Top 7 Suburban Adjustments

So I’ve taken some time off to get myself readjusted here stateside. Some of the things that I thought would be tough or weird really weren’t so weird. Like the gi-normous trucks that soccer moms drive. They still look strange to me but they don’t give me that punch in the gut feeling of wow, this feels weird. Although the guy who drives the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid? That’s weird for sure.

Let me get right to the list. This first one only just occurred to me tonight.

vin chaud1. Vin Chaud. (Or lack thereof.) Hot wine. I mean, I can’t get my head around it.  My brain cannot compute how such a thing is not only not an immensely popular winter drink here, but it doesn’t even exist. Imagine you’re out and about doing some holiday shopping, freezing your butt off and someone offers you a hot wine. There’s no chance you’re turning that down and you know it. It’s awesome. Let’s get with the program, people.

Styrofoam, what a bonus!

Styrofoam, what a bonus!

2. Kids cups. How come when you go to a restaurant they always put the kids drinks in giant plastic cups with straws and lids? My boys aren’t babies anymore. Their fingers can manipulate a glass. It’s both insulting and wasteful. Why don’t you go ahead offer just Gerber on the kids’ menu?

Now I’ve learned to ask to have my kids get their water in a regular glass. It sounds weird coming out of my mouth, only because it sounds ridiculous that I have to ask it, and most servers look puzzled or insulted. The other night at The Mellow Mushroom, the server came back with these giant cups. We could have done the ASL challenge with these cups and had water left over for our meal.

Actual size. Glass appears larger than child's head because it is.

Actual size. Glass appears larger than child’s head because it is.

The server handed us the cups and said, “Here you go, water in regular cups.” The way she said it sound annoyed, like, “You wanted regular water, this is what you get.” I didn’t care. Save some plastic.

As a sub-note to that, what’s with all the ice? And why not just hand out a carafe of water? You know, water doesn’t have to be freezing-ass-cold all the time.

3. Leaf Blowers. Really, what’s the deal? We live in a duplex and our neighbor asked when the landlord was going to come and blow the leaves because it was really looking crappy. This is just another one of those things I can’t get my head around. Since when do leaves on a lawn make it look trashy? They’re leaves, not beer cans.

Our neighbors down the street had their kid out in early September with the leaf blower. The thing was going full blast and I swear to you there were maybe 4 leaves on their walkway.

On some random concrete island in a strip mall I saw a dude all geared up like a ghostbuster going at the leaves with a vengeance. Why? Are these new non-biodegradeable leaves? Also, there’s this invention known as a “rake” that tends to work quite well without any gasoline required.

4. Giant lawns. I get backyards. But these giant areas of grass that are all pristine that no one can walk on because they’re your precious property? It’s weird that I have to tell the boys they can’t walk on other people’s’ lawns. Like, here’s all this nature, but don’t enjoy it, stick to the concrete.

Great swing that no one ever uses. Kind of creepy.

Great swing that no one ever uses. Kind of creepy.

Here you never see anyone on the lawns. Once in a while I’ll see a group of kids, but really the lawns are just for show. Giant areas that no one wants to take care of themselves that are really like moats to keep the people in the castles separate from the riff-raff that might be walking the sidewalk. And that brings me to another point.

5. Ghost sidewalks.  Patrick asked when we first moved here, “Why do they have sidewalks if no one walks on them?” So true. Sidewalks are mainly for losers, I told him. Well, I didn’t say it, but it’s probably true.

IMG_6304When you’re driving down these four lane “streets” at 50 mph and you see someone on the sidewalk it jumps out at you. Usually it’s someone down on their luck, because no one would choose to walk some of these streets as there is NOWHERE to walk to. Sure there are strip malls, and we can walk to a couple of stores, but in most areas seeing a human being on a pedestrian designated area is no more normal than seeing a giraffe.

6. Bikes.  When you bike around here, you have to gear up like you’re competing in the Tour de France. No wonder no one ever does it because it’s such huge freaking hassle. God forbid you don’t wear a helmet. People will want you arrested or committed.

Also, there’s another thing about bikes. Everyone rides mountain bikes or ten speeds or whatever. Rebecca brought back this bike from Paris that she bought off a guy in the street. (Seriously, a guy renting and selling used bikes in the street.) It has these handle bars that are high up and force you to sit upright when you’re riding it. I rode it one day, and man, it is such a huge difference. It’s the difference between feeling like Mary Poppins and feeling like Lance Armstrong. And who are we kidding really? Most of us want to feel like Mary Poppins when we go out on a bike. Let’s just chill out already.

Ok, one last thing and I think I’m done.

7. Beer. What shocks me are the choices available and the fact that so much of it has to be cold. That’s one of the biggest things I had to get used to, which is odd since I harbor no ill will toward beer or beer drinkers.

Let me backtrack. Before we left for Paris a friend of ours told us what it was like when he came back from the Peace Corps. He said his mother sent him to the store to buy tomato sauce. He had to leave the store because he was so overwhelmed by the choices. At the time, I thought to myself, there was no way I would be like that. I wasn’t going to a developing nation. I was going to France.

Couldn't deal with the choices. Getting back to the basics.

Couldn’t deal with the choices. Getting back to the basics.

But man, it is strange. We were in the refrigerated section, P and me, and he said, “Why is there so much butter?” I tried to explain it but kept tripping over my words until I gave up, muttering, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” And we used to live in the land of butter- France!

Back to the beer. It’s really strange to see an entire row of refrigerators running full blast to keep everyone’s beer cold. I remember our store in Paris that had one tiny refrigerator. Like something meant for a dorm room. It had random singles of beer or soda or whatever that people could grab if they really really needed something cold. But six packs and cases, no way.

Plus there were roughly 5 beers to choose from. Not like the 50 here. Dogfish IPA wheat stout pumpkin triple boc whatever. Who has time to figure this out? It’s the same thing at restaurants. You know, just the words “beer menu” leave me mentally exhausted. Serve two good beers on tap and be done with it. These places with 150 beers on tap? Doesn’t it feel like an establishment with 150 beers is trying a little too hard to make everyone happy? It’s like dating. Wouldn’t you be more attracted to someone who was like, “You know what, this is what I got, it’s good and if you don’t like it, there’s the door.”

It’s like everything with the choices here is designed to please every single person. Everything is easy and convenient, but at the same time not very interesting or intriguing.

We’re taking this French class on Saturdays and the teacher, who is from Paris noted that “Everything you need is no more than 15 minutes away.” So true. It feels like we’re in some futuristic dystopia where the community’s been programmed to meet all your needs to keep you satiated. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the Truman Show. I’m not, am I? Not that you would tell me.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, Eating out, Pedestrians, Repatriation, Shopping | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Take Your Medicine

As I figured, there would be things in the US that I would find culturally shocking that I never anticipated. One is the doctor’s office. I really didn’t even remember what they were like in the US. And it’s not about doctor philosophies or a attitudes toward specific child issues, the biggest shock was just how different things looked.

