop, for the love of Rick Steves, stop, is yet to be determined.

One amusing part of this trip before it even began was the reaction-question I got, without exception, every time I shared where I was going (which wasn’t to many people; see above, my embarrassment). 

Them: “Who’s going to watch the kids?”

Me: “Mike.”

Them: (Insert your favorite shock phrase here)

And often:

Them: “Mike’s babysitting?!”

Me: “No, he’s parenting.”

Good gravy, people, he’s their father.  He’s highly capable. Mike is the type of dad where I can walk out the door without a word of instruction and he knows what to do. 

To him, and to my in-loves watching the kiddos for today while he plays in a golf tournament (please tell me you saw that coming), I say thank you, thank you, thank you.

I mean, merci beaucoup!  Man, I need to brush up. 

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Happy Campers

Here’s a sentence with two facts I never thought I’d write:

We went camping and it was fun.

Mike and I are not campers by nature.  We’ve done it several times pre-kids, but most of our camping experiences involved “camping” for three nights at the Gorge so we could watch Dave Matthews Band play three times Labor Day weekend, as they do every year.

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It was simpler times.

We’d talked about taking the kids for a classic camping experience, but it wasn’t until our most outdoorsy friends invited us that we packed our bags.  These awesome friends really remove any excuse we could possibly produce, because they not only have four-year-old boy-girl twins like us, they also have one-year-old girl-girl twins.  End scene.

We did not have the courage/masochism to bring our one-year-old along, so we left him with my parents Father’s Day weekend and headed for Lake Wenatchee.

The other kicker in this experience is that our friends invited all the twins they know, so we had no fewer than fourteen four-year-old twins running amok in the forest.  Plus two sets of one-year-old twins.  Plus Hunter.

When we arrived at Lake Wenatchee we were amazed by the beauty of the campgrounds.  It was easily the cleanest, nicest, most well-maintained campground I’d ever seen.  The campgrounds were evenly scattered through the woods adjacent to the lake, with little level squared areas for tents and a little firepit and a little parking place.  I like little.  I like order.  This appealed.

Mike set up the tent, like any dad worth his salt, and the kids hopped on their bikes and took off on the paved road through the campsite.  We were like, oh, this is weird, we don’t have to watch them compulsively because there’s no traffic, and they’ve already found several sets of twins to ride with, and hey here comes our friend Mike with a beer.  Wait, are we liking camping?  Why is this happening so fast?

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We took the kids down to the lake to explore and were stunned by the beauty of the mountains rising out of the water.  It’s a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, but it never fails to stop me in my tracks.

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Laura Jean, trip planner extraordinaire, had coordinated meals so we potlucked.  The adults grabbed a beverage while the kids ran hollering through the woods, and we chatted around the fire, amazed that this was working out.

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We also laughed at the pure northwest nature of the group.  We were all ensconced in our Patagonia puffers as we emerged from our North Face tents holding local microbrew beers (Seattle Cider Co, in my case).

To remove any doubt that ours was a bandwagon of northwesterners, let’s look at an adorable sample of the children’s names:

Adler
Bear
Hunter
River
Forrest
Pilot
Blaze
Sierra

And it’s official; we’re a real life Washington State advertisement.

The main pain was the mosquitos.  They were legion and relentless.  Even now Arden, who had a fabulous time, says, “Mom we are never going back to that place with the mosquitoes.”

I had pants, leggings, jeans, and the mosquitoes laughed in my face.  As if your cotton and polyblends were any match for us, they scoffed.

At home I counted 90 bites on my legs alone.

But who cares when you’re spending the day with no agenda but paddle boarding, toasty fires, walks in the woods, and a nap?

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I thought sleeping would be a titanic problem, given that it isn’t dark in Washington until nearly 10pm, but evidently the reward for all of that outside play is kids who fall asleep at their normal bedtime (well, we gave them 8 instead of 730) from sheer exhaustion.  It didn’t matter that we all shared a tent or that we didn’t bring an air mattress.  The kids conked out and two hours later, so did we.

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When I was a kid, I had a wide, plaid, flat, freezing flannel sleeping bag like any normal American.  My children have “REI Kindercones” which keep them toasty down to 30 degree temperatures.  Naturally they have whimsical, artistic, satin interiors, because this is the life to which they’re accustomed.

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They are so lucky they have their Nana and Papa to spoil them/keep them alive in the woods.  (Thanks Nana and Papa!)

And they’re so lucky they have their mom and dad who don’t bring sleeping pads, to keep them humble.

I brought Jiffy Pop, because I thought it would amaze the kids to hold it over the fire and see it burst into a bubble and then give them their favorite treat.  It did not.  I bought three and it took all three for us to make one that wasn’t both charred and holding most of the kernels hostage, unpopped.

They didn’t care.  They had kid-sized camping chairs!  Well, my kids didn’t, but we’re not at that level of camping yet.

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You know what doesn’t fail you?  Marshmallows.  Marshmallows work every time.

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I thought camping for a mom meant nonstop work; food prep, cooking, packing food away, washing children’s hands and other parts, constant bathroom trips, etc and while it was some of that, it was also a whole lot of rest.  Not being at home meant I couldn’t occupy myself with chores and other to-dos, so I had time to just sit in a camping chair, drink my tea, swat my mosquitoes, and read my fast-paced novel.  That was totally unexpected and so, so good.

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I know we can do this now.  Not until next summer, but we can do it.  (Next summer Jameson will be two…I shouldn’t think about this — focus back on: we can do this now!)

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