Paris is an exhilarating city. It is intoxicating. It is beautiful. Paris, with it’s historic cobblestone streets, specialized boutiques, open-air markets, mouthwatering pastries, abundant cafés. Paris, with it’s centuries old architecture challenging the modern, contemporary buildings. Paris, with its numerous parks and overflowing cultural attractions. I love the Art Deco Métro entrances. I love the sidewalks, finished with decorative trees and benches. I love the quality of the food, and the presentation of goods displayed in shop windows and grocery store aisles.
We’ve been back in Paris now for a good couple of weeks and I love being back. I have always loved Paris. Paris has always been my city. However, this time I was apprehensive to our return. Paris is like an old friend, one I once new so well, but haven’t seen for so long. Will my connection with Paris remain the same? I was afraid Paris would let me down. Things are different now, I am different. I am no longer a student, or single, no longer dating. I am married now. I have a husband. I am a mother. I have kids. Two to be exact. I wondered if Paris would still have something to offer me. Would we still be compatible? Would Paris accept me back? Would Paris welcome my children? Would Paris still inspire me like it once did? I was afraid of being disappointed. I thought, maybe, if we never return, I will never have to know. I almost dreaded our return. I wanted to remember Paris like it was for me before, years ago, when I was independent and unattached.
But, Paris hasn’t let me down! Paris has not only not changed in a good way, but is showing me a new side of itself. A different side. A side that perhaps always existed but that I never saw. Paris is revealing its child-friendly side to me!
With so many families living in apartments, Paris has over 400 “green spaces” in the form of gardens, parks, squares and woods to offer for children to run free and wild. Besides the better known, Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg, there are an array of smaller ones, like the Jardin du Ranelagh or the Parc André Citroën, which happens to be not too far from our temporary residence. On Thursday we took the boys to the Places des Vosges and Thibault had a ball running from one fountain to the other (there are a total of four), chasing the pigeons and playing in the sandbox. Saturday we discovered a square close by, in Issy-les-Moulineaux, on rue Guynemer, near the Hôpital Corentin Celton. I hope I’ll be able to bring the boys back there during our residency in this neighborhood.
(Thibault gleefully running around one of the four fountains at la Place des Vosges.)
French school children don’t have school on Wednesdays. As a result, the city has created several sports activities and creative workshops for children to participate in. Typically, parks hold puppet shows for the children on Wednesday and also Saturday and Sunday. The Théâtre des Marionettes in the Jardin de Luxembourg, for example has been performing shows for children since 1933! I have never been to see a puppet show there, atleast not to my recollection (I’ll have to ask my parents if they ever took me), but it is also on my “to do” list of places to take the kids. Donkey and pony rides are also given in several of the parks. Carrousels are another common attraction and are located throughout the city in parks and near historic monuments. We have yet to take the boys for a turn on the merry-go-round. Carrousels often make me think of Mary Poppins and jumping into chalk drawings!
Getting around Paris with children is also pretty feasible with choices between walking or riding the métro, bus or tramway. Though, in the Paris métro, there are a lot of stairs, with no elevators and only a handful of escalators that only go up, if they are working at all. If you decide to take the métro with a stroller, it is quite an aerobics work out, hoisting the stroller up, with Baby attached, diaper bag dangling, going up and down steps. In one week, you could really tone those upper arms and tighten the abs! Who needs a gym membership when you have kids in Paris and ride the métro !?! I am not a huge fan of the métro with my kids, especially when I am the only adult with them. I can’t keep an eye on Thibault and help him walk up and down the stairs, holding his hand, taking care that he doesn’t get too close to the edge of the platform and carry the stroller with Damien up and down all those stairs as well.
(Thibault proudly riding the line 8 Métro)
My preferred choice of transportation is going by bus or tramway. There are really no steps that hinder you entering or exiting and in some buses there is even a spot “reserved for my stroller”. It is nice to see people relentlessly, yet obligingly, move out of my way when I board the bus so that I can push the stroller into the corner under the window and lock the break (and unless you want to go flying when the bus takes off, remember to lock that break!). The tramway is lots of fun for Thibault, as is riding the bus. We take either the bus or tramway everyday, and on some days we even take both. Now whenever Thibault gets into mischief, I just tell him to watch out because maybe, if he continues, we won’t be able to take the bus or ‘chou-chou’ and he immediately starts to listen to me and do as he is told. It’s the first time I see something have such an influence on him. And when we get off the tram or bus, it is very important to say ‘au revoir’ or else there is a tantrum ‘for more’. The commute, despite whether you ride the métro, bus or tramway, is free for kids up to age four!
Nevertheless, there are still areas of improvement. When I talk about Paris, I am referring to the city and not the actual Parisians who live here. They are in an entire class of their own. They’re the ones who demonstrate signs of anxiety, blindness and insensitivity towards you and your children and don’t hesitate to sigh heavily when you do use that spot reserved for your stroller on the bus. They’re the ones who don’t ever smile, not even at a smiley eight-month old baby. And, they’re the ones, who are also mothers, with the same difficulties of getting around Paris with kids, that don’t even offer sympathy ‘I’m with you here, I know how hard it is, I feel what you feel’ smiles! Waiters never set a plate for your child in a restaurant. You always have to ask if it would be alright to have an extra plate or spoon. Sunday lunch, a maitre’d sighed so heavily, and smirked so profoundly when we asked for a table for five. He even suggested I fold up the oh-so-cumbersome stroller and I asked “and put the baby where?” When he brought us to the far most in-the-back dark corner in the whole restau, we walked out and told him never-mind, we are clearly not welcome and would rather lunch elsewhere. No one helps to open the door for you and your stroller and there are no changing tables, no where, none, for you to use. I’ve seen mothers change their babies on the steps of buildings, or hold their child to pee on the sidewalk.
Yet, I still love Paris, and the beauty, history, culture, and classiness of the city. As a mother of two, I just have to become accustom to the existing mentalities of my surroundings, but that isn’t so bad. There are worse things. Plus, living in Paris with kids saves you the hassle of scheduling time in your planner for going to the gym. For sure, you get a full work out, complete with warm up and cool down for free! Paris just politely, yet adamantly advises that you and your children be open to adapting your agenda to avoid riding public transportation, or making a run to the bakery or the grocery store during Rush Hour as there are others who have more pressing matters to handle, and who have more important places to go! In some ways Paris is the center hub for children, catering to them and their needs with entertainment and activities, but only in specifically marked areas on specific days. Let the children out of those restricted areas and the Parisians will openly show you that they don’t have the time nor patience to accommodate your children who are better off seen and not heard, or better yet, kept out of sight altogether.