Of course there’s this:

smoking gun

No smoking. No guns. And definitely no smoking guns.

I forgot that we would need a warning to not bring our firearms into a pediatrician’s office. And no one finds that weird.

I’ve posted on FB before about the weirdness of there not being any child-friendly activities in the waiting room. Some people chimed in to verify that this was not the case everywhere in the US. But it’s still weird. There was nothing for adults either. Zip. I mean, that would never happen in a doctor’s office in France. Never. Maybe not always kid stuff, but something.

Is it germs or do they think we’ll steel it? Maybe they should chain the chairs to the wall.

So what am I supposed to do? Oh I know, pretend I’m fascinated by this 18-month-old walking around the room and how adorable he is as his mom talks SUPER loud to him, just so we all know she’s a great mom.  Parents interact with their kids and they expect you to join in the interaction too. But that’s for another post I suppose.

The waiting room has a giant aquarium with a sign that basically says “do not touch” but it’s phrased in a cutesy way with rhymes and bright colors. But why even have it in the first place? Why not put precious stem ware out on easily accessible shelves?

I think sometimes I’m shocked by how much space things take up Stateside. Like gigantic cars rolling around with only one person in them. But the big ol’ space thing applies to waiting rooms too. There are tons of seats here. Just enough so that when it’s really really crowded there’s still no chance of anyone having to sit right next to someone else. Not like in Paris when it’s very common to have someone sitting on your lap.

The real kicker though is that right next to the concert hall/waiting room is a duplicate concert hall for sick children. No one was there that day. I don’t know why, but it was kind of creepy.  Like this weird parallel universe with no one in it.

I was there with P, and he was doing well. This was on a second visit. We were only there for a shot. Of course, you need to get your Hep B shots, or you can’t go to kindergarten. You know, the vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease. But anyway, we have to wait about 45 minutes. For a shot visit! They should be able to do this with a drive through, no?

Future dentist.

Future dentist.

When you walk into a doctor’s office in Paris, you literally walk into an office. You sit down across from a doctor sitting at a desk. Like you’re there for the big interview.  They talk to you for a while, and then you get up and go to the examining table across the room. And this is in any doctor’s office in France. I’ve been to at least 3 different French doctors, an American doctor and a British doctor. It’s all the same. Conference with the doctor behind a big desk, and then move to the examining table.

In the US you walk into a room after you follow a nurse who’s wearing a top with little Elmos all over it. How adorable! But fine. At least there’s that to make my kid feel at ease. But then after the nurse goes through the tests you’re left alone to wait for the doctor.

In Paris, when you’re called in to see the doctor, you see the doctor. Not the opening act/nurse. And then have to wait for the big cheese to come in. Of course, there’s a sign above the table to make sure that you watch your child on the examining table. I’m sure kids have fallen off tables, which is why they felt a need to put a sign up, but come on! Can’t you trust that we can care for our kids?

This was after a different doctor's visit.

This was after a different doctor’s visit.

And what’s with the checking the temperature and weighing my child every time we walk through the door? When I walked in with P for the shot visit, the nurse immediately put him up on a scale. I said to her that we were just here last week. She said, we do this every visit. Why? How about just asking me if my kid has a fever? And why weigh him, seriously? Maybe I’m starving him and you want to catch me? I wished I had told her that I hoped he lost a few since we just started the South Beach diet.

Then the nurse came in for the shot and said, “Well just to get him up to speed he needs Dtap.” I’m like, what? Well, one of the shots the AMERICAN doctor in Paris gave us was invalid because he gave it in August and P’s birthday is beginning of October. You’re supposed to give it to him on or after his 4th birthday. Also, he had a polio shot, but because he had them at certain times he’ll need a fifth one. A fifth one? The good news is we can combine them in one convenient shot today!

I smelled shenanigans and I asked to talk to the doctor. He explained it again and said we could wait for when we come back for the next [STD] shot. He understands that I hadn’t prepped P for 2 shots. That’s part of it of course, but it sounded fishy.

So that’s all straightened out and then the nurse came in with the shot and she kept telling P to look away before she gives the shot. She said it like 3 times, but he wouldn’t. Finally I told him it’s ok and she does it. You know, let’s give the kid a shot but not try to be all sneaky and tricky about it. Geesh.

I walked out to pay. Hadn’t received our insurance cards yet so of course the fees are astronomical. For the first check up it was $260 and that included a 20% discount. Wow, talk about sticker shock. I’ve heard people in Paris bitchin’ about a 3o euro doctor visit.

I was there paying and P wandered off. I assumed he was playing right around the corner. I called, he didn’t answer. Now I was moving to mildly panicked. Then he’s not in either of the auditoriums/waiting rooms. I started imagining my conversation with police officers. My phone call to Rebecca. But I wasn’t freaking out. Yet.

Then a women walked in and said, “Are you looking for a little boy?” And then I saw him coming in behind her. He had remembered a promise I made about a lollipop after the visit and left the office, went into the car, grabbed the lollipop and came back.

What was I saying about them not trusting us with our kids?

 

Posted in American Hospital, French Dentist, French doctors | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Big-Time Small Talk

Sure is pretty here.

Sure is pretty here.

In case you haven’t heard, there have been some developments. We moved last month from Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina. Just reading that sentence alone can you give little jolt of culture shock. But we did it. We’re here now. Back in the good ol’ USA.

So it’s been a little weird since we got back. It’s as expected I suppose. It’s like we’ve been walking around in a daze. It reminds me of taking care of a newborn. You can feel so tired it’s like nothing is real. You hear people talking but almost like it’s not happening to you.

P would often say, even before moving, “Is this a dream?” And that’s what it felt like sometimes, especially our first week back.

Don’t get me wrong. People here in NC are really, really nice. And not the fake kind of nice I half expected. And even if it is fake, it seems genuine enough to me, so I’ll take it.

Of course, on the downside, there’s no public sphere where you’re safe from people chatting you up and telling you their whole life story. At line at Chipotle, at any table while you’re eating, on the phone with just about anybody. It’s a little crazy. About the only place you’re safe is while you’re driving your car, although I’m sure any day somebody is going to try to chat me up from another lane of the freeway.

I feel like I need an app of some kind to prompt me with small talk clichés. I’m practicing saying things like, “You can say that again,” or, “How about that local sports team?” It reminds me of that scene from Bull Durham.

We found out about the chattiness right when our plane landed from Paris at Charlotte airport. It was a nine hour flight after a rough week of moving, so we were a little out of it. As we got off the plane, someone said to me: “Your kids were so good. What’s your secret?”

“Videos the whole time,” I responded. I mean really. It wasn’t like I had some parenting secret. I was going to add, “I guess you missed my kid trying to spit on me five seconds after the video was over?” But I thought better of it.

Then another guy jumps in from the row behind, “Well that’s a parent’s best tool isn’t it? Got to have the video. Right? ” He thought this was hysterically funny and started chuckling.

My little angels

My little angels

And then the first guy says something to the second guy and now they’re talking. At the end there were a flurry of “Take care y’all” and “Safe rest of your trip” with an energy that seemed other-worldly.

But I admit I liked it.  Sure, it was jarring and weird but it was strangely reassuring.  It’s like someone doting over you when you’re sick: at first you may hate it and resist it but after a while you just go with it.

Then there was the  guy who drives the rental car shuttle, who, of course, has to make conversation with us. I never heard a driver of a rental car shuttle in Europe talk to anyone, ever. So this guy found out we had been living in France and he said to us,  “Can I ask you something without sounding harsh?”

I cringed right away. I knew this was was going to be bad. You know, if you hear yourself ask a question like that it should be an extra line of defense before saying something offensive. Obviously this guy’s other lines of defense, like pausing to think before you talk, were down. So he plowed on without a response from us, “The French people I’ve had on this shuttle. Hygiene doesn’t seem to be very important to them.”

Really? That’s your question about one of the world’s great cultures? There was no time to respond. This guy just rolled on while we sat there trying to get our chins up off the floor. I did try to make a joke that maybe I assimilated more than I realized because I stink too. (And I did.) The driver went on and on about all sorts of things. It was like he was being paid by the word. Again, it was pretty entertaining.

Just random pics of my kids in Charlotte.

Just random pics of my kids in Charlotte.

After that the conversations were everywhere. But never as bad as the the driver asking us why French people stink. Someone else did tell us that they had been to Paris for a day and “weren’t big fans.” Other than that people have had pretty good reactions when we say we just moved from Paris. Most people seem interested when it comes up without being over the top. In fact there have been some looks of absolute nothing from people, like instead of “Paris” I had said, “across the street.” And I’m ok with that.

And like all things, in anticipating the worst, or aiming for mere survival, there have been some really cool surprises about living here. The people have been one. I have to admit I like them. But most of all I underestimated the city itself. Pretty clean and accessible with lots to do. Crazy beautiful trees and parks. Lots for kids to do.

Plus, there’s a pub around the street from us.  I think it’s going to be all right.

More to come about schools and such and the benefits of being closer to family as well a few stories from the summer and the move. I’ll get to it in time, I promise.

Time to sign off now, I think some stranger is coming to talk to me.

 

 

Posted in Culture, Flying with kids | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Joke

Goofball 1

Goofball 1

We were driving around with the kids somewhere, and it was warm outside. Almost hot. I know, shocking for Paris.

O and P wanted to roll down their windows, which reminded me of a joke. I started to tell it immediately. In my mind, though, I was a bit concerned. It was my first traditional joke. I was in unchartered waters. Sure, we joke around and say silly stuff. We even tell knock- knock jokes on occasion. But this was the first one with the “first guy does this” sort of set up with a punch-line at the end. I pictured myself getting to the punch-line and then having to explain it, which is absolute torture.

Have you ever started telling a joke and then have the sense that the people you’re telling it to may not laugh at all? That’s the sense I had at this point, but it was too late to turn back.  I bravely pushed forward. So here’s the joke:

Goofball 2.

Goofball 2.

So there are these three guys and they’re in a race. A reporter is interviewing them to ask them how they’re dealing with the heat. The first guy has a water bottle. He explains to the reporter, “Well, when I get hot I’ll drink some water.” Ok, she says, that makes sense. The second guy has a spray bottle. “Well, when I get hot I’ll spray water on my face.” Ok, good idea she thinks. Then the reporter turns to the third guy, who has a car door. 

Now if you’re over six years old, this is when you would probably groan, since the punchline is obvious. (I’m thankful Rebecca played it straight.) But I paused here and I could almost feel the kids anticipating what would come next. At this moment I knew it would be all right. I knew the surprise of it would get a laugh.

The reporter asks, “What are you doing with a car door?” And he says, “Well, when it gets hot I can roll down the window!” 

IMG_6025The wave of laughter in that car the second after I delivered that line was insane. The boys could barely control themselves. They were holding their stomachs and howling. They would keep repeating the punch-line but could barely get it out between fits of laughter.

I’ve told a lot of jokes in my day, but this was definitely the most well-received. It was awesome.

And later I thought about it. I remembered hearing this joke when I was their age and having a similar reaction. It may be the earliest joke I remember. (There was a close second: Guy is driving to the airport and he sees a sign that says, “Airport Left.” So he goes home.)

I find a couple of things amusing about the car door joke. For starters what I love about me is that I still laugh at that joke. I’m laughing now just thinking about the whole premise of a reporter asking someone running in a race what they plan to do with a bottle of water!

IMG_6022I love that for the past almost 40 years that joke has been filed away in my brain. The six-year-old in me has been dying to tell it. I like that I have a few tricks up my sleeve that can provide such joy. We all do. It’s cool that there are these really great moments when I can truly connect with my kids through something that makes me feel like I’m a kid again.

Yesterday, I was walking with O and it was hot out again. We were passing the garage where Rebecca parks the car. O said, “I think I’ll run up there and grab the car door so I can roll down the window!”

Corny jokes are the gifts that keep on giving.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Driving, Kid behavior, Parenting, Personal history, Weather | Leave a comment

Date Day III: Happy Trails

IMG_4997We had another date day. It was just by chance really. You may not know this about France but there are always three days off in May. At least. May 1, that international labor day thing, May 8, VE day, and ascension Thursday.  I say “at least” because there’s often a “pont” or bridge people take if the dates are close to the weekend, which of course Ascension Thursday always is.

But enough of the pont and back to the point. (har har) We had one day off. We hadn’t been planning anything. But then we got a message from a babysitter. One who we lost contact with after she got a new job in retail working all sorts of late hours. She contacted us because she knew she was going to be off on the holiday and said she really needed the money. Smart move. We jumped all over it.

IMG_4983Our first thought was that we should go to a museum. As you may guess, a museum with kids is just a little different than visiting a museum as a couple. Just a little. For instance, usually people don’t run through museums chasing other small people. They also look and read and absorb information about the museum’s exhibits. For the most part, there’s no pleading, begging or bribing of small people. How luxurious it seemed to take in a museum while not feeling like you’re lugging a ticking bomb.

And there are places that you probably shouldn’t go with children just because it’s inappropriate. In our quest to see cool stuff, we have pushed the envelope at times at what is appropriate for children and what is not. But there’s one place even we pulled back on: The Paris Catacombs.

Even for us, a trip to the catacombs with the kids doesn’t seem right. I kept hearing one of the boys in their 20s asking, “My therapist wants to know why you took us as small children to an underground lair with walls made of human bones?” (I thought it would be fun? Turns out I’m selfish?)

This is why we thought that having a babysitter during the day, a rainy day no less, would be the perfect opportunity to do something kind of cool and creepy.

There was just one catch. It was a national holiday, and thus everything was closed. I think there were like 4 museums open in all of Paris. One was the wax museum and another was the museum of erotica, which I half joked we should check out. So what do you do when everything is closed? A walking tour, of course.

IMG_4984If there is one thing I definitely recommend for anyone visiting Paris, it’s ParisWalks walking tours. They are the best.  On their site you’ll find all the info about the tours. No need to reserve ahead of time. They take place as scheduled, rain or shine.

Quick story. The first week that both boys were in school full-time I went on a walking tour. The “Two Islands” tour. It was awesome. Rebecca was a tad jealous, I must say, and I’ve yet to hear the end of it. The day I betrayed her and did a tour without her. Ahh! If only I could have that day back and undo my dalliance! I wouldn’t though. Sorry, Rebecca, it was that good.

The tour nerd in action.

The tour nerd in action.

The tour company is great because the guides are complete nerds. And I mean that as the highest compliment. They’re super passionate about the topic, and they never shut up. I love that. They go on and on and on with info. I’ve only been on two and both guides were complete Paris history geeks. So, so cool.

Well, our tour was about the French Resistance in Paris, something  I know so little about it. Crazy interesting. How the Germans were instructed to be super polite to win people over and offer jobs and money for turning over French Resistance members. There was info about the deportation of Jews and the people who worked to protect families or at least save their children.

I didn’t know that Jews were rounded up and left in a bicycle park for days without food and water before being deported. I didn’t know Hitler ordered that all monuments in Paris be wired for destruction and that had not one general refused the order the city would’ve been leveled.

IMG_4981We saw the prison where resistance members were held, including one who was executed. We saw holes in buildings left from shells and bullets during fights with Germans in the streets. We learned about students who were executed and we heard their final letters to their parents.  On an on. Very interesting.

And one of the best parts of a tour is meeting other people. There were a  lot to meet too. Since all museums were closed about 50 other people had the same idea we did. But it was cool. At first there was one guy who seemed like a know-it all. One of those people who insists on telling you what he knows as soon as there’s one second that the guide isn’t talking.

I have to admit that when this guy started flapping his gums my first thought was, “Here, we go, there’s always one in every group.”  But as the tour went on, I had to begrudgingly admit that some of the stuff he mentioned was kind of cool. Movies and such about that time. I gave in.

IMG_4978And then the guy was asking about us, where we’re from and things like that. We told him about living here and how we were moving to North Carolina.

I sometimes hesitate a little when I say NC. Not exactly a cosmopolitan mecca compared to Paris. My hesitation this time made me aware of my, I don’t know, ambivalence? Uncertainty? Second-guessing? Also sometimes when you say NC to people who are from the NY/NJ area you get a look like you’re moving into a hut in Zimbabwe.

But the guy got real excited. He was from Canada but was familiar with the Carolinas. He started talking about all the cool things about NC. All the nature activities we could do with the boys. The camping and the hiking. He talked about the history of the area. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War. And I had to admit I was pretty excited. There are a lot of cool historical things we could show the kids.

It made me think that I’ve been more focused on the transition being hard rather than it being exciting. I’ve worried about what I’ll miss instead of what I have to look forward to. And this is comparing NC not only to Paris but to other places I’ve lived. I’ve worried about all the stuff I’ve loved that I won’t have.

And here was this guy, who at first I thought was a dork, and maybe he is, helping me reframe it.

When we said good-bye to him at the end of the tour he simply said, “Happy Trails.” Perfect. Right back at you, random dude who I’ll never see again.

Posted in Babysitter, Culture, French History, Rainy Day Things to do in Paris, Things to do in Paris, Walking Tours | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Old School vs. New School

It’s been a bit of a ride with the schools here. Right when I was getting used to the schedule (no school on Wed, all other days pick-up at 4:30) they went and switched things up on me (schools on Wed but half day, Wed activities changed, Tues and Friday alternate pick-ups at 3), just to mess with me, I’m sure. Got that all figured out, but now, of course, we’re moving.  Perfect.

The move back to the States has me both looking forward to an uncertain future and also asking, what the hell just happened? Along with school schedule upheaval there have been plenty of other bumps along the way. There have been some pleasant surprises as well.

We moved here in June of 2011 and what would have been O’s assigned school was full. They put him in the school slightly farther away. The one that struck me as more of a correctional facility. It worked out though. The school teachers and staff were wonderful and caring. O met his best friend. And that best friend’s parents turned out to be pretty amazing people as well. No regrets.

Then P’s time for school came. We received a letter from the Mairie. He was assigned to the school O should have gone too. There was some debate, which lasted longer than it should have, about putting O back in the original school. O loved his current school. We loved it too. He needed to stay put. And as for P, well, he had been with me every day at O’s school for pick-ups and drop-offs, which occurred as often as 4 times a day when O was coming home for lunch.  So I wrote a letter to the Mairie asking that P be transferred.

Something's getting closer

Something’s getting closer

And it was great. P loved it. O loved it. Things were perfect. But there was something lurking in the background. A malevolent force was growing. I mean this almost literally.

You see, there was a lot of construction going on in the area. I had even been on a tour of the construction site with O’s school. Back then it was a little more than a hole in the ground. There were drawings to look and a lot of imagination needed. Fast forward 2 years later and there was a lot less imagination needed.

Not the actual construction site. Just a cute pic of P.

Not the actual construction site. Just a cute pic of P.

Everyone knew that the school was a temporary structure, but there was a sense that the closure would take place many years from now, long after we were gone.

Then one day I walked into the school and the parent association had a large stereo speaker playing. You could hear children talking and laughing, a teacher saying something but you could barely make it out because there was an incessant drone of jack hammers and drills and random clanking and banging. I was stunned.

That’s what the kids heard in the classroom everyday? O had told me that one day his teacher jumped in the air after a really loud noise. But for some reason I was living with my head in the sand. When you’re not a native speaker there’s this blissful out-of-the-loop feeling you can develop, which of course can come back to bite you in the ass. That brings me back to the speakers.

By the time June had rolled around the rate of construction was overwhelming. All of sudden we had this:

IMG_0890 IMG_0888 IMG_0895

At the rate things were going, in a few weeks a high-rise would go up right over the kids’ heads. The teachers and parent association wanted to shut down and move to another building farther away. (Or get hard hats and steel-toed boots for all the kids.)

There was a meeting. Parents were outraged. (I thought for a moment they might bring back the guillotine.) People were talking in turn and people were talking completely out of turn. Clear rules followed by absolutely no rules with no one in the room seeming to care. Very French indeed.

It was now near the end of June with only a couple of weeks of school left. And although it seemed like a meeting to “discuss options,” really the die was cast. The school was moving. People were pissed. The school was moving into an area that bordered an area that was a little more economically diverse than the one we were in.

You see the 17ème is a little like the Upper West Side. And the “Clichy area” where the new school would be is more like Spanish Harlem. Or some area that is not entirely rich folk. At the meeting, according to reliable translators, one parent said, “I didn’t move to 17ème to have my kids go to school with kids from Clichy.”  Ouch! But really, look at these shots. Who can blame him?

Don't want to be here after dark.

Don’t want to be here after dark.

Uh-oh. Somebody tagged the Naturalia. There goes the neighborhood.

Uh-oh. Somebody tagged the Naturalia. There goes the neighborhood.

The mean streets of  17eme.

The mean streets of 17ème.

We didn’t care. We were short-timers anyway. Although I’m not sure I would’ve cared about the kids my kid was mixing with or the quality of education he was receiving at what is the pre-k level. Mind you, every kid in Paris is on the same curriculum, and it’s free, so I’m not sure what the uproar was about. Unless it was straight-up racism.

The thing is it really only affected P. O was going to first grade (CP) at a completely different school. He had graduated from the maternelle. It was P who would have to go to the new “facility.”  But that’s what bothered me. Time and distance. If O and P were a half mile apart, exactly how was I going to get to them both? I was outraged by inconvenience. Are you telling me I’m going to have to run? WTF?

IMG_3004

Wheeeee!

Well, we went and bought a scooter. The kind you push with your feet. Not the motorized kind. I would put both kids on it and off we’d go. It was kind of fun. But still how was I going to get to two places at once? Well, as it turns out, the kids in maternelle get out at 4:20 and the kids in CP get out at 4:30. It’s good, but not great.

It means I need to rush upstairs, get P, get his jacket on, get him on my scooter and ride pell-mell to O’s in order to be there when he’s dismissed. That’s fine, but it leaves no room for error. And by “error” I mean 4-year-old melt downs. Also when O gets out, he just goes out into the street. (Bon courage, les enfants!)

Things were fine at the beginning of the year, but Rebecca asked a relevant question: “What are you going to do when it’s ass-cold outside?” After some reflection I said “Freeze my ass off?”

I pictured the winter. I pictured whining kids complaining about the cold. Most of all, I pictured myself every day riding past the school my kids were supposed to go to and feeling really, really bitter as my miserable cold self shlepped on to the schools so much farther away.

And, finally, I’m beginning to approach the point of this story. All that stuff I worried about? It never happened. Turned out to be the mildest winter Paris has seen in about 100 years. No kidding.

And then there’s this:

IMG_5025

To get to P’s school you have to pass through a park. I loved that it’s named Martin Luther King Jr. Park. I know this park. I’ve been there plenty of times. But there was something about passing through it every day, day in and day out, that made me see it from a whole new angle.

IMG_4963I learned to appreciate it so much more. I liked the winter when almost no one was there. I loved watching the transformation in spring when people start emerging, start sitting on the lawn. I know it’s corny, but it’s hard to feel crappy when you’re riding through a canopy of trees in full bloom.  Or there are these random acts of art:

IMG_4644

 


IMG_4962Or how about this bright red building? I really grew to love seeing it. Paris is a beautiful city but there’s not a lot of color in it.  In the winter when there’s visible proof of the sun maybe 2 or 3 times, something like this can really knock you over.

And then on the way home through the park I noticed that you can see the Eiffel tower from certain areas in the park. I’m not sure I would’ve picked up on this if P didn’t go to this school. Not sure I would’ve ever taken this route otherwise.

Also, the couple of times I’ve been a few minutes late, it’s been no big deal. Friends have watched O or the school gardienne has kept an eye on him. No scolding from the school either.

I have to admit that I kind of like the brand newness of P’s school. It serves as a sharp contrast to O’s school, which looks like you imagine a French school would look like, a classic look but not exactly cheerful. At P’s school there’s a brightness and openness that I really grew to love.

Plus, the class bells at P’s school sound something like gentle wind chimes. Every time I hear them it cracks me up. Like they should be used at the beginning of a yoga class. Soft reminders as opposed to the more traditional bone-jarring, get-your-butts-to-class bells at O’s school.

There was also the added surprise of P being uncharacteristically flexible and cooperative at pick-ups almost every day. There was one day just recently where he flipped out on me and wouldn’t budge. I ended up being really really late getting O. The school pulled him back inside (off the sidewalk) to wait for me. And he was fine. So really, there wasn’t that much to be worried about.

So when I think about the coming year and the changes and the upheaval and the stress of repatriation and readjustment, I’m going to work really hard on not thinking about what I think things will be like. I’m not even going to focus on the positive things I think will happen. I’m going to try real hard to take it as it comes since the real gems won’t be anything I will see coming. Of course they won’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t be gems.

Let me emphasize “try”. Of course I will worry and fret and think about the past. But I’m going to try really hard to be in the present.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, Kid behavior, School | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Like a Lot of Rolling Stones

We had been living here a month when we met another couple who had just moved here as well. The mom said to us, “What’s with all the Hello Kitty stuff here?” I said I hadn’t noticed, but from that moment on, I was on the lookout. I really expected that at any instant I would be hit over the head with it. It never happened. Sure, I’ve seen Hello Kitty stuff, but it’s about the same as compared to all the Cars stuff or Batman things.

Now maybe everyone has their own thing. Maybe Hello Kitty was this woman’s obsession. You start thinking about seeing something and then you become hyper-aware of it which feeds your obsession.

Maybe that’s what my deal is. My obsession is the Rolling Stones insignia.

IMG_4956It’s EVERYWHERE. I’ll show some pictures but they will not do it justice. I want to snap more but it’s weird taking shots of people’s shirts. Seems kind of creepy.

When I mentioned it to friends of ours who were visiting from the States they started spotting them all over too. With another 3 sets of eyes it was staggering the number of Rolling Stones shirts, hats, and other nonsense we saw. And when I first put our friends on the case we weren’t even in Paris, we were in Collioure in the south of France.

We were at a party recently and we were chatting it up with this French couple. I had a few wines in me so I blurted out, “What do you think of all the Rolling Stones stuff?” Of course, they hadn’t noticed. I wanted to say, “How could you not?” But I toned it down. I mentioned how I see it everywhere. The stationery store will have the RS insignia on folders, binders, murses, etc.  They stared back at me blankly.

IMG_4955The dude said, “Well, the Rolling Stones are a popular band.” Well, no shit, that still doesn’t explain things. So are the Beatles. And don’t get me wrong, I love the Stones, but I would never wear anything with their insignia. But maybe that’s me. Also, isn’t there a whole generation of people who scoff at the Stones just because, I don’t know, they’re old? I mean, who buys these things and thinks: “This is so cool!”

IMG_4957Ok, maybe there’s a retro thing going on. That I would get. But it doesn’t explain the volume of merchandise. Plus, really, a retro murse?

Then the woman, who mentioned that she had lived in the Boston area for a while, said, “Why does everyone in the US wear the name of their college? You don’t see people in France wearing a sweatshirt with ‘Sorbonne’ written across it.”  Ouch! She did have a point, but I was still taken aback. It was like she was offended by the RS question. It was a defensive response. I mean, what does one have to do with the other?

I didn’t even make the connection until later that she might have seen more than her share of college sports gear because of the town she lived in. Plus, an affiliation to a college makes sense to me. Millions of people making an affiliation to one band seems odd.

I suppose a lot of people just like the look of that big tongue. Maybe many people don’t even realize it’s the Stones. Could that be?

Anyway, a few days after the party I spotted this in a restaurant.

IMG_4130IMG_5030Now this is a small neighborhood bistro. Lovely place. We ate there once. Very friendly owner. Quaint atmosphere. Why would he put up a Rolling Stones neon light? Is he trying to attract a younger crowd? A Spuds MacKenxzie Bud Light sign might be the only thing that would look more out of place at this restaurant.

It’s like all these things that were one time cool are all regenerated in this weird time-warpish phenomenon. Like we sent a capsule out to space and this strange alien planet didn’t know what to do with our culture references but knew somehow that they were cool.

There are all sorts of other odd things that jump out at me too. Like baseball caps. There must be like 20 of them in all of France. 18 of them are Yankees caps. And of those 18, maybe 1  is a legitimate MLB Yankee cab. The others are a miss-mosh of colors and styles.

Not like the green one I spotted, but still, a white Yankees hat?

Not like the green one I spotted, but still, a white Yankees hat?

WTF?

WTF?

A flourescent blue Yankees cap? Now, I ride a scooter and I carry what some would consider a murse, but there is no way I would wear a Yankees cap that was any color but navy blue and white. Maybe I’m traumatized by the heckling I’ve witnessed at Yankees stadium, but I believe if I caught a reflection of myself wearing a green NY Yankees hat, then I would have to kick my own ass.

I jsut love this little section of American stuff in the corner of a giant sports store

I just love this little section of American stuff in the corner of a giant sports store

And another thing: if I hear one more ring tone of the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” I’m going to lose it. I can’t put my finger on why it’s irritating. That ring tone can’t generically come with the phone, can it?

I guess what’s strange about it is that I’m living in an area that is known for its fashion sense and these things I see (and hear) seem very not cool. And maybe that’s the thing. There’s a real difference between what’s cool and what’s fashionable. You can look really stylish and still be kind of lame.

Or maybe it’s that seeing these things so out of context or in ways that seem distorted from what I’m used to makes it even more clear that I’m living out of my element. The Stones, the Yankees hats and Uncle John’s band are all concrete representations of culture shock.  But they seem to be the very things I can’t get used to. It’s like I’m okay with all the French things that are totally different from the US. I get it, you’re French, go with it. But to have things imported and used in weird ways makes me a little squeamish.

I say all these things with fully awareness that the fashion shock for a French person going to the United States must be 100 times more unsettling. Some of the things Americans choose to wear can be painful to look at even for Americans.

And, of course, when I go back to the States, I’m sure I’ll stick out like a sore thumb and get a lot of weird looks for some of the things I’ve imported without even realizing. If you see me in the US later this year, please feel free to pull me aside and remind me that I should remove my ascot or my pink sweater.

And if anyone has a college sweatshirt to lend me until I get settled that’d be great. Thanks.

Posted in Fashion, Murse | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Louvre to Lougie

IMG_4676We went to the Louvre the other day. It was our first time. Our first time since living here at least. I actually didn’t think it was going to happen unless we were dragged there at gunpoint. And I don’t know why it was so hard.

When we first arrived in Paris, we talked about getting memberships, but for some reason the Louvre always seemed on par with a trip to the moon. It does conjure up images of supreme parenting effort involving constant vigilance to make the place interesting for kids while also making sure they don’t touch things, climb sculptures or take off down hallways, never to be seen again.

We had gone there when O was 7 months old, and we had all come for a work trip for Rebecca. He fell asleep in a sling in front of the Mona Lisa. We had told O this story, and then he got in his head that he really wanted to go back. Like he was determined to not doze off this time. So we promised.

IMG_4673I ended up going to a tourist welcome center to buy tickets. For some reason I couldn’t figure out how to get the tickets e-mailed to me, although I just now went to the Louvre links and I can’t figure out what my problem was. In any case it did save us some time, so I’m glad I did.

Any time saved with kids on a line is pure gold. Plus, the tourist welcome center was pretty amusing. The guy kept trying to up-sell me on tourist sites and went on and on about the beauty of Paris and there’s so much to see. I was like, dude, I get it. I live here. Chill.

Now Rebecca and I both had in our heads that there would be some cool interactive stuff for the kids to do. I think we were basing it a friend’s account of how cool the audioguides were. They’re basically iPads, we were told, and their kids loved them. Of course, their kids are teenagers, but somehow that escaped us. It’s like we only heard “Louvre. Easy. Kids.” And then we shut our brains off.

IMG_4684It might have helped if the person handing out the audio guides said something like, “It’s really for older kids.” But her personality made us feel like we were picking up our guides from a robot. As soon as we started, we knew it was a mistake, but we can’t hand our kids a game-like device and then take it away. It’s like giving a dog a bone and then trying to take it back. I had no interest in getting my hand bitten off.

It took a lot of work to get the kids set up with the devices. Slightly less arduous then installing a satellite dish on your roof. It required a supply of patience that I did not seem to have. O picked it up a little quicker than P, but even still, when following the GPS-like directions O got a little confused.

O: We have to go this way definitely. To the right.

Me: Hmm. Ok, well I think that’s the janitor’s closet. You’re sure?

O: Yes. Well ok, maybe not. Left. Uhm wait. . .

Me: Well there’s a giant sphinx in front of us. Let’s just head that way. Looks like something we want to check out.

IMG_4679Then there was P who kept insisiting on jamming his fingers all over the screen, making it go black and then announcing, “No one’s talking!!” I was ready to throw in the towel, but thankfully Rebecca hung tough.

We got the kids settled but then the parents were mentally exhausted. I think the thing I love about the guides is that it’s so awesome to hear the kids relate info as they hear it. Like when O said at the Venus de Milo, “Did you know this is one of the most famous sculptures in the world?” That almost made the crappy guides worth it. Almost.

So now we’re like, let’s make a beeline to the Mona Lisa. That’s all O really wants to see anyway. We’ll do it and get the hell out. Maybe come back on a Friday night when we have a sitter.

(As a side note, I saw a dude get reprimanded for having a child on his shoulders. Huh?)

IMG_4688Now, in Rick Steves he prepares you to be disappointed with the Mona Lisa. It’s kind of far away and enclosed in glass and you have to fight through crowds. I have to admit that the first time I went I was a little disappointed. But the second time it was a lot better. It was much smaller and farther away in my memory. When I saw it now, I was like, this is pretty cool. And the boys loved it, so that’s all we really needed. Mona Lisa? Check. Stupid souvenir coin we get the kids at every museum? Check.

Then there was this. The selfie statue. I got a real kick out of this. It’s funny to think that when we first came here when O was a baby there was no such thing as a “selfie.” Now it’s all the rage.

IMG_4693After we left, we grabbed a slightly overpriced sandwich from one of those Paul places. It’s a chain, and this one is a mobile stand that’s always outside the Louvre. Then we picnicked on the grass. No matter what it’s hard to not like sitting with a view of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We were at peace. Even the dude trying to sell us plastic Eiffel towers didn’t phase is. He even tried to convince us to buy Eiffel towers for two kids who weren’t even ours.

On the march!

On the march!

 

IMG_4845We then walked through the Tuileries on our way to the kids’ favorite park. O loves loves loves this place. Climbing way high up onto this rope path 10 feet above ground was his idea of heaven. Mom and dad grabbed a couple of beers en route and chilled on some benches. We had our own slice of heaven. Things were on an upswing for sure.

IMG_5067Next stop was the carousel. I had leftover tix from the last time we’d been here. The kids were ecstatic. P of course, who is always pushing the envelope to see what else he can get, pleaded to ride it again and then asked for ice cream about 10 times. Telling him no was offset by telling him we were going to the trampolines.

Ahh, the trampolines. These things are awesome. The dude who runs it must make a killing. Since it was so nice out that day there was a mile long line. But the kids didn’t care. They would wait a week just to jump around for 5 minutes.

IMG_4852 IMG_4722It was pure bliss I tell ya. Everyone was happy. But then it all came crashing down. Oh boy.

P’s thing is spitting. Whenever he’s angry he spits. It makes me absolutely nuts, which is probably why he keeps doing it. I’m getting better at remaining calm but some days and in some situations I can’t help myself.  I think my overreaction is directly proportional to the people watching us.

On the way back from the Louvre he started getting spittin’ mad. I don’t even know what triggered it.  He just started doing it. A lot. And it almost hit a group of tourists. They deftly moved out of the way of one of his trajectories, but it was still pretty embarrassing.

I pulled him aside and spoke very sternly to him. Not that it mattered. I might as well have talked sternly to the lamp post. P’s body was there but his mind was somewhere else.

Finally got P’s butt on the metro and at last he got calm. He said to me, “Daddy, can I go to sleep?” It’s only then it occurred to me that I just dragged my kid all over the place,  through the metro and all over a museum then out in the sun at playgrounds, carousals and trampolines. Somehow I was shocked that he was exhausted. So I let him conk out. And he slept on my shoulder from there on the metro all the way home, where I put him in bed without barely a budge.

There you have it. A perfect day at the Louvre and the Tuilleiries. If you’re looking to tire your kids out, then there’s your plan. You may want to tone it back jut a bit just so you can strike the balance between tiredness and the type of physical exhaustion that resembles drunkenness. It’s a fine line I still haven’t figure out.

Well two hours later the extremely charming boy I’m more acquainted with emerged from his slumber singing and babbling in his usual stream of consciousness manner.  He even gave me a hug. Things were on the upswing again.

Posted in Customer service, Kid behavior, Louvre, Outings with the kids, Tuileries | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ALL CAPS

We had friends here during the summer and one of them, a very witty fellow, announced he had a new nickname for our 4 year old: “ALL CAPS.”

Yes, it’s true, P can be quite loud. If truth be told, at the time that our friend coined this name I didn’t even think P was being that loud. I think I’ve developed a bit of a tolerance for it. It was kind like being in a noisy neighborhood where you decide to just deal with the ongoing raucous because you know the other option is to just go mad.

IMG_4525Of course, I haven’t been completely oblivious to his noise level. That would be impossible. I was just learning to manage it.  For example, if we did go out to eat, it  would be at a noisy brassiere where his bruit could be drowned out.  That doesn’t always work of course. Sometimes when you go out to a French restaurant, even though it’s supposed to be family friendly, you feel like you’re walking into a funeral home. When P is with us, it’s like walking into a funeral home with a marching band.

Going to nice restaurants with the kids is rare, but it came up again when we were in Chartres recently and we went out to lunch. That morning we didn’t want to deal with packing lunches and the weather was too crappy for a picnic. But if truth be told, the grown ups always like a little wine at lunch, so we lean heavily on going out.

The place we chose was not exactly like a funeral home, but it wasn’t far from it. And the more we got into the lunch and became more vested in the place, the louder P got. He wasn’t throwing a fit or fussing in any way, he was just really really loud. Like his volume button was on 11. And no matter what we said or did he wouldn’t tone it down.

Of course, the glaring error in our ways is that we are often inconsistent in the volume control area. When we show up at a restaurant with his voice blaring and we try to intervene he looks at us like we have three heads as if to say, “I always talk loud enough so the people outside the restaurant can hear me too, don’t you know that?”

There have been times at home when even someone like me who is used to his cacophony can no longer take it. During this times, maybe daddy had too much wine the night before–I try to get him to just turn it down a notch.

IMG_4519“I love the way you sing, I was just wondering if you could do it a smidge lower. Or maybe not right in my ear.” I’ve also tried to use the remote control analogy. “You know how daddy turns the volume on the tv down just a little? I was wondering if you could do the same. Not all the way off, mind you, but just one or two decibels down the dial.”

Surprisingly that didn’t work. But then one day, seemingly out of the blue, Rebecca had a stroke of genius. We were at the table together and P was  talking to us like we were down the street. Rebecca leaned in and said, “I’m sorry honey, but you were talking too loudly, and I couldn’t hear you.”

Good luck with that, I thought.

In addition to being loud he's also slightly insane.

In addition to being loud he’s also slightly insane.

And amazingly it worked. He actually repeated himself but said it 10x lower. I almost fell out of my seat. We use it all the time now, although for some reason it works the best when Rebecca does it. Something about the tone and the way she delivers it that I’m not replicating. Or maybe I can’t muster enough patience to say it in the soft tone she uses, but at least something’s working. I have to say, it’s times like this that you really see how helpful it can be to have two brains working on a problem simultaneously. I know that I never ever would’ve come up with that solution on my own.

Ok. So we have this other thing with mornings.  No matter what, it’s always a struggle getting P out of bed and getting his clothes on. It becomes this test of patience with me having to extract myself from his presence before I start pulling my hair out. I had tried to get him to pick out his clothes the night before, but sometimes I forget. Other times P would change his mind in the morning about what he had selected the night before, which would make me want to jump out the window. Some days it would go ok, and others were a mess.

One afternoon, after a particularly stressful morning, I did a search about morning routines and came across some interesting articles. They more or less told me what I already knew, which is even more annoying. It’s kind of like getting in shape. Everybody knows you need to eat right and exercise, but not everyone does it. On paper we all know what to do, but in the moment a lot of it goes out the window.

So I’m reading this article and I’m like yeah, yeah, yeah do this, don’t do that, I know. “Don’t get into a battle with your child,” it says. Of course, I nod my head knowingly, even though I engage in a battle many mornings.

Then at the very end of the article, almost like a throwaway line, it says something like, “of course, you can just put your kids to bed in their clothes. They may appear frumpy.” the article explained, “but who cares?”

IMG_4800The line hit me like lightening bolt. Of course, he’s 4, who cares if he sleeps in his clothes? And some of the short sleeve/long sleeve combos he wears or shirts pulled over light jackets are such jarring eye sores that I doubt anyone would even notice wrinkles.

So I have to tell you it’s made a HUGE difference in our mornings. I can’t even believe it. I love when there are answers right in front of you and you can’t even see it. It’s like stepping into another parenting dimension.

Well, if anybody else has any brilliant parenting ideas please share. I’m sure there solutions to things that are right under my nose. And even though I’m enjoying slightly less loud and slightly less stressful mornings, I suppose there’s always room for improvement.

Posted in Dining with Kids, Eating out | 6 Comments

Venice? Check!

IMG_3700Back in the fall we went to Venice. It was one of our must-do’s before leaving Europe.  Before going I assumed I knew what it would be like because it’s so famous and you always hear about it with the canals and gondolas, blah, blah, blah.

I hate to say it, but as much as I wanted to go there, Venice was really a place I needed to check off my list. In my mind I imagined being back in the States and people saying, “Have you been to Venice?” And if I said no, they would be flabbergasted. And I couldn’t have that.

IMG_3654

Not the most welcoming lost & found window in the world.

Plus, going with kids has the added element of stress that makes me automatically lower my expectations, especially with the whole “my child might fall in the water” bit. And when P insists on changing seats on a gondola or has some other similar fit, how exactly are we going to mange that? Gondolas don’t seem to lend themselves easily to timeouts. IMG_3650

Right out of the gate, literally, we ran into problems. I left my jacket on the plane. Had to have someone fetch it for me, so we ate our first dinner in the airport. But the food was not half bad. It lacked the ambiance you imagine when dining in Venice, but still it worked.

IMG_3677

Mind your head

IMG_3662Then there was the taxi. Not sure what I was imagining, if anything, when I pictured getting from the airport to hotel, but crammed into a water taxi wasn’t it. I mean it was really a tight squeeze. One time I stood up and my head banged into the roof. I’m surprised it didn’t go right through. It was so hard I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen. People were actually worried about me.

But I was able to look out into the city as we cruised in and, I have to say, it was totally worth a bruised head and ego. Even the kids were in awe of the view. I think we each said “cool” about 15 times.IMG_0825

The hotel was right on the main canal and had some pretty views. This painting was a little creepy, but other than that it was a nice place.

IMG_3685

P seems to like it.

Getting there was funny too. While the hotel is right next to a boat stop, we were, unbeknownst to us, on a different line and got off a stop before. Of course a few blocks in a winding European town, and you might as well be on the moon. We were lugging our bags and we were at the end of our rope when a security guard woman walked up to us and offered to help us find our hotel. I think that was her whole job. Makes you feel better about being lost if there’s a whole occupation for helping lost people.

IMG_3736Turns out, Venice is one of those cities where you don’t need to be anywhere in particular. You just need to walk around. But go places we did, and drag the kids all over until they were ready to drop as well. Not all of it was intentional, and it was really only one day where we bit off a little more than we could chew. But hey, that’s all part of the fun.

We went to piazza San Marco. Walking there and hanging out there was fun all by itself. Of course, if you go late in the winter the whole square is flooded and people walk on platforms. We only had a little bit of platform walking, just enough to amuse the kids, but not too much to be a complete pain.

We have a knack for showing up at churches when the main part is closed off for mass. At least for St Marks’ Basilica we could see most of it from the gallery up above and admire the beauty of the inside in all its Byzantine glory. While I was impressed by the work and artistry of the building, I always think, wow, this is kind of a bit much, no? Apparently when Venice was on top of the world, they liked a little bling bling to impress/intimidate visitors.

We also saw Doge’s palace, which is right next door. Museums are tough with little ones, but this place had old dungeons with remnants and markings from real prisoners. And there were weapons cases and whatnot, which is always a hit. Big halls with paintings on the walls were cool because we could take in some art while the kids had a little more space to move around. Plus, the bridge of sighs, the long last look at Venice prisoners had before being shackled up or executed, was cool to see from the inside and out.

Of course, a successful trip to a museum with kids is all relative. It was still a brisk walk through, a quick glance at that, and whole rooms skipped entirely. For some reason, and I can’t remember why, I had to keep convincing P to put his shoes back on. Good times.IMG_3826 IMG_3827

As it turned out my worry about the gondola was for naught. I think P knew that being in very small boat was a time he needed to be flexible.  Fear of drowning is an intrinsic behavioral motivator. And he did great. It helped that the gondolier was super nice too.

IMG_3957 IMG_3958The day we dragged the kids all around was when we went to Murano to check out the famous Venetian glass. Who knew? It was actually a lot of fun. There was a glass blowing demonstration. The guy putting the stuff in the oven and molding and shaping it had the kids, and their parents, pretty captivated. It was just that by the time we got back we were pretty wiped out.

IMG_3708 IMG_3946Surprisingly, the kids didn’t have too many meltdowns. It’s like I’ve said before about being with them in Paris, their best moments are on a bus. And this was pretty much like being on a bus on the water.  We got them some Pinocchio marionettes as a reward, and it took all of 3 minutes for P to completely tangle his up and make unworkable. But it was fun while it lasted!

IMG_3875

This wine is delicious, Mommy! Just kidding!

And Venice is also a lot about the food and the ice cream, all of which we took advantage of and then some. Of course there was wine to be had to. Even Patrick seemed to think it was delicious.Then there was the ride home. The way it worked out we flew down and took the overnight train home. A lot of people will tell you that taking the train down there is the way to go because when you wake up and the you look out the window, you have the sensation of gliding on the water as you approach Venice.

IMG_3982

“We just got here but let’s get ready for bed!”

Well we had to get the kids back early and flight midweek are so much cheaper than flights on Sunday, so we opted for the train on Saturday. I have to say, once again my expectations were low, but I slept pretty well in the sleeper train, as did the kids.  P was so excited he had his shirt off in about 10 seconds. Then again, he just likes to be naked.

Great trip overall. And not so bad with kids. I will say this, between the gondola, water taxis and train, it was a week before I could walk without feeling like I was swaying.

The city was beautiful and way more than I expected. So much more than checking a box, that’s for sure.  Pretty grateful I got to go.

I’m also pretty close to untangling this marionette.

Posted in Dining with Kids, Museums with Kids, Public transit, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment